Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Were Cubs minor leaguers better than Louisiana pol at IDing racial tension?

One of the stories making national news these days involves Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who some 12 years ago when he was a mere state legislator gave a speech to a conference of people interested in organizing themselves for political purposes.

At least that’s the way Scalise, who is about to become the majority whip in the House of Representatives, tries to tell the story. He didn’t know that the group – European-American Unity and Rights Organization – was affiliated with one-time Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist politician David Duke.

DUKE, OF COURSE, downplays the racial hang-ups his group’s members have, claiming they’re merely using their right to express their views and organize themselves for future electoral power.

But what caught my attention in the reports coming from the Washington Post and New Orleans Times-Picayune, which appear to be inspired by a report in the New Orleans alternative weekly paper The Gambit, was the fact that a baseball club took the situation seriously enough to back off of the conference.

That ball club was the Iowa Cubs, the Des Moines-based outfit that is the Chicago Cubs top minor league affiliate.

It seems the Iowa Cubs were in New Orleans the same weekend as the conference in 2002 to play a series against the New Orleans Zephyrs, and in fact were supposed to stay in the same hotel where the event was held.

THE IOWA CUBS at the time had six African-Americans among their 30 ballplayers and coaches who travel with the team, and Cubs management thought there was enough potential for an incident that they didn’t want their team subjected to being in contact with so many EURO (that’s what they call themselves) members.

“We would just as soon stay away from a group that will create controversy,” team general manager Sam Bernabe said to The Gambit back then. The Zephyrs, who according to Pacific Coast League rules cover the costs of teams traveling to New Orleans to play their team, found another hotel.

There wound up being no confrontation between racially-motivated ideologues and future Cubs ballplayers.

But what does it say that a minor league baseball team knew more about the group that Scalise was to speak to, than Scalise did himself?

FOR THE EXPLANATION that Scalise has given in recent days to the Post and Picayune news reports is that he was poorly staffed at that point in his service in the Louisiana Legislature and didn’t know what the EURO group was about,

He says now he never would have spoken to the group if he had comprehended what they stood for or that Duke (who served one term in that state Legislature and has tried unsuccessfully running for governor and president) was connected to them.

But the Washington Post reported that Scalise was invited to the conference by long-time associates of Duke, and quoted people who say that Scalise should have realized there was a connection – unless he’s truly clueless about the Louisiana political scene.

Although I also realize that the reason all of this is coming out now is because there are those people who want to have the new Republican-run Congress (both chambers) tainted with all kinds of unseemly allegations.

BURY THEM IN muck, and maybe some of it will stick and bolster the political opposition’s chances of making the GOP domination of Congress a mere two-year run. I’m not ignoring the self-serving reasons for this tawdry story coming out now.

But still, it appears that the Iowa Cubs management was more capable than Scalise of identifying a potentially ugly situation and avoiding it. Which makes me wonder how much the people of Louisiana are suffering from his apparent lack of a political IQ?

Perhaps Iowa Cubs management should be in charge of coping with racial tensions, instead of training future ballplayers? Since based on the performance of the major league Cubs in recent years, they haven’t exactly succeeded at the latter!

Although I suspect Scalise would be just as inept as Cubs management at running a ball club.


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