Bobby Scales held up a lime-green object so the others on the Zoom session could see it.
“This is my cell phone case. It’s neon green. I hate this thing,” said the former Cubs infielder who’s now the minor-league field coordinator for the Pirates.
“The reason I keep it neon green is because if I get pulled over, and I’m sitting in my car and it’s in my cupholder, there’s no thought that that’s a gun,” he said. “You’re not going to say I went to draw for something.”
It’s one of several examples Scales shared on the latest episode of the Cubs Talk Podcast of the countless ways being black in America impacts daily thoughts and actions, some smaller, some larger and all collectively exhausting, especially at what might be a “tipping point” moment for the country after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Scales, 42, was a feel-good story for the Cubs in 2009 when he made his big-league debut after persevering through a decade in the minors. He was also a rarity as one of a dwindling number of African-American players in the the majors.
He’s even more of a rarity in that regard as a front-office executive in a sport that has become even whiter in its executive and on-field management positions in recent years.
Scales, a passionate advocate for a game that might be reaching its own cultural tipping point, talks about the power of sports to drive public discourse and change, as well as the shortcomings MLB faces in that effort as “one of the true last bastions of the real old boys’ network.”
Baseball lags behind the other major American sports in tolerating political or social advocacy, never mind dissent. And its fewer and fewer non-white American insiders have found stronger voices in this national moment of outrage and protest — whether it’s former Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler on social media, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward on the airwaves or Scales this week on a Chicago podcast.
Baseball might be a tough culture from which to speak out.
“But that doesn’t mean you [should] be afraid to do so,” Scales said. “That’s why I’ve made my voice known.”
Scales, who talked briefly with the Cubs about a front office job at a time he wanted instead to keep playing in Japan, eventually became a farm director for the Angels before joining the Pirates and is considered a rising star among executives in the game.
That could make him one of its more important voices for the kind of change urgently needed in a sport that long ago began losing its appeal with younger Americans, that has a pace-of-play problem, that clings to a culture of “unwritten rules” that discourage bat flips and fist pumps (read: joy), and that has a growing racial gap to bridge in this country — certainly compared to the participants and fans of football and basketball.
“I love this game. I don’t want to have to love another game,” Scales said. “I love this game. I want to work in this game. I want to effect change. I want to affect the lives of young men, in this game. So I want the best for it, too.”
It’s a game that for better and for worse has often reflected American culture, from its six decades of strident segregation to its seven decades of imperfect integration and all its labor battles, drug scandals and tech booms throughout.
And if this moment of outrage and backlash in American history actually is the tipping point that leads, finally, to measurable change in a way that the deaths of Amadou Diallo (1999), Eric Garner (2014) or Sandra Bland (2015) did not, then maybe there’s even hope for a more outspoken and inclusive culture in baseball.
“Every white listener of this podcast, I want you to understand,” said Scales, whose family history includes a great grandmother who marched on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965 across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
“One, we’re not making this stuff up,” he said. “This stuff is real; it happens every day. And, two, we’re really, really over it.
“It’s time. Give it up.
“What are we so scared of in this country that we cannot talk through?”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.
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