A (Partial) Defense of Larry Krueger

Larry Krueger, a radio personality for the San Francisco (baseball) Giants, recently ignited a firestorm by saying that he was frustrated by the Giants'

brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly.

In response, Giants manager Felipe Alou has demanded Krueger's firing, asserting that this statement represents the worst sort of racism, and that he refused to accept Krueger's apology because "There's no way to
apologize for such a sin."

OK, at the risk that Krueger turns out to be a serial idiot with a long history of racism, I will deal with this statement solely on its face.  And in context, the reaction to his statement strikes me as extremely exaggerated.

Some background:  Typically, hitters can be thought of in two classes:

  1. Picky hitters, that sort through pitches like my wife shopping for vegetables, carefully picking out only the best to swing at, and gladly accepting walks when they come.  These hitters are often considered more "thoughtful" hitters
  2. Aggressive hitters, who swing more indiscriminately at pitches, and who often consider a walk to be a failed at-bat.  These hitters often described as "intuitive" or "natural" hitters, rather than thoughtful.

Some managers prefer the first type, some the second (for example, Miguel Tejada's being indiscriminate at the plate drove A's GM Billy Beane crazy, while other managers are happy to let him hack away for their team, given his huge numbers).  Which brings us back to the Caribbean.  What's interesting to me is that the Caribbean is not actually a race, but a location.  And in that location, it is very clear that hitters are schooled to be type #2 aggressive hitters.  Players in the Dominican Republic, Filipe Alou's home country by the way, have a saying:  "You don't walk off the island".  In other words, to get the attention of the US scouts and come to the majors from the Caribbean, a hitter is trained to be an aggressive type 2 player. They are taught that going down hacking is better than a walk.

In a sense, the Caribbean is a big (and very very successful) baseball school for training players to play in the US.  And it turns out that this "school" tends to teach players be more indiscriminate hackers at the plate.  Ask any manager in the majors if Caribbean hitters on average are less picky, more aggressive hitters at the plate and they will say "of course".

So, to some extent, Krueger is getting flamed for saying what everyone already knows.  Saying that Caribbean hitters can be indiscriminate hackers is like saying that PAC 10 quarterbacks tend to be more NFL-ready and polished than Big 12 quarterbacks -- its just a fact that is not always true, but is true on average given how they were trained.  Krueger's real mistake was probably using the term "brain dead", which can be a dangerous term when it has racial overtones, but in context probably refers to hitting style rather than absolute IQ.  I think Alou is reaching to say that Krueger was referring to Caribbean hitters poor English skills, but I will admit that he has more history with Krueger and may have reason to make this interpretation from past events.

  • http://www.etubloge.blogspot.com Neal Phenes

    He could have said brain dead in one sentence and Carribean hitters in another. The combination was PC death. That he could have uttered this on an ESPN radio station means he has not been properly schooled that only Stuart Scott is allowed that level of street expression.

  • http://teacherrefpoet.blogspot.com teacherrefpoet

    Of the 30 leaders among active players in being most difficult to strike out, 13 were born in Latin America or the Caribbean.

    Of the five Giants' hitters with the most strikeouts this year, only one is Latino. The other four were born in the USA.

    The "you can't walk off the island" legend is simply a fictional stereotype. The numbers don't back it up. Krueger's statement was not only offensive, but inaccurate.

  • http://www.typepad.com/t/comments robert

    the best players in the big league are latin americans. the giant only have one dominican player in their every day
    line up,and he his their best hiter.

  • http://southofheaven.typepad.com/ Bob

    Context is everything. Krueger was talking about Deivi Cruz, who was swinging at pitches over his head that night, and Pedro Feliz, a notorious first-ball hitter (or misser, more accurately). The same night he repeated his complaint that the Giants didn't pursue Vladimir Guerrero and Miguel Tejada, both Dominicans, like Alou, so whatever his poor choice of words, Krueger wasn't making a statement extending the "swinging at slop" criticism to players outside the Giants' lineup. During the broadcast he also criticized the Giants' front office for the lousy bullpen and said that Alou was a "brilliant tactician" who was "losing his marbles" in the part of his rant about Alou's brain turning into Cream of Wheat. It's clear from the transcript that Krueger was saying that Alou was a good manager but no one could win with the Giants' current roster.

    From reports leaking out, Felipe Alou was told of Krueger's "braindead" comment the next day by a Giants front office employee, but never during his campaign against Krueger actually listened to a tape of the show, read a transcript or talked with Krueger.

    Although it initially sounded way off the wall, I believe that Alou's comment that Krueger was "the messenger of Satan" was his way of saying that racist talk is evil. Like Krueger, we all would have been better served with a less dramatic choice of words.

    It appears that his campaign against racism looks to a lot of fans as a vindictive campaign against a little guy. Three people were fired from KNBR, including Krueger. Expect lots of boos at Alou his next appearance at Pac Bell. A number of fans will directly blame him for the Giants' failures, and a lot of that blame will the hidden racism that Alou thought he was fighting. The Giants look like they were out to trying to shut up their critics. KNBR looks bad to both sides of the argument. San Francisco will look bad when Alou is chased out of town.

    No one gets any justice in this mess.

  • randy

    Robert- my thoughts exactly. GREAT summary. It's a big mess that needs to be flushed down the toilet and soon. Perhaps the bowl will be cleaner next year.

  • Michael

    I just thought I'd weigh in with two comments about Krueger:

    [1] Larry Krueger was in the same fraternity as myself (Lambda Chi Alpha) at CSU Sacramento (Sac State) in the era of 1988-1992. Larry was a funny guy who I spent many nights hoisting beers with, but he also (even back then) had a tendency to run his trap too much. Let's face it, if you're the kind of guy who likes to get a laugh by making wise-ass comments, sometimes those comments are going to fall flat and hit people the wrong way.

    [2] However, even having basically said that Larry was a loudmouth jerk even back in fraternity days, I honestly don't think what he said on the radio was a bona fide case of "racism." As noted by others above, the "Caribbean" is a region, not a race (although one must acknowledge that "Caribbean" can also kind of be a code word for mixed Latin/African ancestry).

    At worst, I think Larry made a mistake and paid a very dear price for it in today's PC environment. I don't honestly think the guy is really a racist, and I know him personally. I also think, though, that persons in "the media" know better than anyone the sensitivities encountered in today's world, and that a careless comment can get one in trouble very quickly. I kind of wish it were not that way, but it is.

  • thomas

    Larry Krueger needed to be fired immediately for his comments. I fault KNBR for waiting and not acting immediately. If Krueger had criticized the whole team, including the front office, using the same "brain dead" metaphors, then we could possibly claim that he was just being critical; but, to single out the players from the Caribbean proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Larry Krueger belongs in the same class as Marge Schott. Larry Krueger should be ashamed of himself.

  • Virginia - Dominican

    Quote:
    1] Larry Krueger was in the same fraternity as myself (Lambda Chi Alpha) at CSU Sacramento (Sac State) in the era of 1988-1992. Larry was a funny guy who I spent many nights hoisting beers with, but he also (even back then) had a tendency to run his trap too much._______________________________________
    Must be the beer, that is probably WHY he is a brain-dead asshole!
    Just so you guys know dominicans, puertoricans, cubans, jamaicans, etc are considered from the Caribbean and we DO personally take offense when people like this piece of nuthead say comments like this.
    Who is he anyways? Some frustrated radio comentarist? Some lowlife hater? Some welfare raised kid? Crackhead? or drunker?