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Despite controversial views, Luke Scott could be a hit with Tampa Bay Rays

Luke Scott, left, chatting with Carlos Peña, has been defended by teammates and managers.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Luke Scott, left, chatting with Carlos Peña, has been defended by teammates and managers.

PORT CHARLOTTE — If you judge a man by the size of his controversies, you may not like Luke Scott very much.

In a sport where cliches are offered as universal truths, Scott can speak in screaming headlines. He says what he thinks, he steps on toes, and he does not back away. Even considering the sizable arsenal he keeps, his opinions may be the highest caliber weapon he owns.

If you judge a man by the reactions he creates, you may dismiss Scott from the start.

Google is not kind to Scott. Scan the Internet, and you will see him described as "a flaming racist" or "a birther moron" or "a gun-humping, birther survivalist lunatic." There are some very strong opinions about Scott's very strong opinions.

But if you judge the man who stood in front of his locker on Monday morning, reasoned and reasonable, soft-spoken and seemingly sane, perhaps you will get a different impression of Scott.

Heck, if you can get past the point where it seems that 70 percent of people disagree with about 70 percent of what Scott thinks, you might even decide you like him.

Who knew?

"People have no idea who I am," Scott said, his voice low and even. "I've heard stuff from my friends and family. 'People say this about you and this. Luke Scott is a racist, and all that.' I think if people got to know me, their opinion would change."

Scott, 33, shakes his head.

"I could say some funny, colorful things about people (who criticize him). But it doesn't do any good. They're entitled to their opinions. Do I like the fact they call me names? No. That's extreme stuff. It's a heavy-hitting word to call someone a racist. I'm totally the opposite of a racist."

Yet, the labels have followed Scott from park to park, and now from the Orioles to the Rays. Everyone knows that Scott questioned where President Barack Obama was born, and everyone remembers that he dismissed Obama's birth certificate, and everyone has discussed how he tossed banana chips at ex-Baltimore teammate Felix Pie and called him a savage. If you are paying attention, you have also heard that Pie and other Baltimore teammates have defended Scott time and again.

So who is Scott?

More important, is he worth Tampa Bay's cheers?

"I take stands and I have opinions," Scott said. "A lot of these topics came up because people came and asked me about them. I didn't chase anyone down."

These days, Scott won't answer questions about Obama "because everyone gets stirred up." He won't divulge the exact number of guns he owns, although ESPN set the number at 114, not counting the spears he killed two boars with recently.

Most things, however, are always subjects Scott will embrace. The government. The schools. Society. The Bill of Rights that he has in a silver frame in his office at home.

He doesn't believe in abortion. He thinks Americans should be able to designate what their tax dollars are used for. He doesn't believe in gay marriage. He doesn't believe in evolution. He thinks Glenn Beck is "a patriot." He says that if he hadn't been a baseball player, he would be a sniper for the Marines. He believes in hard work. He thinks he will be a fine addition to the Rays.

Scott says these things, and he makes them all sound perfectly reasonable and well thought out. As he speaks, he constantly touches his temple with his index finger. When you tell him you disagree with him on this subject or that one, he nods. It doesn't seem to bother him a bit.

"I find him interesting," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Whether I agree with him or not doesn't matter. I think other people should find him interesting, too."

Buck Showalter, who managed Scott last year with the Orioles, goes further. He suggests that Tampa Bay is going to love Scott.

"He's a special young man," Showalter said. "He's a good human being. He has a heart of gold. He's a great teammate, and he's always been a sincere young man. He's good people. He's a lot of fun to be around."

Who is Scott? He's the product of David and Jennifer Scott, a hard-working couple from De Leon Springs.

When Scott was a child, his father would allow him to tag along as he worked as a brick mason. His mother was a waiter and a bartender.

"It taught me that manual labor is very difficult," Scott said. "He took me out to experience what it was like to get up early and work in the hot sun all day every day. To come home tired. To take pride in whatever job it is and to do it the right way. He taught me about hard work, dedication, honesty, integrity, character, accountability, responsibility."

Even as a youngster, Scott spoke his mind. English teachers, for instance, drove him crazy.

"I didn't like reading Shakespeare," Scott said. "What was so-and-so trying to portray? I didn't care. I didn't like the guy, so it didn't interest me."

Who is Scott? He is a player brought in to help add muscle to a Tampa Bay batting order. He was hurt much of last year, but before that, he had 75 home runs in the previous three seasons. Maddon suggests he can hit 20-plus this year, too.

Along the way, there might be a headline or two, too.

It is one thing to question the president. A lot of people do that. A lot of people have guns. A lot of people dislike paying taxes. But racism? More than anything else, that accusation has raised eyebrows about Scott.

"I never heard him make one statement in front of me that would indicate that at all," Showalter said. "Luke's never done that. You can ask our guys. I know they loved being around Luke."

It could have been easier, perhaps, if Scott spoke his mind a little less often. On the other hand, don't we ask our athletes to take stands? Should Scott be a villain simply because he says things that some people disagree with? Aren't things a little more complicated than that?

Get to know him, Scott says.

Fair enough.

After all, eventually Scott will be judged by his opinion on the two-run double. In baseball, what matters more than that?

Despite controversial views, Luke Scott could be a hit with Tampa Bay Rays 03/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 5, 2012 9:38pm]

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