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Open Letter to Mets Manager Willie Randolph

May 21, 2008

Dear Willie:

Oh no, no, no. Don’t get all fiery in an interview and bring up the “r” word. I mean “race,” not, “Reyes.” Aren’t you from New York? Don’t you know that the vocal fans and the news media love to jump on a flashpoint topic, and race is one of the biggest that we have? Don’t you know NYC is a city of loudmouths and people who feel that they’ve been wronged, people who feel that they are done dirty when they perceive another group of people receiving some kind of slight compensatory advantage, people who take it out wherever they can? Willie celebrationDon’t set those people off with talk about race, man!

I understand your need to defend your managerial style; certainly, you keep things more behind closed doors than some other guys. And I know the media and cameras love to see a demonstrative Larry Bowa-type coach. Well, I think those guys are loudmouths and may not be introspective enough, and that’s not the best way to lead. I agree with that.

But, from the Jersey Record:

“I’m as animated and as demonstrative and as involved and as intense as any manager in baseball.”

Randolph excluded Ozzie Guillen from the conversation, but wanted to know why the traits often admired in the calm, cool and collected likes of Joe Torre are portrayed as flaws in Torre’s former third base coach.

“Is it racial?” Randolph asked. “Huh? It smells a little bit.”

Asked directly if he believes black managers are held to different standards than their white counterparts, Randolph said: “I don’t know how to put my finger on it, but I think there’s something there. Herman Edwards did pretty well here and he won a couple of playoff [games], and they were pretty hard on Herm. Isiah [Thomas] didn’t do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good. … I don’t know if people are used to a certain figurehead. There’s something weird about it.

Means that you used the “r” word, and the cat just won’t go back into the bag unless you win and win a lot. You can insult women in this day and age, you can use gay slurs, but do not reference your being black by calling something racial.

The loud voices in the media might listen to you for a hot second, but the fans – mostly white and very sensitive to anything that sounds like whining, and averse to being forced to feel guilty (or, you know, think about their actions and perceptions) – hate to hear a black person (especially) talk of race. It flies in the face of the legislation that removes legally sanctioned racism. It reminds them of years of being made to feel bad about inequality when they’re just trying to live their lives on equal economic + opportunity footing. It reminds them of “race hustlers,” whatever those are; and it makes them say things like “Willie’s using the race card” (Which isn’t a trump card at all). Or it will make those fans call you a racist, for the use of the single word. They’ll reference Al Sharpton and they’ll say they’re not racist but their anger at the “controversy” hints otherwise.

See?
See?
– Well this one isn’t so – nope, see?
– Hey, these are relatively intelligent comments! Read the article.
See?

It’s too powerful a “weapon,” this word, “racism.” It no longer makes people think, it makes folks react and attack. And if your comments, like any other comments or defenses of your record, were meant to inform, illuminate, and get mofos off of your back, that just undid any effect they would have. Deaf ears greet any illuminations you might give to the media.

There’s a whole swath of black folks who know that commenting on race is going to obscure their message. And the important things is to be successful around those issues, especially when put in a position to do something favorable, something positive. The more success black people enjoy, the more normal it will be to have black managers (which isn’t abnormal), black top executives (somewhat irregular), or black presidents (absolutely abnormal).

And it’s not that Obama, for example, is ignoring race issues, or has solved the problem of how to talk about race. I bet Barack and Michelle talk about racism at dinner or on the phone, the subtle kinds that always sets the nation’s punditry into a tizzy and the reactionaries into a lather. It’s out there.

But talking about it is like making resolutions to sue OPEC to release more oil; it’s not gonna do a hot damned thing. Let others talk about race; be subtle in how you address indignity. Talking about it obscures what you’re trying to say and while I’d love for people to calmly talk about racial issues and understand the premises of why some people see racial bias and others don’t… it’s not happening this month.

The national dialogue is in a funny place about race, where if the topic/ referred situation is not overt, the word alone brings the nuts out of their corners to brawl; so many people think we’re really over racism, or “postracial.”

As for the comments themselves… dude. Really? You’re complaining about how SNY portrays you on Mets’ broadcasts? Really? If you’re concerned, then make a little more show. Even Art Howe sometimes acted like he knew how to get angry. You have to play the game. And the current results, Willie, are not very good. You have to bunker down and try to make moves. And when you deflect, don’t use the “they don’t show me showing emotion” excuse.

Dude. Come on. That was weak and admittedly, actually paranoid. You can’t be worried about who likes you. You’ve got to lead your club. Tell the media the things you’re doing, but don’t talk about your “feelings,” man, that only opens you up to get hurt. And likening yourself to Herm Edwards, whose last teams were inconsistent, and then to Isiah Thomas who was a complete nightmare with respect to winning ballgames?

Let’s review your takeaways from this letter: don’t talk about your feelings.

More on Willie’s tenure here.

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