Major League Baseball took until Wednesday to finally join the parade of somber plain-text public relations statements acknowledging that racism is, in fact, bad.
Like so many of these statements, they didn’t exactly hit the mark. It would have been surprising if they had, but still, having had half of this week to observe other leagues’ missteps, maybe they could have used the opportunity to call out police brutality.
And maybe Bartolo Colon will hit two home runs this year.
This is a league where Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts spent Tuesday whining about “a perception that we hoard cash” and lamenting that “the scale of losses across the league is biblical.” Ricketts’ brother Todd runs fundraising for Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, while another brother, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, had to apologize after saying, “The problem I have with you people,” while meeting with the mayor, police chief, and community leaders in Omaha following a white bar owner’s fatal shooting of 22-year-old James Scurlock — a killing for which no charges are being filed. Tom Ricketts addressed that misstep by his brother, an elected official — who was on his team’s board of directors until last year — by saying, “if he offended anyone, I’m sure he didn’t mean to.”
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We knew that MLB wasn’t going to come through with a groundbreaking statement about societal change, but what did they say?
“To be clear, our game has zero tolerance for racism and racial injustice. We will take the necessary time, effort and collaboration to address symptoms of systemic racism, prejudice and injustice, but will be equally as focused on the root of the problem.”
MLB has zero tolerance for racism and racial injustice? That’s interesting, coming from a league where two teams, Atlanta and Cleveland, have racially insensitive names.
The Atlanta team doesn’t even play in Atlanta anymore, having moved to Cobb County so white suburban fans could have an easier time getting to the place where they do the Tomahawk Chop — which the team has acknowledged is racist. But even in that acknowledgement, the team only said it would “reduce” their use of the gesture — while playing against a team with a player who’s a member of the Cherokee Nation.
The Cleveland team dropped a racist caricature from its uniforms as part of a deal to host last year’s All-Star Game, but until they change the nickname, people are still going to go to the games looking like assholes.
The last time MLB had a really high-profile opportunity to do something about racism, during the 2017 World Series, Rob Manfred said, “there is no place in our game” for behavior like Yuli Gurriel making slanted eyes and using a racial slur against Yu Darvish. Being that there was no place in the game for it, Manfred suspended Gurriel for five games the following April and allowed him to continue playing for the cheating-ass Astros through the rest of the World Series.
Major League Baseball can’t reform policing in America, but it can clean up its own act, extending to the “systemic racism, prejudice and injustice” mentioned in that milquetoast statement.
Systemic racism? Well, look around and try to find a black catcher. In a piece by Hall of Famer writer Claire Smith earlier this year, Southern University head coach Kerrick Jackson said, “It is just the nature of the business that they [baseball executives] might look at a black catcher and ask, ‘Who do we compare him to?’ If they don’t have a comparison for him, then he’s not necessarily someone they will be comfortable drafting. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the nature of the business.” The nature of the business, then, is systemic racism, because why the hell would you need a black catcher to be the basis of comparison for another black catcher?
Prejudice? Just last year, Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview featured quotes from an anonymous scout that bashed players with severely racist overtones. In Smith’s piece, Padres cross-checker Chip Lawrence, a Southern graduate, said that, “I don’t feel the shortage of African American catchers is due to questions of intellect,” but when you have scouts out there willing to go on the record with dog whistles, how can you be sure that stereotyping isn’t a factor?
Injustice? Dusty Baker, who has led four different franchises to division titles, had only one job interview between the end of his tenure with the Washington Nationals in 2017 and last year’s winter meetings? It was only after the Astros scandal erupted and A.J. Hinch got dumped that Baker finally landed another job, because Houston was scrambling to find a skipper on short notice.
These are issues, unlike the rising costs of participating at youth levels, that Major League Baseball can address on its own. And that’s not even getting into the “play the right way” culture that views bat flips and other celebratory acts as out of bounds. MLB can insist that teams change their racist names. The league can examine why there are racial disparities at different positions, and do a better job of player development. Teams can build more diverse executive suites and stop passing over clearly qualified minority candidates.
If MLB does truly want to “do the work” within the game, because that’s where the league has the ability to make change, this is where they need to begin.