Monday, October 03, 2005

Hacking at Slop by Ken Derr

If you missed it, the San Francisco Giants not only imploded on the field, in the clubhouse, and in the front office this season; they even self-destructed on their flagship radio station. I won’t get into the absurdities of the Barry watch, in which management desperately tried to keep up with the cryptic comments emanating from some Beverly Hills bunker announcing the latest return/no return news on the all-Barry website. I won’t slobber on about the failure of veteran players to rise to a Bondsless Giants squad that has made the palace of PacBell a yawning morgue for cell phone ringtones and soggy, impotent garlic fries. I’ll stay away from management decisions that have left the faithful groping for bottles of Wild Turkey snuggled deep in the back of the cabinet, untouched since the era of Johnny LeMaster. What I’m here to talk about is slop-hacking, PC rhetoric, the wrath of God and hardball capitalism. Let Aguirre be my eternal judge.

The story begins thusly: the Giants home on the radio is KNBR, a 50,000 watt station that reaches north to Oregon, east to the Sierras and south to the immoral confines of Isla Vista, home of the UCSB Gauchos. One night, after another aesthetically repulsive home loss to the Colorado Rockies, radio talk-show host Larry Krueger, an 8-year KNBR employee, went on the air and vented some pent-up frustration, denouncing “brain-dead Caribbean players hacking at slop nightly” and insisting that manager Felipe Alou’s brain was made of Cream of Wheat.

When told the next day of Krueger’s remarks, Alou was livid, arguing that as a young player coming up in the south he had to put up with all kinds of nasty racist comments, and he was not going to stand for it now that he was in a position to call the bastards out. KNBR suspended Krueger for a week, and the media in the Bay Area began sniffing race scandal blood. Meanwhile, Krueger offered to meet with Alou and apologize. Alou refused, insisting that while he did not want to see Krueger fired, people from the countries that comprise the Caribbean “were offended by that idiot. This guy offended hundreds of millions of Caribbeans.” A few days later, things appeared to simmer down, but Alou was still boiling over. In an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines, which aired right before Krueger was to be reinstated, he went Old Testament. He called Kruger “this messenger of Satan, as I call this guy now,” and justified his reason for refusing to meet with Kruger this way: “I believe there is no forgiveness for Satan.” And while reporters dug deep to explore Krueger’s reputed youthful obsession with Black Sabbath, a midnight raid to excavate his backyard revealed no bones of eaten children.

After Alou’s “Satan” comments aired, the next morning’s radio hosts, Brian Murphy and (ex-Giant) F. P. Santangelo, were exploring whether the manager’s response was just a bit over the top. Yes Krueger had screwed up and deserved to be punished, but was he really an agent of Beelzebub? At that moment, their young producer, Tony Rhein, hoping to bring a little levity to what was an awkward time for the new morning hosts and trying to put a little mocking sting in Alou, interjected two “samples”: a Dana Carvey SNL church lady cry of “Satan!” and a South Park sound bite from an episode that included a weigh-in before a fight between Jesus and Satan. It was over in seconds (the soundbite that is—no word on the length of the battle between the divinities). That night, KNBR Senior Vice President Tony Salvadore posted a short announcement on the radio’s website announcing the immediate dismissal of Krueger, Rhein and 16-year veteran programming director Bob Agnew. “The segment, featuring inappropriate comedy sound bites,” Salvadore wrote in the statement, “Demonstrated an utter lack of regard for the sensitivity of the issues involved and a premeditated intent to ridicule Felipe Alou’s commentary…KNBR deeply regrets the comments and actions of these individuals, which do not reflect our beliefs or values as an organization. We would like to express our deepest apologies to Felipe Alou, his players and the Giants’ organization for this offense to the Caribbean community.” This missive was placed on the website at 10:15 p.m. What in the name of Jehovah were the talk show hosts going to say the next morning, less than eight hours later, with both their immediate boss and their producer out on the street?

Well, Murphy and Santangelo, who had been with KNBR less than a year, tried their darndest to do radio ballet. It was obvious that they were devastated by the firings, especially that of Rhein, whom they could not stop praising. They also knew that the man who had fired their friends was the man who had hired them and could have their own heads on a block if they went too far attacking management for the decisions. The majority of callers, however, swung verbal mallets. Most attacked the firings, and their two main theories for the cannings can be summarized as such: 1) KNBR laid down for the ultra-liberal Berkeley/SF PC Nazis because it did not want to deal with an assault on the station by the militant wing of the Rainbow Coalition, and 2) The Giants organization demanded the firings to support Alou and, and KNBR laid down. Callers had very few kind words for anyone, and most were seething with outrage. You could hear the spittle dripping from the corners of their blood-drenched mouths.

Esteemed and despised local media personality Gary Radnich was due to take over KNBR’s 9:00 a.m. slot, and Murphy had been insisting all morning that Radnich’s experience and insight would lead us out of the relativist wilderness and into the promised land of moral clarity. Radnich prefaced his remarks with about 14 different qualifications and then stated unequivocally that the Giants organization had nothing to do with the firings. Radnich tied Salvatore’s decision to the fact that KNBR's parent company, Susquehanna Radio Corp. of York, Pa., had been up for sale for several months. That made Tuesday morning's attempt at comedy, at least in the ears of the powers-that-be in York, more than a harmless mistake. “It's another log on the fire,'' Radnich told his listeners, suggesting that if Alou thought KNBR was teasing him and rallied community support, an FCC investigation could hurt the sale of Susquehanna, which operates 33 stations in eight markets. “You’re talking licensing, you’re talking millions of dollars,”' Radnich said. “This is business. And in the end, business wins. That is why Larry Krueger is not with the station anymore.” Radnich refused to blame the Giants, but he did say that Alou’s “ranting and raving are the primary reason this thing reached the point that it did.” He never explained exactly how the licenses were suddenly at risk, but by the end of the day, callers had themselves a new villain, and his name was Felipe Alou. Krueger, in the meantime, had been morphed from a zealous lout who had revealed his latent racism in the heat of a convulsive verbal moment to the Mario Savio of sports radio, a victim of intolerant PC thinskinners and callous corporate bigwigs.

When Alou heard about the firings, he said, “I feel bad about people being fired. It wasn't my intention, but I didn't start it and I took a stand. It was their decision," he said of the station. “Hopefully, they understand that people are not going to sit still and be put down like that. In the USA, I don't believe there is any room for that.” He did not explain, however, how or why it was OK for his organization’s radio station to keep hell’s chief on board. Perhaps Krueger was the tempting snake in the Garden, luring dormant racists up off their lazy boys to eat from the tree of hate. Even theological interpretations, however, weren’t enough for the godless Bay Area, as a poll on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website, taken the day after the firings, showed. Only 21% of the respondents said that Krueger should be fired, while 68% said that termination was an overreaction. KNBR callers continued to scald Alou in the days that followed, while the Giants and KNBR management went quiet, desperately hoping that some SF supervisor would make his monthly egregious faux pas, and we could all go back to hating our secular targets of animosity.

Some three weeks later, the game of black and white hats isn’t so easy, so if you’re looking for ultimate judgments, go watch the 700 Club. Yes, Krueger’s “Caribbean” comment was racist, and if he had been fired immediately (which he probably should have been), the uproar would have been far less intense than it ultimately was. He wasn’t fired, however, but that did not stop Alou from seeking outlets (he went on the local Spanish TV station to attack Krueger in addition to his ESPN interview) to vent his frustration in Biblical terms, all the while insisting he did not want Krueger let go. Perhaps Alou’s support of free speech also applies to denizens of hell, and he was simply trying to let truth win in the public forum, but he never made that clear. The vehemence of his attacks, his unwillingness to meet with Krueger and accept his apology (and perhaps educate the man) and his insistence on Krueger’s satanic connections stole fuel from his legitimate outrage. Everybody understood why the man was pissed, but fewer and fewer felt comfortable supporting him as his mouth continued to roar from the dugout pulpit.

Maybe Radnich was right, and it was all about money. Three weeks after this whole sordid mess broke, however, I can’t help wondering how it would have played if the Giants were above .500 and in first place (as I write, the Padres are one game below .500 and 5 ½ games up in the NL West), instead of stumbling along in 4th place in the weakest division in Major League history. Krueger’s frustration with the wildly underachieving Giants pilfered his judgment, and he went public with something he might secretly believe but would never have aired had the team been winning. I suppose you could also argue that losing actually breeds such ugly sentiments, digging into the darkest recesses of the subconscious and planting such ugliest sentiments, but I’ve always tried to keep Freud out of my baseball. Winning, however, can be a pretty good band aid.

In some ways, the whole Krueger affair has been illustrative of the Giants season—one dumb move after the next, with good judgment and timely speaking decidedly missing in action. So, three guys are out of a job, Felipe Alou has lost the respect of many of his former fans, KNBR’s reputation is stained, and I’m sitting here still trying to figure what the hell happened to the season.

You know, maybe I do have a solution to this whole mess—why don’t we all just blame Barry? If he had been around, everyone could have been focusing their antipathy on his barcalounger, denouncing his cream and cleared accomplishments, and abominating his every breath. Hell, we’d all be too tired to stay up for late-night talk radio, and with Barry around, hey, maybe we just might be creeping up to that .500 mark. And let’s face it—if ever there was a messenger of Satan…

Ken Derr is a San Francisco Giants fan and is really looking forward to hockey season. Go Sharks!

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