Race, Baseball and the New York Mets

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luis-castillo-pedro-martinez-and-johan-santanaMatters of race are never easy to discuss or write about. In today’s media landscape, where short blurbs and slideshows dominate content, the difficulty of writing about complicated things like race is especially hard.

In baseball, the number of African-Americans is dwindling and players from Latin American countries are on the rise. Add in ownership, media that covers the sport and a fanbase that remains predominately white, there is always potential for disconnects about race.

I’ve written about race before, trying to understand how during the 2011 offseason how there wasn’t a single African-American interviewed for any of the then-five managerial openings in baseball.

I wonder if Jackie Robinson — who was in the last days of his life during the 1972 World Series when he chided MLB for not yet having hired an African-American manager — would prefer everyone wearing “42″ on Jackie Robinson Day, or MLB making sure its teams were adhering to policies the sitting commish put on the books himself?

For weeks I have been asking current African-American coaches about this non-existent market for their services. Each one has declined to be interviewed, even off the record, for fear of potential blowback. The baseball beat writers I have contacted have each given a collective shrug at the question. One went even farther than that:

“Not sure I understand your point. should teams put on a show?’

I’m not telling anyone who to hire, but unless teams expand the talent pool and include African-Americans in their respective managerial searches, how can a qualified candidate get the exposure he needs to get to the next level?

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is very high on his third base coach Bo Porter, but he hasn’t gotten a single call this offseason. Porter is a fantastic instructor and could be an asset to any club. Yet he sits and waits.

To the credit of the Houston Astros this offseason, they not only granted Bo Porter an interview, they were so impressed with his presentation, he got the job.

But let’s be clear; I’m not happy that Bo Porter got a job because he was black, I’m happy that an organization that is looking to change everything about how it has done business in the past has also embraced the responsibility of making sure it has crossed all of its T’s and dotted all of it’s i’s.

Ultimately, I am pleased because I think Bo Porter is going to be fantastic manager.

***

I took my share of heat for writing the article, folks accusing me of playing “a race card” and such. But facts supported my argument. I also made sure that I spoke to several people in baseball about the issue; a former GM, a broadcaster, several coaches, and a few players. For me, having multiple sources on board creates as close to a fail-safe position as any journalist can have, especially when discussing and asking such issue such as race.

It’s not as apparent, especially recently, that every writer takes those same measures, and the end result is accusations about agenda, faux controversy and tabloid directives.

Recently, both Andy Martino, former Mets beat writer now baseball columnist for the New York Daily News and Adam Rubin, the beat writer for ESPNNY reported an incident that recently occurred between Mets minor league proapects Zach Wheeler and Aderlin Rodriguez.

Martino:

Zack Wheeler, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, was reprimanded last weekend along with teammate Aderlin Rodriguez for an on-field incident that led to ethnic tensions in the Mets’ minor league clubhouse, according to organizational sources.

Rubin:

In a recent intrasquad game, Wheeler drilled third base prospect Aderlin Rodriguez in the hand with a pitch, and Rodriguez feared his hand was broken. Sources said Rodriguez subsequently told Wheeler that if he missed Opening Day, Wheeler would too. (Not a good career move to allegedly threaten the top prospect in the organization, by the way.)

Rodriguez had pimped a home run off Wheeler during a previous intrasquad matchup. Some in the organization were glad Wheeler displayed a mean streak in retaliating with the suspected purpose pitch, although not thrilled about having an in-house plunking. (It’s still not officially established Wheeler hit Rodriguez on purpose. Wheeler has denied it.)

It turned out Rodriguez’s hand was not broken, and he actually homered again in a regular minor league game days later.

Rubin, who has covered the team far longer, is the only reporter who covers the team as an organization (often traveling on his off days to check in on the Mets’ top prospects during the course of the season) is no stranger to reporting controversial Mets issues. Yet, there’s no mention of any “ethnic tensions” in his article.

Where did the ethnic tension come from? Because Martino quoted a source saying that “The American guys and the Latino guys were yelling at each other”? Were there any punches thrown? Nope. Were there any racial epithets or slurs used in the argument? Apparently not because Martino didn’t report it. So why the “ethnic tensions” in the headline, in the subhead and in the body of the story? Because Wheeler is American and Rodriguez is Dominican?

Both Rubin and Martino say Rodriguez was “pimping” after he hit his home run. Using Martino’s logic, can’t I now accuse these writers of racial bias? Do Latino players ‘pimp’ and white players just “hot-dog” or “show-up” the pitcher? Sounds silly? Yes, because it is, and so is Martino’s “story”. If you have a racial slur being used, the you have a story. If not, you have zilch.

But then again, race and rabid speculation is a Martino staple.

There were a few players turned off by how the Dominican Republic team was celebrating during the WBC Martino asked David Wright about whether his old teamate Jose Reyes and his DR teammates were acting. Shockingly Wright had no problem with it. But some others did, and that, according to martino is clearly racist:

Guys like Willie Bloomquist instead decided to furrow their brows.

“I’m not saying what they’re doing is wrong,” the infielder said of the DR theatrics, according to Anthony McCarron. “They’re playing with emotion and that’s fine.

“How you show your emotions, I think, is another thing. It’s just a matter of your view on the game of baseball and what your view is on respecting opponents and the uniform.”

Oh stop. No, seriously, please lighten up. If Captain America does not think that the Dominicans “disrespected the game (and what a loaded and dreadful term that is)”, everyone else needs to chill, yes? And did Wright find all the dancing disrespectful?

“No,” he said, with an answer quick and firm. “It’s energy. It’s intensity. And different teams show it different ways. That’s what made the atmosphere so great — you had the contrast in styles. It really was awesome.”

And you know what would be even more awesome for Wright, the Mets, and fans of outer-borough baseball? A little more flair on the field and in the stands, like it was in the old Los Mets days.

Granted, his accusations were subtle in that doozy of “a story”, but Martino has q fep as a writer who inserts race in his work.

The headline is all you need for this doozy:

Mets fans have lost patience with second baseman Luis Castillo, and it is hard to ignore race factor

Mets fans have lost patience with second baseman Luis Castillo, and it is hard to ignore race factor

Luis Castillo got booed because he was not a very good baseball player. Yes, he played hurt, and yes, he hit hit .300 in 2009. But yes, he was a terrible signing. And given that his contract was immovable, many fans looked at Castillo ( and lefty Olkver Perez) as one of the reasons it was hard for Mets to improve during terrible seasons in 2009-11. But race? Aside from the fact that Martino doesn’t give any reason for his charges in the story — outside of his own speculation and that of a “friend” — it’s just another example of a writer pushing his own agenda.

I’ll go even further to point out some realities for Martino, who regularly provs he has as much of handle on Mets history as the team’s ownership group.

Pedro Martinez, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Jose Reyes, Cleon Jones, Tommy Agee, Ed Charles, Felix Milan, Edgardo Alfonzo, Al Jackson, Rafael Santana and Hubie Brooks number among some of the Mets fans’ favorite players over the 51-year history of the team. To accuse the fan base of racism because they didn’t cheer for Luis Castillo is appalling. Almost as appalling as Martino including the “Mets fans are racist” theme in the later chapters of “The Mets” the hardcover retrospective that the Daily News put out last season.

Yes, Andy, racism is a part of our society, baseball, the Mets and in the stands. But one of these days, it’d be nice of you could actually prove it when you choose to “report” it.

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7 thoughts on “Race, Baseball and the New York Mets

    Earl said:
    March 31, 2013 at 2:17 am

    Well said Mark. Everything here is true to a T. Not only has he played the race card over and over, let’s not forget about him trolling Noah Snydergaard’s twitter page once he was acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade. He is grasping every bit if non-“politically correct” junk he can find.

    It’s a shame that the Daily News doesn’t reprimand him for this. It’s on their watch that he’s writing this stuff. I can’t imagine what kind of, if any, “friends” he has in the press box.

    Is next week’s featured article is going to be that Travis d’Arnaud supports school shootings because he plays the “Call of Duty” video game?

    BrooklynGirl said:
    March 31, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Jason Bay was booed all the time. Does that mean we hate Canadiens? Fans get on players all the time when they don’t produce regardless of their ethnicity. Don’t make issues where there are none…grow up already!!

    BrooklynGirl said:
    March 31, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    And for the record I had no problem with the way the DR team celebrated. It showed passion and pride for their country. However the horns in the stands were annoying and I felt it distracted from the game. I would much rather hear their voices cheering and chanting for their team. To me, that shows more respect than blowing a horn.

    CC (@connallon) said:
    March 31, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Lots of typos in this story, but otherwise pretty spot on.

    Keith said:
    March 31, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Well said. Martino could have spun the wheeler incident in any number of ways, and chose to use it as support of his narrative. Wheeler could have been the immature rookie, the hard-nosed prospect, or the race baiting white boy, and Martino took option 3.

    Also , edgardo Alfonzo is awesome. Have a nice day

    Kevin Canessa said:
    April 1, 2013 at 2:08 am

    One of the best pieces I’ve read in some time. Well said — and well done, Mark.

    Let the out-of-context buzz commence said:
    October 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    […] is not necessarily a new accusation. George Foster brought it up and the handling of the Cleon Jones affair was an […]

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