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Let's start the day with something non-controversial: racism

Feb 11, 2010, 7:57 AM EDT

Moshe Mandel at TYU wants to know if it’s not curious that some writers assume that Felix Hernandez will be more likely to become complacent and lazy now that he has a big contract than Justin Verlander will.  Or whether there is any rational explanation for thinking that Dustin Pedroia “cares more” about his team and winning than Robinson Cano.  What’s really at play here, Mandel wonders:

Baseball fans are commonly exposed to this sort of dichotomy, in which
white players are often presented as gritty and do everything they can
to maximize their talents, while minority players are “athletic” and
“smooth,” and “make it look easy out there.” The successes of white
players are attributed to effort, while the successes of non-white
players are explained by inherent ability. Failures by minorities
players are often explained by pointing to a lack of effort. Failures
by white players have a way of occasionally being rationalized away or
even forgotten.

The scientific name for this is aversive racism, and it’s pretty rampant. Orlando Hudson is fast. The white guy is a “possession receiver.” The black leftfielder is “gifted.” The white second baseman is scrappy and likes to get his uniform dirty. And as Mandel points out, what is the deal with Paul O’Neill not getting any crap for not running out those ground balls in Game 3 of the 1999 World Series?

Thought provoking stuff, definitely worth a click-through to TYU this morning.

  1. smokehouse - Feb 11, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    Craig, your just plain nuts. Get a life.

  2. Jonny5 - Feb 11, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    Well, I just had to say how I felt about that article… wait, copy, paste. Here it is….
    “Well, to be perfectly honest with you. I think that in today’s day and age this article is pure hogwash, bent on getting attention. What better way to bring attention to a blog than to utter the big “R” word. Seriously, I’m not one to buy it. Every situation listed above could be attributed to something other than the big “R” word. The labeling of the minority players above has been done to whites as well. Whenever people really want to prove their opinion as true, millions of “good” examples could be had to bolster their point of view. Likewise if one wants to prove their opinion to the contrary, another couple million “good” examples exist to use and twist to your Point of view. This type of media literature is of the purest horse crap to exist. It’s inflammatory and irresponsible in nature. Yes there is racism in this country, but not saturating our very subcoinscience to the point it seeps out at every chance to comment on a minority player. And once again all the above statements have been applied to whites as well, gauranteed.”

  3. Ralph Kramden - Feb 11, 2010 at 8:52 AM

    Now, smokehouse, no one wants to hear about Craig’s nuts, be they plain or otherwise.

  4. willmose - Feb 11, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    Mickey Mantle worked his butt off (in the bar) and Willy Mays was “gifted”. And the white fans can’t be racist because they didn’t mention the color of his skin. BTW, Willy Mays was probably the smartest baseball player to ever play the game, period. As fans we do take our lead from sportwriters from the likes of Phillips, Gammons, Rosenthal and Miklasz. Sad but true. Of course, ballbase just reflect our country, where large groups of idiots believe our president wasn’t born in this country, is a socialist, and ACRON stole the election. Smooth, Gifted, Lazy, Complacent

  5. ralf - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    How many white players are referred to in the media as “fan favorites”? How often do they attach this label to minority players?
    I don’t know who’s to blame or what is says about sports fans or sports media, but it’s real.

  6. Jonny5 - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    I’m not going to argue your opinion, but all I hafta say is. Ryan Howard, Albert Puljos,Shane Victorino,Derek Jeter, CC sabathia, Pedro Martinez,the list is really endless Ralf. The fact is, if you excel in baseball you will be a fan favorite. If you play the game you will be commented on, sometimes things are said that could be construed one way or the other. As long as peoples words are picked apart and analyzed people will construe them as they wish..

  7. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    Run a google search on firejoemorgan.com and david eckstein. look at how many articles they berated because idiot sportswriters lauded his “abilities” and praised his “gritty/gutty/whatever” play style when this guy was one of the worst players in the league. Eckstein once tried to hold out for a 4/$36M contract(!). Thankfully Keith Law said it best:

    Quite possibly the most overrated player in baseball because people say “gritty” and “scrappy” and “smart” when they really just mean “short.” Eckstein has had a nice run in the National League as a slap-and-run guy who does all of the little things and not many of the big things: He’s got a short swing and isn’t strong, so he hits for very little power, and he’s never drawn many walks or worked the count. He’s still an above-average runner, but not a burner and not worth much on the base paths; the speed is most valuable in helping him bunt for hits or leg out some ground balls. He’s a bad defensive shortstop, and given his age he’s likely to get worse, so it makes much more sense for someone to sign him as a second baseman.

  8. RobRob - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    I spent some time in Boston and while I was there, Mo Vaughn and Pedro Martinez were both considered “fan favorites”. Did the media members turn on them eventually? Sure, but cherry-picking descriptions of players that fit your argument doesn’t actually make your argument.
    Pedroia may be a “grinder” now, and he’s “scrappy”. But no one thought Darren Lewis was “gifted” or “athletic” when he was playing center field at Fenway. We may have wondered why he (and his .311 OBP) was on the team, but all we ever heard about that guy was what a great person and teammate he was.
    There’s way too much confirmation bias in this discussion, on both sides.

  9. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    Fan favorite was probably a poor choice of words, but look at the words Moshe uses in his example. When was the last time you heard a white player called lazy because he didn’t perform to his abilities? When’s the last time you heard a minority called gritty/gutty/etc?
    I hate the use of the race card as much as the next person, but when the examples happen over and over again, you start run out of excuses as to why the above continues to be seen.

  10. YX - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    I’m shocked to learn that DJ Drew is in fact Latino!

  11. Rays fan - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    Odd, I’ve always taken “makes it look easy out there” as better than “scrappy” and never once have thought the two statements imply one player works harder than the other. If anything, the one “who makes it look easy out there” is likely to be the one who practices most & that’s why he makes it look easy.

  12. Jonny5 - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    I don’t see what that has to do with anything COPO. Honestly,I’m gritty,gutty, and scrappy. But I also suck at fielding and hitting a small hardball. I don’t see how calling a white guy these things equals racism towards minorities…

  13. ralphdibny - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    So, there are “millions” of examples of white players being labelled “smooth,” “natural,” and/or “lazy”? There are “millions” of examples of black players labelled “scrappy”? Name five. (And Robert Redford doesn’t count.)

  14. YX - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    And that Jeter is white… I need my coffee

  15. Old Gator - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    Too bad there aren’t more Native American ballplayers, so that white sportswriters could have some fun with the Big Chief Sixpack motif. And of course, we know they would find all kinds of subtle (that’s a joke) ways to do it, too. That would be funny indeed, since most sportswriters’ grammar, spelling and punctuation shows classic signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, and this when they’re in their forties. All of which, by the way, are incidental to the various types of stupidity or levels of gratuitous sanctimoniousness they exhibit. We really do need a classificatory scheme for them – something with the snappy cachet of “Aversive Racism” (Scientific, did you call it? Is that anything like, oh, Jung being…scientific? Describe the control group that was used to verify that the sportswriters in the core study group suffered from Aversive Racism, and that their comments weren’t really caused by a prion)- so we don’t have to default to “meshugge,” “Schmuck” or “putz” all the time (even if our responses to sports features may be all that’s still keeping Yiddish a living and vital language).

  16. Gabe - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    JD Drew

  17. Jonny5 - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:41 AM

    No offense or anything…. But…
    Ho Hum….. this is tired and played out, then to use these labels towards whites as an excuse to label people as Racist is very Lame and unfair. And so ridiculous it’s pretty funny when you think about it. If Racism was so rampant as many people want to think??? Would we need to take something as ridiculous as white players being called Gritty as an excuse to yell racism??? I think not. Excuse me, I guess I’m racist because I feel, as most Philly fans do that Utley is the hardest working, grittiest player on the the Phills…..

  18. Moshe Mandel - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:47 AM

    First, I just want to thank Craig for linking to the article. We have had some interesting discussions on the issue over at TYU, and I am glad that it has spawned similar discussions elsewhere.
    RobRob, I think you make an excellent point about confirmation bias. I tried very hard to make it clear that those were simply examples, and do not constitute an argument in of themselves. I do think the use of certain descriptions are more prevalent regarding certain races, but it would be difficult to prove, which is why I thought it valuable to start the discussion in the first place- to see where people stood on this idea.

  19. Moshe Mandel - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    Racist is your word, not one I used. I specifically noted at multiple times in the post that I was not calling those people racists. The concept is simply that most of us grew up in a time where racism was still a major issue (and it still has not entirely disappeared), and that we could not help but be shaped at least a little bit by that upbringing. It does not make us racists, just a product of society.

  20. RobRob - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    I don’t know that “lazy” has been used exactly, but people have been pretty close to that line with JD Drew.

    I’d also put Posada and Melvin Mora in the group of minority players who are classified as “gritty” and “hard-working” instead of “athletic” and “gifted”.

    As for the O’Neill example, he gets the benefit of the doubt for two reasons, 1) He threw a fit like a 3-year-old every time he struck out in a big situation (i.e., he obviously “cares”), and 2) He legged out (or tried to leg out) a double in a losing cause at the end of the 1997 post-season. Yankees fans remember these things, and if O’Neill fails to run out a few balls during game 3 of a World Series sweep of the Padres, they’ll cut him the slack.

    It’s the same with Jeter (and will be with ARod eventually, too). Everyone remembers those huge hits in the 2001 WS, or the flip to nail mini-Giambi at the plate earlier that same postseason. Because of those events, no one thinks about all the times he has hit into a double-play or struck out or grounded out weakly to second base to end a game.

    Remember also that the other examples that Moshe cites are from the media, or Stark’s “talent evaluators”. It’s no surprise to me that these guys would fall back on stereotypes because they use trite and hackneyed story lines to frame their writing all the time. Why avoid racial stereotypes when the rest of your story is no more inventive than that anyway?

  21. Bill@TDS - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:57 AM

    What’s your evidence that Utley is harder working than, say, Jimmy Rollins (and that he’s not just more talented)?
    I think it’s unfortunate that there isn’t a better word than “racist,” because while it’s accurate — people are making judgments and assumptions based on a person’s race rather than his individual characteristics — the word “racist” has (understandably, obviously) been connected to a kind of malice against one race, or against all races different from one’s own, and I don’t think that’s necessarily present here. Which doesn’t make this brand of “racism” it any less silly or short-sighted, just a little less shameful.
    And you can’t just cite one or two counter-examples and call the whole idea hogwash. White players are scrappy and gritty until proven unscrappy. Black players are graceful/athletic/fast and have attitude problems until proven plodding and good-natured. And so on. The fact that individual players can overcome the prejudices doesn’t change or excuse the fact that the prejudices exist as a default.

  22. Moshe Mandel - Feb 11, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    I just posted a reply that did not get through, but here was the gist of it:
    I never used the word racist. In fact, I stated clearly that I was not calling the referenced people racists. Rather, we are all simply a product of the society in which we grew up in, which is a society in which race was, and is, still an issue. If “race card” is called every time someone brings up race, then it will never, ever be discussed.

  23. RobRob - Feb 11, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    @Moshe – You’re begging the question here. Yes, those are just examples, but you’re assuming that the argument makes its own case and a sprinkling of quotations are support. In fact, it comes across as just the opposite.

    What I would rather see is someone to do some empirical research. Take all of the descriptions of baseball players over the past 10 years and compare the descriptive words (“lazy”, “complacent”, “gritty”, etc.) to the performance and statistics of the player. It would be interesting to see how that plays out.

    Of course, another point is more subjective. There’s no excuse for Bob Klapisch to claim that Pedroia “cares more” than Cano, but I think it’s pretty clear that Cano has a smoother swing than Pedroia, who often looks like he’s swinging the limb of a tree. That swing reminds people of Rod Carew, and it’s easy to then put unfair expectations on Cano because of that. Is it Cano’s fault that he doesn’t live up to those expectations? No, but it does help explain why people might think he’s lot living up to his “potential”.

  24. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Feb 11, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    What I would rather see is someone to do some empirical research. Take all of the descriptions of baseball players over the past 10 years and compare the descriptive words (“lazy”, “complacent”, “gritty”, etc.) to the performance and statistics of the player. It would be interesting to see how that plays out.

    As I mentioned above, do a google search on firejoemorgan.com and david eckstein. Then read the quote from Keith Law I posted.
    btw anyone else getting this error when trying to post?

    Invalid request: corrupt character data for character set UTF-8

  25. Moshe Mandel - Feb 11, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    Fair enough, Rob. If I was not currently in Law School, I might consider such a study, but unfortunately I do not have the time. I will say that the phenomenon of racism without racists is one that has been closely studied and has been concluded to exist by most of those studies. I’m not sure why sports analysis and discussion would be different and exempt.

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