- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Sportscaster Colin Cowherd didn’t mix just apples and oranges last week in his comments about baseball and Dominicans.

He threw in nuts, too, which is how he sounded on what ultimately were his final shows for ESPN Radio.

Cowherd’s ill-fated remarks began with a perfectly fine question about front-office executives’ suitability to take over as managers, as we saw when Miami Marlins general manager Dan Jennings moved to the dugout in May. The merits of giving the wheel to someone like Jennings, whose only coaching experience was more than 30 years ago at an Alabama high school, was debatable then and remains so today.

Miami, 16-22 at the time, has gone 25-36 under Jennings, but Cowherd doesn’t see any problem with the move.

“It’s baseball,” Cowherd said Thursday. “You don’t think a general manager can manage? Like it’s impossible? The game is too complex? I’ve never bought into that, ‘Baseball’s just too complex.’ Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic.

“The Dominican Republic has not been known in my lifetime as having world-class academic abilities. A lot of those kids come from rough backgrounds and have not had opportunities academically that other kids from other countries have.”

“Baseball is like any sport,” he continued. “It’s mostly instincts. A sports writer who covers baseball could go up to Tony La Russa and have a real baseball argument, and Tony would listen and it would seem reasonable. There’s not a single NFL writer in the country who could diagram a play for Bill Belichick. You know, we get caught up in this whole ‘thinking-man’s game.’ Is it in the same family? Most people could do it. It’s not being a concert pianist.”

Just like that, Cowherd’s argument in favor of GMs-turned-skippers took an ugly, drastic turn. He careened off the road of sensibility and crashed into the mountainside of stereotypes. It was ignorant, unnecessary and irrelevant.

After waves of flak, Cowherd came back Friday and tried to defend his position with statistics on the Dominican Republic’s education system.

“I understand that when you mention a specific country, they get offended,” he said. “…But I have four reports in front of me … where there are discussions of major deficiencies in the education sector at all levels. …It wasn’t a shot at them. It was data.”

Here’s what Cowherd failed to understand: Inferior schools don’t equate to inferior intellect.

And suggesting that all baseball players are mentally suspect because only four percent have college degrees didn’t help his argument. ESPN took him off the air after Friday’s show, releasing him from his contract one week early.

Dominicans’ success in baseball reflects neither on their intelligence nor the sport’s complexity. The same is true of Americans, Venezuelans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Canadians and other ballplayers, who can have high IQs or be in lower percentiles. Reaching the majors has nothing to do with school systems, standardized tests, formal education or socioeconomic conditions, other than it’s a well-paying route that can overcome such deficiencies when they exist.

Besides the obvious slight to Dominicans’ faculties and disrespect for baseball theory, Cowherd made playing and managing sound interchangeable, as if “anyone can manage this simple game because so many simple Dominicans play it.”

Hispanics and other racial minorities have fought a long battle against the notion of an inverse correlation between their athletic prowess and their presumed smarts. First, they weren’t fit to be players. Breaking into the coaching ranks was another hurdle. Landing the job as skipper or coach was unthinkable. And there’s an ongoing challenge in worthy candidates being seriously considered for front-office positions.

Baseball folks might have an inflated opinion of their sport as a “thinking man’s game,” but it’s not — as Cowherd stated — “a sport on instinct.” There’s nothing instinctual about knowing what to do a variety of situations based on the pitch count, number of outs, runners on base and where the ball goes if hit.
And that just covers fielders and base runners, let alone the chess match between hitters and pitchers.

Like many, Cowherd obviously thinks football is more cerebral with all its Xs and Os. But none of these games require rocket scientists, and plenty of sportswriters can diagram plays for Belichick. It’s not much different than when we grew up: “You go to the blue car and turn around; you go across the middle; and you go deep.”

Cowherd apologized on Twitter and during Friday’s show, saying he was “clunky” in his wording. That didn’t fly with ESPN or the players union, which released a statement prior to his dismissal.

“As a veteran of 15 MLB seasons, I can assure you that our sport is infinitely more complex than some in the media would have you believe,” executive director Tony Clark said. “To suggest otherwise is ignorant, and to make an ignorant point by denigrating the intelligence of our Dominican members was not ‘clunky’ — it was offensive.”

If Cowherd can’t see that, he’s not as intelligent as he thinks.

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