It has to be tough to be a “traditional” baseball fan these days.
Names like Molitor, Brett, and Ripken aren’t as synonymous as they used to be. Increasingly, fans have to get used to names such as Cabrera, Gomez, and Bautista.
If you look at the demographics of baseball players these days, the lessons learned in elementary school Spanish are coming in handy. According to the 2015 Major League Baseball Racial and Gender Report Card, the percentage of Latino players increased from 28.4 percent in 2014 to 29.3 percent on 2015 opening day rosters. Meanwhile, the percentage of white players decreased from 60.9 percent in 2014 to 58.8 percent.
Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today, recently wrote a story detailing the uptick in bench-clearing brawls in Major League Baseball. A USA TODAY Sports study of 67 bench-clearing incidents in Major League Baseball over the past five seasons discovered that the primary antagonists came from different ethnic backgrounds in 87 percent of the cases.
San Diego Padres pitcher Bud Norris was quoted in the article telling foreign born players to play the game the “right” way:
“I think it’s a culture shock.This is America’s game. This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.”
Norris went on to use a paternalistic tone when telling foreign born players that they ought to know better.
“I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.’’
Before I delve into this, it should be noted that this week is the 42nd anniversary of Latino icon Roberto Clemente getting his 3000th Major League hit.
Someone needs to get Norris books on international baseball, race, domestic policy, along with public relations. Norris might as well said, “Please play baseball like we learned in the country and in the suburbs.” Also, whom does he mean by “our” and “we?” After all, we’ve seen this play out in other sports that were once dominated by white people.
Lou Moore is a professor who teaches history at Grand Valley State University. He said Norris’ comments mirrors what most Americans feel about immigration.
“In baseball, and in American society, there tends to be a feeling that our culture is a monolithic euro-centric culture when it is actually not,” Moore says. “That segregated brand of ball that Bud Norris referred to 100 years ago is not the same baseball being played today. Why? Integration. Black players, both Afro-Latino and African American, and Latin players changed the game.”
Moore went on to say that American baseball has a history of “culture wars.”
“For example, Jackie Robinson brought an emphasis of speed and baserunning that was part of the Negro Leagues. It is also important to remember, however, that despite the gifts non-white Americans brought to the game, there was always backlash that centered on the idea that these non-white players lacked the respect for the game,” Moore said. “For example, look how they worried about Satchel Paige’s “antics” or how the Yankees refused to bring up the great Vic Power (black man from Puerto Rico,) because he was deemed a showboat on and off the field.
Instead, the Yankees went for Elston Howard, a clean-cut African American player.”
It’s only human nature that people make such statements. After all, Norris’ comments reminded me of the line from Common’s “Resurrection” when he said:” Don't watch the Bulls as much, they got too many white boys.”
Per usual, social got after Norris for his comments:
my guest on this week's episode of "Playing Baseball the White Way" is pitcher Bud Norris— keithlaw (@keithlaw) September 30, 2015
Someone should tell Bud Norris that baseball has been played outside the U.S. for more than 100 years. pic.twitter.com/HAzMaO1XNz— Tomás Ríos (@TheTomasRios) September 30, 2015
I can guarantee that I could find an unsigned dude in the Dominican right now who could put up a better ERA than Bud Norris— Jorge Arangure (@jorgearangure) September 30, 2015
After Norris realized how much of an internet commentator he may have sounded like, he issued a statement Thursday to the San Diego Union-Tribune:
“It was a quick conversation after a game, and I was getting dressed to go see my family,"I feel my words were definitely misconstrued, but that's beside the point. I want to apologize for how it came out and the words that were taken out of context in passing. I apologize to anyone I might have offended. I love this game and admire everyone who plays this game with all the passion that I do."
Norris’ words have become all too familiar in the political lexicon. Especially during the election process. Presidential candidates have a need to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to troll for votes. When Donald Trump wears a cap that says “Make America Great Again,” along with many of his colleagues making loaded statements such as “Let’s make this country great again,” you often wonder what they are really trying to say.
They are saying exactly what Bud Norris said, which makes you wonder if his point is really about respecting the game? Or does he just have a common fear of a multi-national baseball planet?
Could be that he was simply caught with his guard down, expressing his genuine discomfort with a league that is quickly moving towards becoming 50 percent Latino.
Imagine the irony when Norris gets released from the Padres and a pitcher from the Dominican replaces him on the roster.