In a Sporting News interview, Chris Rock put it this way, “Baseball doesn’t just have rules from another time. It has an old-fashioned code, too. When you score in football or basketball, the players celebrate. Good times, come on! When you score in baseball, the code says, ‘Better not look too happy about it or else a baseball will go whizzing by your head.’ “
He is not wrong, but he is also not grasping the full picture either. Because it’s not just about baseball…….it’s about our society and culture as a whole. Racism is deeply rooted in our history beginning with the first boats that carried slaves from Africa to the British colonies when the first settlers arrived here.
But we are far removed from what happened then. And as a society, we can only be responsible for what exists now and how our actions today will affect what the future will look like tomorrow.
As I will explain later, baseball is historically not a racist sport ………but at the same time baseball needs to be wary of becoming so……..and it needs to face and solve the division that exists along racial lines in the game today …………because those division lines exist whether MLB puts the blinders on or not………
It bears repeating what appeared in a previous post (My Wife Has A Question )……… That blacks now number only about 8-9% of the spots on major league rosters, while players of Latin descent now comprise almost a quarter of teams today. White inclusion declines slightly, but no where near the rate of black decline. The rate of black participation is particularly alarming though because three decades ago the percentage was approaching 16%. In that same piece, I attempted to give reasons for this shift in numbers.
As always, numbers like those above merely serve as a indicator of the problem……..but not necessarily the problem itself. Moreover, in order to understand the present, it is often useful to seek a understanding of the past. And in this regard, baseball shines as a vanguard in breaking down the barriers of racism in this country.
Remember, it was 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke what was called the “color barrier” in baseball. And this was way before Selma, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and nearly two decades before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Now, whether or not the “intentions” of Branch Rickey were moralistic or driven more by a keen business sense is a valid question, in much the same way that we could ask the same question about the raid we see today on baseball talent in Cuba…….. But the fact remains that baseball paved the way for what was to come in the near future.
Today, the fact remains that Black Americans are not culturally attracted to baseball and as a result their numbers have declined in the game. And that’s important………as Chris Rock intimated, because it IS a matter of culture. It stands to reason, for instance, that blacks would be more attracted to a sport like football where (for all practical purposes), there are no rules and the law of the streets prevails. Referees try valiantly to mediate the gang war on the field while trying in vain to prevent that “lights out” hit that’ll be replayed seven times by the end of the game with no mention made of how those hits over time become permanent brain damage later. Trash talking is common and in many instances encouraged. Extravagant and “look at me ” celebrations are not only tolerated but receive a prime time spot on ESPN.
At the same time, Latin players present a different challenge to baseball. Here’s a quote from a Toronto Blue Jays scout who for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous ………” ‘This team has too many Latinos on it to win,’…….’Get too many of them together on a club and they take over. The club divides, has no sense of itself. They might not be terrible. I mean, them boys can play, but they ain’t gonna win no championship. They’re too emotional to go the distance.’ ” (NPR.org).
Now where is the line drawn between a statement like the one above that could be deemed as racist by some ……. and simply being honest and calling ’em as you see ’em? The question I have is this……….when does racism get turned around to where the minorities get away with flipping their nose at the majority……. And why is this not called out as being “racist”……… And since when is flipping a bat and almost walking around the bases during your moment in the sun not the same as flipping the bird to an opposition player? They say it’s a “cultural thing ” for Latins and it’s just the way they were taught to play. Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it because baseball as it’s played here has a culture too and that culture deserves at least a honorable mention………
Baseball can bend and it has, but it should be a two way street whereby Latin players (and all others of foreign descent) should have a inherent responsibility to at least learn English in return for the riches they are earning in America, Many of these players get a free ride on this and baseball compounds the problem by providing interpreters and “handlers ” at their beckon call. Same with Japanese and Korean players.
So as we can see, the problem goes well beyond the reaches of racism. And baseball’s involvement reaches far beyond the surface while sitting smack in the middle of a societal problem that has yet to be solved…….and more importantly perhaps……to be openly addressed………even as our country is engaged in a Presidential Election season.
Baseball indeed is entrenched in tradition. It is also bound by “unwritten rules ” that govern the game. Bat flips are beyond the borders of those rules. Is it racist to call a player out who attempts to “change” the game merely by his presence………with these flamboyant “look at me” gestures?
I think not. In the same way we must adapt to a office work environment if we opt to work there for instance, where it is not appropriate to underdress, high five the boss, cheat on your timecard, and park in the handicapped zone just to show “you can”……………certain actions are not appropriate in baseball. And it remains a matter of choice………If a person doesn’t like the office environment he finds himself in, he can leave and look elsewhere. But the environment does NOT adapt to him. So too it should be with baseball………. And if that’s a racist view and not simply a practical and honest view, then I’ve missed something along the way here……….