Brandon Phillips got really pissed earlier this week when Pittsburgh Pirate Jared Hughes plunked him. Baseball players get “unintentionally” hit all the time, but Brandon got extra heated and alleged that Jared called him “boy” during the altercation. Jared, as pretty much any white person would do, denied saying anything racist. Jared and Brandon talked it out and everything’s OK now, but it’s worth noting that a lot of racist shit happened this season.
Baseball—as you probably know—is a pretty diverse sport. Even Indians are getting in on the act: Rinku Singh grew up in India and had never even heard of baseball, but his track and field coach encouraged him to try out for a reality show called Million Dollar Arm because he could throw the shit out of a javelin. He won the reality show and was invited to America to try out for the Pirates, the organization he now plays single-A ball for.
The billions of people in India are an untapped pitching resource, but Latin America has been producing Major League players for years. The number of Asian players has been steadily been increasing as well. Conversely, only 8.05 percent of Major Leaguers this year are African American—the lowest that number’s been since black players were allowed in the league. What’s going on, baseball? Are the scouts racist? Are there fewer black kids interested in playing baseball? Maybe it’s a mix of a lot of shit, starting with the umpires.
A study published in 2011 had some telling statistics. If you comb through all the cool graphs and data, you’ll come to the same conclusion the authors did: Umpires are (perhaps unintentionally) racist. The data showed that white umpires are less likely to call strikes for a minority pitcher, and non-white pitchers know this. White dudes get a more liberal strike zone so minority pitchers end up throwing more “safe” pitches, rather than trying to paint the corners of the plate.
Less scientifically, we can conclude from anecdotal evidence that players are racist as shit. For instance, former MLB pitcher Mike Bacsik called San Antonio Spurs fans “dirty Mexicans” in a tweet. And who could forget John Rocker’s racist and homophobic rant that appeared in Sports Illustrated in 2000? He hasn’t changed and recently said he’d vote for the devil over Obama in an interview (side note: People still interview this guy?), and he sells T-shirts on his website featuring the slogan “Speak English.”
That’s the tip of the iceberg of race-hatred. A few years ago Oriole Luke Scott said Obama wasn’t born in the US and doesn’t represent America. He’s also mentioned that he throws banana chips at his Dominican teammate Felix Pie when Felix is acting like a “savage” or an “animal.” And this year Luke just said everyone in Boston is an asshole and being a Christian keeps you from being an alcoholic. Yes, he’s kind of a dick, as is Humberto Quintero, the Royals catcher, who made fun of his Kansas City teammate Bruce Chen during a televised interview by pulling corners of his eyes back to make “slanty eyes.”
The media hasn’t been much better this year either. Philadelphia radio personality Tony Bruno called Giants reliever Ramon Ramirez an “illegal alien” in a tweet, prompting Ramon’s manager, Bruce Bochy, to respond to his rant.
Broadcasters are in on it too. If you want to really nerd out, read this piece from the Atlantic. It breaks down just how critical TV and radio announcers are of minorities. I’ll give you the gist of it: Announcers love to refer to white players are “gritty” when they try really hard, even if they kinda suck, while foreign-born and African American players don’t get praised for their intangibles or baseball IQ. How many times have you heard how scrappy David Eckstein was for sprinting to first base when he worked a walk, and how lazy future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols is for not legging out a ground out?
Then there are the owners. The worst offender was deceased Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. She famously told ESPN her thoughts on Hitler: “When he came in [to power] he was good…They built tremendous highways and got all the factories going… Everybody knows he was good at the beginning but he just went too far." Current Tiger Delmon Young might have gotten along with her just fine. He allegedly called some guys in Times Square “a bunch of fucking Jews” during a drunken altercation.
Is there anything groundbreaking about pointing out racism, prejudice, and homophobia in professional sports? Fuck no, but this is America’s pastime! We’re supposed to hold our kids up to the television screens and talk about how great and noble this sport is—the steroid discussion comes later—but instead we have players mocking Asians on television and commentators constantly implying that Latin players are dumb and lazy. The on-field action is honestly pretty boring—could the off-field action please not resemble 1950s Alabama?