WSJ – In the New York Mets locker room Monday morning, I was talking with Jeff Cutler, a 30-year old Japanese American from suburban Boston who serves as the interpreter for Japanese-born pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. We were talking casually about Asian communities in America when we heard a voice behind us. “Jeff!” Cutler and I turned around. It was Dan Warthen, the Mets pitching coach. “I’m sorry I called you a ‘Chinaman’ yesterday,” Warthen told Cutler. “It’s OK,” Cutler replied. “I didn’t mean to insinuate –- I know you’re not Chinese,” Warthen said. He paused. “I thought it was a pretty good joke, though.” “It was,” Cutler said, with a small laugh. Warthen walked away. I didn’t say anything, but I was startled. As a 27-year-old Chinese American who grew up in San Francisco, I couldn’t remember the last time I heard the term “Chinaman,” a derogatory word originally given by white Americans to Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. I might have heard it used on the grade-school playground, but never before in dozens of NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball locker rooms I’ve been to as a sports reporter. It surprised me that the 61-year-old Warthen, who pitched in the major leagues in the 1970s before starting his coaching career, would use that word at all -– and so casually. Was he saying that he wanted to apologize for saying “Chinaman” only because he’d said it to a man of Japanese, rather than Chinese, descent? Did he think that the word itself was OK to use—or that it was acceptable material for jokes? Warthen might not have known my race, or even that I was a reporter; he could have missed the media credential hanging from my neck, too: My back was to him when he approached Cutler. Still, the locker was open to journalists at the time. On Tuesday morning, Cutler served as the interpreter for an interview between Matsuzaka and me. Afterward, I asked Cutler about Warthen’s remarks. Were you offended by Warthen’s joke? I asked him. “No,” Cutler said. What was the joke? I asked. “You should ask Dan about that,” Cutler replied.
Late Wednesday, the Mets issued statements from both Warthen and general manager Sandy Alderson. “I apologize for the thoughtless remarks that I made yesterday in the clubhouse. They were a poor attempt at humor but were wrong and inappropriate in any setting. I am very sorry,” Warthen said. “On behalf of the entire organization, I apologize for the insensitive remarks made by of one of our staff members. The remarks were offensive and inappropriate and the organization is very sorry,” added Alderson.
We all know the rules, don’t we? I thought we were all on the same page. The rule is its not racist if its funny. Dan Warthen called a Japanese dude a Chinamen. It was a funny joke. He thought it was funny. Jeff Cutler thought it was funny. Ipso facto its not racist. And this eavesdropping little narc needs to recognize that. He flat out asked the dude if he was offended. He said no. That should be the end of it. There’s no collateral damage racism allowed. You were in their clubhouse and heard something you don’t like so you put them on blast? No sir. Thats not how it works. This is the story of an old white man making inappropriate jokes to one Japanese man. You and your lack of sense of humor have nothing to do with it, bro.
Also are we just not giving Warthen the Old White Man Pass? I mean up until yesterday there is a 100% chance Dan Warthen didn’t even know Chinaman was a slur. My dad still says Oriental. Thinks there’s absolutely no problem with it. Says white people are Occidental and Asians are Oriental. That might be true, Dad, but when you say “That oriental fella,” people think you want them in Internment Camps again. But its not their fault. They just don’t know.
So in summation Dan Warten cracked a funny joke, using a word he probably didn’t even know was wrong, and some third party overheard it and now hes in trouble. I’ll tell ya, this world has gone soft. This dude should have just said “Shut the fuck up, Round Eye!” and we could call it even.