Luke Scott, the starting left fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, can hit a baseball really hard. Really, really hard. The kind of booming, long-distance home runs that get called "majestic." For those of us who are Orioles fans, that is a good thing about him.
The other thing about Luke Scott—and now in most respects the bigger thing about him—is that he is a self-important jerkwater dope who likes going around
. Not just who quietly thinks it sorta might be true, that the president of the United States is a scheming foreign impostor, but who makes sure people hear his important views on the subject, and goes on to celebrate how proud he is to believe this and how brave he is to say it.
Last week, Amy K. Nelson of ESPN wrote a
who she identified as "one of baseball's most complex characters" and someone who "will require a deeper line of thinking."
Nope. Luke Scott, as he showed Nelson while roaming around Florida with her during spring training, is a standard-issue ignoramus, whose otherwise unfurnished mental spaces have been filled in with white-exceptionalist superpatriotism, gun-fetish paranoia, and assorted other fantasies and delusions scavenged from the county dump of red-blooded One-Hundred-Percent America.
He does hit a baseball hard, though. Man. Pow!
But Amy K. Nelson is interested in his character. Here are the complex-ish parts: he's a white ballplayer who is friendly with his Latino teammates and speaks fluent Spanish—having grown up poor in Florida. He does charitable works "with no publicity," except for the publicity that comes from letting that fact be known to a reporter profiling him for the biggest sports-media outlet in the country. And...well, no, that's it. He has nice manners.
Did I mention he hits baseballs hard? Being a sports fan, and a baseball fan in particular, means you are emotionally invested in a certain aspect of the lives and successes of people who have been rewarded, with tremendous amounts of money and fame, for doing (and being) what they did (and were) as 14-year-olds.
This does not always produce the most all-around appealing people. I have rooted for arrogant and surly players, mean drunks, bullies, phony Bible-thumpers, steroids abusers—that's who shows up, sometimes, in your team's uniform, trying to win games. Sometimes there are decent, funny, humble ones, too. But you don't get to choose. Even if you think you're cheering for a good guy, you
So now I'm cheering for a pinhead with a race problem. I'd love to convince myself I'm not, but Nelson's article really leaves no room. He calls his Latino buddies "savage" and "animal"—and "bogeyman," for the especially dark-skinned Felix Pie, the Orioles' other left fielder. They are dear friends, Pie and Scott. Scott took it upon himself to improve the younger Pie's character when Pie, a former can't-miss prospect for the Cubs, came to Baltimore. Among the tools of improvement, he told Nelson, is a bag of plantain chips:
"So I throw bananas in his helmet. Here are my banana chips to remind him that whenever he acts like an animal, 'Hey, that's what other people are thinking. They're just not telling you, but that's what they're thinking about. And I'm telling you so that you're aware of that so you can make a cognitive decision to not behave like that.'"
Luke Scott is very attuned to the possibility that white people will see nonwhite people as animals. Especially if the white people are disgusted by a nonwhite person's "cognitive decision." A nonwhite person needs a white person to explain how to make correct cognitive decisions, and decisions about values, and all the other sorts of judgments that our Founders made, when this country still believed in accountability and hard work. Etc.
Nelson was not interested in criticizing or unpacking this point of view—or really, any point of view. Here's her account of the fallout from the radio interview during the offseason when Scott first decided to take his birther views public:
But negative reaction cascaded, too, with some bloggers saying that evidence Obama was born in Hawaii is overwhelming and that Scott must be a racist or a moron, or both.
. Other people have other views. People disagree! It sure is confusing.
Nelson also recounted a scene in which Scott lets Pie play around with his Sig Sauer 556 in his gun-crowded condominium.
Scott, wearing a black baseball cap backward that reads "In God We Trust," walks back into the kitchen and tells us he keeps guns all over his house, even in the kitchen cabinets, and always within reach -- you never know when a criminal could strike, he says.
As we leave for the gun range, Scott stuffs a pistol into the side of the sofa cushion.
Nelson did not mention, as the Orioles bonded at this gun party, that one of Scott's teammates was unavailable:
, Baltimore's closer last year, was in prison in the Dominican Republic when spring training began, after being implicated in a fatal shooting over New Year's. Accounts varied as to whether it was a case of sloppy celebratory gunfire or some sort of fight, and charges may still be pending. Guns! They are a form of freedom. Especially when you leave them stuffed in the furniture.
Screwing around with guns in front of a national reporter, while a case of manslaughter or worse was hanging over his ballclub, was a piss-poor cognitive decision. Some leagues would find a way to discipline a player reckless and self-centered enough to do that. But Scott seems hell-bent on becoming the Carrie Prejean of baseball, and it won't do the Orioles any good to help him along the way.
Behind the free-speech and image-management problems, there's a baseball problem. Nelson got that wrong, too, describing Scott as a player "who has always been consistent." In fact, he's a bizarre hot-and-cold hitter, a guy who can flail his way through an
, or suddenly start belting pitch after pitch into the far end of the bleachers.
So far this year, he's not hitting. This spring the Orioles gave Scott's old job as designated hitter to free agent Vladimir Guerrero, and moved Scott to left. His best buddy Pie—a sloppy-looking but much better defender—went to the bench. None of the three is hitting. Catchable fly balls are dropping in left field.
Under the circumstances, I don't care about his personality or politics. Those matter inasmuch as the O's will probably need to trade somebody, at some point, to clean up the outfield/DH roster, and it would be nice if they could make it a pure baseball decision, without either side of the deal having to worry about bad publicity (or the risk of someone flopping down on Scott's couch and catching a stray round).
So the best thing from Baltimore's point of view is to ignore Scott and hope he shuts up. What ESPN is trying to do—letting Scott talk, while pretending not to understand what he says—is harder to figure out.