The Long Hard Race (Issue)

Last week, the Giants fielded a starting lineup that consisted exclusively of Black and Latin players. CNNSI reports that this was believed to be a first for the franchise, but no one is sure. When it was brought to his attention, Felipe Alou said, "Right now, people don't notice those things." Too bad that's not true of everyone.

This week, a reporter for the Toronto Star went through this season's opening day rosters, and came to this stunning conclusion: The Toronto Blue Jays are the whitest team in the majors, with only six non-white players on the roster. This was then treated as a warning about the way the Jays scout players and represent their host city, the direction the league has gone, and the state of the world in general.

In response, I can only ask: Aren't we over this, yet?

I mean, there are legitimate gripes and issues when it comes to minorities in management and ownership, but is this really still an issue with the players? In a world where we are not allowed to ignore a person's race in favor of their other, more legitimate and important attributes because the issue of race is always thrown in our face, wasn't sports supposed to be one of the only bastions today where a true meritocracy survives?

Now, professional sports haven't always been that way, obviously. But the merit-oriented nature of sports has always led to it being much more progressive in this regard than the rest of society. While the plights of the blacks in the Negro leagues are well documented, most other races (especially Hispanics and Native Americans) were playing in the majors before Jackie Robinson. Jackie's debut was a couple of decades ahead of the major civil rights battles fought in the sixties. But especially in the last thirty to forty years, baseball has been one place where the color of one's skin has not been a consideration in signing or playing players.

Although there are certainly some nuts out there, absolutely none of the discussions I've partaken in concerning baseball have discussed race or racial issues when discussing players. Even when discussing the influx of players from Japan and Korea, their Nationality has been the issue rather than race, as to whether their native leagues should be happy (or try to stop) them from leaving and whether or not they should be considered eligible for the rookie of the year award. We've never cared. The most important thing has always been that stat line. That hasn't changed in my 26 years of life on this planet.

Unfortunately, this lack of caring by the majority of fans across baseball hasn't stopped certain pundits from bringing up the issue. Back to the ‘White' Jays. Geoff Baker, the author, could not find a single baseball person, from player to management, who had noticed or cared the racial makeup of the team. Jays' President and CEO Paul Godfrey commented, "I believe the vast majority of people will come to see a winning ball club, whether it has nine Dominicans, nine Americans or nine people from Japan on the field…Baseball teams don't sit down and say, `I'll take so many of those and so many of those,' I don't believe in quotas on or off the field. I want the best person in the position, on or off the field." Jays' GM J.P. Ricciardi added "We don't look at players as black and white. We do look at players for what they can do for us. To go into a clubhouse and see Carlos Delgado, (Eric) Hinske and Frank Catalanotto talking baseball ... I don't think they care. I'd like to think we're beyond that at this stage in the world."

If only everyone would feel that way. To back up this stand on the violations that the Jays are incurring on the world, Baker brought in Peter Donnelly, Director of the Centre for Sports Policy Studies at the University of Toronto. Donnelly took the stand as such: "In many ways, Toronto is more multicultural than New York. So, there's a responsibility there and it probably makes marketing sense to reflect your community."

This is news to me. Considering the Giants put out an all-minority team on the field, and myself (white) nor the vastly white crowd at Pacific Bell Park made a peep. Not in papers, not in sports talk radio, no where. Also considering that San Francisco has such a prominent Asian community, yet the team has not players of Asian origin, and the team hasn't suffered in attendance or publicity. Certainly, none of my Asian friends have complained about the lack of Asian players on the Giants.

For a brief while, I was at least taking solace in the fact that this opinion was shared only by a non-sports writer on a slow news day, and a university theorist, one of those professions that is frequently accused of having absolutely no idea of the ‘real world.' At least, I took solace until I read the Chicago Tribune.

Believe it or not, suddenly Dusty Baker was talking race. His words, from a pre-game powwow with reporters: "You have no choice. It's easier for me. It's easier for most Latin guys and it's easier for most minority people. Most of us come from heat. You don't find too many brothers from New Hampshire and Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Right? We were brought over here for the heat, right? Isn't that history? Weren't we brought over here because we can take the heat? [Blacks'] skin color is more conducive to heat than it is for lighter skin people, right?" Baker said. "You don't see brothers running around burnt. Yeah, that's fact. I'm not making this stuff up. Right? You don't see some brothers walking around with white stuff [sun block] on their ears and noses"

I was flabbergasted. Dusty Baker, the former Giants manager and current Cubs manager spewing this. He was one of the people in baseball I looked up to for a long time. I'm sorry to say I don't anymore.

The worse part of this is that Dusty's opinion appears to be entirely wrong. The Tribune columnist who broke this story, Rick Morrissey, quoted two medical sources on the subject. Dr. Robert S. Helman of New York Medical college says "heatstroke affects all races equally. However, because of differences in social advantages, the annual death rate because of environmental conditions is more than three times higher in blacks than in whites." And, the Borden Institute, which conducts military health issue studies, states ""It has been suggested that as a group, blacks are less heat-tolerant than whites. This is certainly supported by U.S. Army medical reports."

Of course, this doesn't reflect baseball players, which is what Dusty should be concerned about. In my outrage, I considered going through player rosters, and comparing the day/night statistical splits of black and white players. Two things stopped me.

The first and lesser reason was the blurring of the races. I'll be the first to confess that I can't tell who's what anymore. The truth is, I've never cared. It's just not a priority. I look at Livan Hernandez, and look at Jerome Williams, and they look like they could be brothers. But Livan is considered ‘Hispanic,' while I believe Jerome is classified as ‘Black.' If I looked at Sammy Sosa, I'd think he was black, but apparently he's Hispanic, too, since he's originally from the Dominican Republic (what, are there no black people there?) This is simply the result of obsolete stereotypes in a modern world. I wonder what stereotype people will apply to recent Golden State Warriors draftee Mickael Pietrus; is he black or French? (Again, a result of people confusing race with nationality). The stereotypes, as they exist for most Americans, don't mix. My guess is that he'll be black when he's doing good, and French when he's playing badly.

But the bigger reason I didn't calculate the day/night splits is that it doesn't matter. Yes, either black or white players will be better at day games, and one will be better at night games. Maybe it'd be the same group, maybe not. But the truth is that the only reason one group is better is because someone has to be, not that their race is better, or more suited for it, or whatever. It's unfortunate but true that just because "All Men Are Created Equal" doesn't mean they're equal statistically. It only means that those individuals started with the same potential, and some have done more with it than others.

Unfortunately, Dusty refuses to apologize. "A lot of people don't know history, that's what it sounds like to me. If they take it as reverse-racism…then they can take it wherever they want to take it."

No, Dusty. ‘Reverse-racism' is an excuse that implies that a racist statement is made only as a defense against a first offense. But two wrongs do not make a right. There is no ‘reverse-racism,' just racism, and there must not be any excuse for it in our society. Unfortunately, unlike the fate of just about any white manager who'd say something similar, Dusty will likely go unpunished for his comments. And as such, the illusion that thinking these things are A) valid; and B) true goes on.

This is harmful to us all. Look, I was raised in an upper-middle class suburb, the type many might call ‘White Bread.' Never mind that the block I grew up on had black, asian and Indian families up and down it. My parents, when raising me, decided that discussing this issue of race wasn't needed. It just wasn't important enough. So, despite the fact many of my friends were all over the racial board, I had no idea there was anything ‘different' until I got to school. By that time, all my instincts were ingrained enough for me to only say "you're crazy" in reaction. But I was lucky. Too many people of all races are brought up around the world learning in their families to ‘blame' someone else for everything that's wrong. Whether it's the whites or blacks, democrats or republicans, it's happening. All that does is preach the kind of separatism that civil rights leaders from long ago fought against. Men like Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped that one day even the appearance of racism, the appearance of judging a person's abilities at any level by the color of their skin, must be held as wrong and destructive. In today's world, though, these prejudices and racism are only spreading harder and faster. These mindsets have done more to undo the work of these good men in the last 40 years than anything that could have been published in the media or seen at the movies.

It might be a pipe dream to hope enough people can change that thinking to make it happen everywhere. But I still at least hope that we can keep this bull out of sports, where the stat line remains the unequivocal truth.

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