Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King

A short aside here regarding some thoughts on baseball and race. I don't intend to write many essays on this site, and feel free to skip this post if you just wanna see the cards.

Dr. King was a great man who achieved great things in this country. Not only did his actions help to directly end legal segregation, but he also helped to begin the erosion of racism in the minds of many people. This year marks the 40th year of his death, and while great progress has been made, we still see a lot of racism in this country today against black people and numerous other minorities.

To me, it's interesting to look at sports in general and baseball specifically as a microcosm of the larger racial issues in this country. We have seen numerous examples of racial issues in the last year:
  • Gary Sheffield commented on two such issues: 1) That Joe Torre treated his black players differently from his other players, and yet somehow isn't racist according to Sheffield and 2) That Latino players are preferred by baseball management because they are easier to control (again, according to Sheffield.)
  • C. C. Sabathia and others came out and complained about the lack of black pitchers.
  • There are disparities at other positions too. Take a look at the list of catchers who had at least 100 PAs this past year. Of those 58, my quick count revealed only 15 minority catchers, and they are pretty much all Latino. I may have missed it, but I didn't notice a single black catcher on there. This raises questions, including why are there no black catchers, and also why is Sabathia concerned about there being few black pitchers, but not about there being no black catchers?
Anyway, my point is just that racial issues exist in baseball just like in the rest of society. And like society, even the viewpoints about race issues seemed to be tinged with racism. It's very difficult to make any kind of statement about race without the statement itself being racist in some way.

Finally, this brings me to one of the things that I do love about baseball. While I am not so naive as to say that baseball fans are blind to race, I believe that baseball (and sports in general) gives people the opportunity to practice judging people by their behavior and performance and not by how they appear. Boston is a great example of this. It's a city that has not had a very good reputation for accepting minorities, especially black people, and yet over recent years the fans have embraced many minority players without hesitation, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, Alex Gonzalez, Coco Crisp, Kevin Youkilis, Pokey Reese, Pedro Martinez, and many others, not to mention the two biggest fan favorites: David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. The acceptance of all of these players has to do with the performance and enthusiasm (except in Manny's case, heh) and comes without consideration of color, background, or religion.

This is one of the big reasons why I love listening to baseball on the radio. While you can surmise the race of many players (especially those with Latino names, although more and more Latino ballplayers are born in the US and are American citizens), in many cases you can't. Sticking with the Red Sox as an example, it's impossible to listen to games and interviews on the radio and know the race of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kason Gabbard, Clay Buchholz, Devern Hansack, and many other players. Listening on the radio makes you truly color blind and gives you no opportunity to pass judgment on a player based on race.

It might sound dumb, but I think this sort of thing is really helping our society to quash racism. While I think it's great that somebody like Barack Obama is getting so much support politically, the media is constantly highlighting what's different about him, including the fact that he's black, that he comes from a Muslim family, and that his father was born in Africa. Obama's candidacy, I believe, does more to create division in many people's minds (by constantly reinforcing differences between people) than to eliminate racism. In many ways, I wish we elected people simply by comparing applications showing their past achievements, voting records, and essays on what they intend to do if elected. Keep the names, genders, races, religions, and other personal data off the applications, because those things are not important in terms of their ability to do the job well.

But we're far away from anything like that yet. America is one of the few democracies in the world to not yet have a minority or woman hold the top political office. That's pathetic. Since sports are getting closer to being fully integrated themselves, I hope more of our children will grow up without turning to someone's differences as the primary way of defining their worth.


Blake said...

Nice post Andy. Racism is always a difficult thing to write about as it evokes a lot of emotion on both sides. One thing I'd like to comment on is when you mentioned how Obama's campaign may be serving to create more division between the races because it has continually focused on differences.

For as long as I can remember, this has been my take on the whole race issue. Every person (Black, White, Hispanic, Native American, etc) should be proud of their heritage and celebrate what makes them unique. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and should be encouraged on every level. Where we have gone horribly wrong is that we have let the differences between the races be the focus of our attention instead of focusing on what bonds us together as a human race. Until we can get people to embrace what we have in common, and stop emphasizing the differences, we will continue to have the same circular discussions.

For what it's worth, that's my two cents.

Anonymous said...

The reason there are not more black pitchers is because they do not aspire to that position and do not develop major league-caliber talent. The same with catchers, and whatever other position you want to throw in there. I do not think it's racism at all. It's a choice made by young players--white, black, latino, oriental, whatever--what they want to be good at.

Andy said...

That might be an oversimplification. Remember that it's usually coaches who determine what positions these players are best at. Many are drafted at one position and switched to another. (Dave Winfield, for example, was a pitcher in college.) But beyond that, for example, young black athletes may not aspire to become pitchers as much as, say, outfielders, because they do not have many role models as pitchers. I'm not saying that the only cause for the current situation is racism, but I do think there is an element of racism, as well as an issue of different motivations/role models/stereotypes that vary by race. No doubt it is primarily a racial issue.

Scott Mortimer said...

Good post, Andy. Trivial side note that shouldn't detract from the point of this post: Kason Gabbard is now with the Rangers. He went there with David Murphy in that wonderful Eric Gagne trade.

Rick Rodriguez said...

"And like society, even the viewpoints about race issues seemed to be tinged with racism. It's very difficult to make any kind of statement about race without the statement itself being racist in some way." Well said Andy, and I agree with you on many of your fine points. I don't agree with the use of words like "minority" because it infers a difference in groups. I also don't agree with things like affirmative action; so, as you can probably guess--those with ideas about fairness on the field (right amount of catchers or pitchers)have got it wrong. Hey if Jackie Robinson can win a spot on a team in the 1950's, then anyone can do it. This crap about race continues to plague this country. I call it "antiquated regurgitated gibberish," and have said so in my local newspapers in the op-ed section! I vehemently oppose any gifts or handicaps (even in golf) where the playing field is leveled. I say let the best man win, and we are all created equal; it's what we do with our talent that counts! While the country turned the presidential election into an US vs. THEM campaign; I never viewed Obama as a black man. To me, he is a candidate, and while I don't agree that he is qualified to run this country, America did. So, the best candidate won; not a black man. This business about this being a historical election is crap! Let's just say that the best man won the election, and as soon as we do, we can move on from the haunting plague of racism that has yet to free us from its grasp!