The American baseball fan’s median age as of last season was 57-years-old, or, as Dan Le Batard occasionally jokes, death. And it doesn’t require a Pulitzer-worthy investigative search to discern Major League Baseball’s whiteness.
Historically, the Brian McCann ‘fun cop’ routine is as normalized as Ted Cruz’s Cancun trip, leaving the state that needed him most. Billy Wagner’s passive-aggressive ‘Know Your Place, Rook’ sign above Lastings Milledge’s locker is heralded as leadership. And how many times do we need to see Madison Bumgarner and Yasiel Puig’s back-and-forth to determine what underlines that rivalry anyway? It’s the same reason a section of pitchers are constantly bombarding outspoken and or emotional hitters following the celebration of a home run. (This isn’t exclusive to Latinos or Black players either, the fun police comes for guys like Bryce Harper, too.)
More recently, Ronald Acuña Jr. was hit by Sandy Alcántara (fellow Latino; Dominican) immediately after a home run in his previous at-bat, leading to an amazing tweet from the Venezuelan-born perennial MVP candidate.
There’s a question to be raised as to whether or not Alcántara (and José Ureña) have merely assimilated into American baseball culture, but it sends the same message. So when the Spanish-speaking official Major League Baseball Instagram page touts 31 of the league’s top 100 players for 2021 being Latino, it highlights multiple conjoining things at play.
Four seasons ago, Latinos accounted for 27.4 percent of Major League Baseball, and the number of foreign-born players (which doesn’t include stateside Latinos) reached a record of 254 in 2018. Rosters have obviously yet to be finalized for 2021, meaning these metrics could easily increase, indicating nearly a third of the league’s players may be of Latin descent. But in general — not just in baseball — it also means we can’t continue to hold up the diversity buzzword in a way that satisfies management throughout American companies as a checkpoint.
As ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza pointed out to me last month in a feature tackling the role of Latinos amid the push for social justice in America, the influx of Latinos need to be embraced for who they are, not simply highlighted as an accomplishment for baseball.
“Before we know it … over half the players are going to be Spanish speaking,” Mendoza said. “That’s where so much of the talent is coming from. It’s just, to me, something that we need to embrace and get excited about, and for people that are watching baseball to also be like, ‘Spanish is a part of the game.’”
Clearly, the need for baseball to embrace other cultures is something not falling on deaf ears. Dominican-born star Fernando Tatis Jr. appears in commercials that are gaining heavy rotation, is on the cover of MLB The Show 21, and just signed for 14 years and $340 million, all indicating that he could be the new face of baseball. Puerto Rican native Francisco Lindor, nicknamed Mr. Smile, was recently acquired by the New York Mets and is one of baseball’s most marketable players. And Acuña Jr., along with Dominican Juan Soto, front that MLB Español graphic for a reason. Nevermind the 31 in the top-100, how about six in the top-20? And they’re all as marketable as Mike Trout, and possibly even more marketable one could argue, even though he’s atop the list.
This is great to highlight; let’s just also embrace it properly, not only tout it as a video-game-like mission checkpoint only to keep it moving. Bask in it, baseball fans; it’s okay. You’re rooting for the guys on your team, anyway. You might as well care about them and accept them for who they are, too.