Perhaps even more distressing, Milwaukee fans actually gave Hader, who also included the KKK and White Power in his rants, a standing ovation. Former star player Reggie Jackson wrote that he was not surprised by Milwaukee fans’ ovations, “I felt a very strong vibe that I was out of place and not welcomed by some fans.”
Hader, Newcomb, and Turner have, of course, apologized. MLB’s strongest reaction has been to require sensitivity training.
Beyond that, the attitude has been “play ball” on behalf of the league and each team. However, Nationals’ reliever Sean Doolittle did speak out, chiding the trio on Twitter: “it’s not like you can accidentally post a slur.” Cubs’ pitcher Jon Lester also responded on Twitter, advising players to undo any damage they’d done on the site or “better yet, don’t say stupid things in the first place.”
To its credit, Major League Baseball has acknowledged its problem with homophobia by naming Billy Bean its ambassador for inclusion. Bean played for the Tigers, Dodgers, and Padres but quit in his prime, because he couldn’t reconcile the anti-gay vibe in the clubhouse with his own sexual identity. However, the league obviously has a largely unacknowledged problem with racism.
According to “Major League Baseball’s Racial and Gender Report Card”, an annual publication of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, aka TIDES, baseball has the oldest and most Caucasian of all viewers of major sports. Although 42.5 percent of MLB players were people of color on Opening Day in 2017, African Americans made up only 7.7 percent of combined rosters. That’s the lowest percentage since TIDES began tracking. By comparison, in 1991 18 percent of players were African American. Ten years earlier, MLB reached its highest percentage at 18.7. That year’s all-star team had a total of 14 black players.
In fact, MLB’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, commissioner from 1920 to 1944, wanted to keep the league color-free. As it turned out though, some of the best players in the history of the sport (Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, to name a few) and the Padres (Tony Gwynn) have been African American. By 1950, all pro sports teams had added black players, but the percentage in baseball obviously doesn’t come close to the NFL’s 64 percent or the NBA’s 75 percent.
Adam Jones, who grew up in San Diego and plays center field for the Baltimore Orioles has called baseball “a white man’s sport.” Jones has experienced the venom first hand in Boston when fans flung racial taunts at him.
Of course, baseball operates within the larger culture of the United States in which racism lives on and affects all aspects of American life. For example, increasing numbers of higher-income white Americans have moved to the suburbs where youth leagues flourish. Many young, white players have the advantage of playing for higher-level travel teams. Their parents even hire private coaches. Lower-income African American players don’t have those same advantages. To try to combat the inequities, MLB has taken over Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, a program started in 1989 by former player John Young in Los Angeles at Boys and Girls Clubs. But MLB needs to step up and become much more proactive, as do the Padres.
A.J. Preller has concentrated on scouting and signing players from Latin American countries not from the South or inner cities. Currently there are no black players on the 40-man roster, nor does it appear there will be any time soon. Expanding the search for talent should include areas in which African American kids have the opportunity to play.
In the meantime, Turner’s tweets should end the debate about the winner of the trade that brought Wil Myers to San Diego. As far as we know, Myers’ most egregious prejudice is his preference for East Coast over West Coast Mexican food.
Baseball has been a part of Diane’s life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.