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Section 313, Seat No. 6: Baseball, Racism, and America

 Section 313

Seat no. 6

Welcome to Section 313, seat no. 6. I’m glad you’re here. Normally we limit the discussion to just the Detroit Tigers, so if you want my thoughts on them watch the video above. However, this week we’re going to take a different and necessary path — as the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles took part in a four-game series at Fenway Park, where ugliness was the theme. Coming out of that series, what’s being talked about is not the games themselves, but rather the most grotesque aspect of human nature.

In reality, there were two issues at play in this series. Each of them controversial. First, the age-old debate over the unwritten rules of baseball. Hard slides into second base, pitches thrown behind batters, ejections, and a partridge and a pear tree. But, even worse than a debate that will never be settled, haunting racism was once again pushed to the forefront of our newsfeeds. We’ll deal with them in order — obviously, the latter being the vital progeny.

The unwritten rules live on, and that’s okay

Baseball has unwritten rules. Of that, there is no question. The Tigers even have been perpetrators of those rules this season. People have debated these rules for decades, and the reality is they aren’t going to change. But, even though they will probably always remain a part of the game, in this series it went way too far — much like the Texas Rangers v. Jose Bautista feud from last year.

The thing about the unwritten rules is that they should happen as statements, and then life and the game goes on. When there is a constant back-and-forth from each team, with no end in sight, then the problems begin.

Take as an example this Boston Red Sox / Baltimore Orioles fiasco:

  • April 21st: Manny Machado slides hard into second base, spiking Dustin Pedroia.
  • April 23rd: Matt Barnes throws high and tight to Machado as a retaliation to the aforementioned slide that sidelined Pedroia.

*At this point, the feud should have been over, unwritten rules satisfied and life goes on.

But…

  • May 1st: Machado is booed at Fenway, hits a mammoth home run and trots leisurely around the bases.
  • May 1st: Dylan Bundy hits Mookie Betts with a pitch.
  • May 1st: Adam Jones reveals that he was the focus of racial slurs during the game, and had peanuts thrown at him (more on this later).
  • May 2nd: Chris Sale throws behind Machado in an at-bat, Machado has a few choice words for the lanky lefty.
  • May 3rd: Kevin Gausman is ejected in the bottom of the second inning for hitting Xander Bogaerts with a curveball.

Without looking, does anyone know who won these games? Seriously. The actions of these “men” created a great enough distraction that no one is talking about the action during the games themselves. Gausman was a casualty that probably didn’t deserve to be tossed for his part; however, when you let things carry, way after their expiration date, calamities happen.

I’m all for guys defending their teammates. I particularly am a fan of the unwritten rules, except when they go too far. Which in this case they did. If Matt Barnes wants to throw at Machado because he thinks his slide was egregious, go for it — just don’t aim at the head. Let him know you’ve got your boys back, but then move on. It was a sad display from guys who are constantly on display — but it isn’t the worst thing that came out of this series.

It’s time to move past archaic ignorance

Baseball is a game. It is a game that is filled with pageantry, passion, and poetry in various forms — in short, you could consider it as a type of art. Yet, in the worst way over the last four days, art imitated life. And, if we — not just as baseball fans, but as a country — fail to see the worst about ourselves and learn, we’ll soon find ourselves not unified but divided.

In many ways, the game of baseball is a metaphor for life. It teaches us about failure, about perseverance, and this weekend it also taught us a little bit about our nature. When one of the better players in the game, Adam Jones, spends his post-game interview discussing the racist remarks that were hurled at him during the contest, rather than spending it talking about his performance on the field, we soon learn that we as a people have a big problem.

For shame, racism is an American trait

We like to say that America is a place for all people. And, I will say, I love America — my home — with all that I am. We champion phrases like,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Did the framers of the Declaration of Independence truly believe that all men were created equal, or just the white ones? Serious question. Because it seems to me from the earliest outset of the foundation of our beloved country, and even the game we hold so dear to our hearts, we didn’t believe that all men were created equal.

Think on this for a second, then the history lesson is over. Ten years, one decade, after the Declaration was penned, the Continental Congress met to discuss our governing document at the time the Articles of Confederation. It was a messy document, to be frank, but I digress. When the Congress was deciding on how to delegate representation the southern states made sure that all of their population was counted, including the slave population. Sounds good, but, they couldn’t dare give the slave equal standing with themselves, so they decided that each slave counted as 3/5 of a person — not one whole one. It’s called the Three-Fifths Compromise.

Our American history is littered with such cases. Dred Scott v. Sanford, a landmark pre-Civil War Supreme Court case, ruled that African-Americans are not to be considered citizens of the country, but property. An entire war, the bloodiest in American history, was fought over this issue of race. Throughout the corridor of time, racial tension has pervaded our society. From the Black Codes in the South during Reconstruction, Jim Crow Laws, and segregation, our history has been marked through and through with racism.

And Baseball is not immune.

Baseball’s troubled past, and present

For over a hundred years, baseball was played predominately by white people. It wasn’t until 1947 that a man of color stepped onto a Major League field and broke down the color barrier that existed. His name, Jackie Robinson, the only man to have his number (42) retired in every Major League ballpark. Robinson’s entrance into the Majors was not as glamorous and effortless as some accounts may suggest. And what may be lost in the whole thing is two years prior, Robinson had a tryout with a Major League club — the Boston Red Sox.

In Bill Bradley’s book, The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, Bradley documents an event that took place and the feelings around integration. He writes,

“In the spring of 1945, under pressure from the black press…the Red Sox had reluctantly agreed to a tryout at Fenway Park for Robinson and two other prominent Negro League players…World War II had forced the major leagues to reevaluate their Jim Crow policies…But when the three men showed up on the appointed day, the Red Sox reneged on the agreement and closed their doors to the players without explanation.” (Bradley, The Kid, pg. 284)

According to Bradley, the three guys eventually got their tryout but were passed over, when then-manager Joe Cronin didn’t believe they were good enough. Later on, Cronin admitted they had made a mistake, saying the issue was “decided above his head,” (pg. 284). In 1948, the Red Sox had the opportunity to atonement for their ignorance when “The Say Hey Kid” Willie Mays was seventeen years old and willing to sign. But again, the nix was put on it (pg. 286). In all, the Red Sox (somewhat ironically) were the last team in the Major Leagues to integrate in 1959.

When Robinson broke the barrier he faced the same treatment at the hands of fans. The movie “42” did a masterful job of depicting it, though hard to watch in some parts. Yet, thanks to the courageous efforts of Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and others who stared down the barrel of racism, segregation, and color barriers the game became open for all people.

But why was there a barrier to begin with? That is the question we should all be asking ourselves. We might begin to throw out answer like, “well that was a different time,” and “it’s not like that today,” and yet, somehow someway, we are still dealing with it at the present moment.

Baseball: World Baseball Classic-USA at Japan
Mar 21, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; United States right fielder Andrew McCutchen (right) celebrates with center fielder Adam Jones (10) after beating Japan 2-1 during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Monday night, not even a week in the past, Adam Jone is labeled by the most derogatory, obscene word ever spoke from two lips. And why? Because he’s the opposition, or because we have been blase about the entire racism issue? What I find more appalling, is those same people who would use those terms, were probably the same people cheering the exact same guy not even two months ago in the World Baseball Classic. Yet, once he took off the Stars and Stripes and donned an Orioles jersey, he’s now the enemy?

Since when did our loyalty to our team trump basic human decency?

Racism is ignorance and should be stopped

Jones called those who harrassed him Monday night “cowards.” I would call them the same, and also add that they are ignorant. Their beliefs — though entitled to them under the Constitution — are misguided, uneducated, and wrong. I do not care how many degrees you hold, or what lot you have in life, when you fail to treat another human being — a human being that has the same number chromosomes you do, has a heart just like you do, and a mind just like you have — with a belief that they are “less than” what you are, who is the one with the problem?

On Thursday, Curt Schilling stated that he didn’t believe Adam Jones. He said,

I don’t believe it, for this reason: Everybody is starving and hungry to sit in front of a camera and talk and be social justice warriors. And if a fan yelled loud enough in center field for Adam Jones to hear the N-word, I guarantee you we would’ve heard and seen fans around on CNN on MSNBC, they would’ve found multiple fans to talk about what a racist piece of junk Boston is . . .

Shut up, Curt.

Seriously, have we, as American citizens, as fans of the greatest game in the world, as human beings become so jaded that our default position is to no longer take a man at his word? The same man who months previously was passionately playing a game for his country and helping our country win a World Baseball Gold Medal. Why now is he any different? Because of his skin color? We may be more ignorant that I thought.

I know that baseball is just a game. I firmly believe that this game is meant as a reprieve from everyday life. Yet, somehow what happened Monday night took the reprieve out of it and brought real life back in.

I am not going to sit here and pretend that I know what it’s like to be in someone of another color’s shoes. That would be wrong. Nor should someone like Curt Schilling be vomiting from the mouth like he did, because we do not know what it’s like. However, we can do something about it.

Upstander vs. Bystander

A few months, maybe even a year ago I was talking to a good friend. He’s about my dad’s age and since I live away from my family he has kind of become a mentor of sorts to me. I do not remember the details of our conversation, but I remember one story he told me very clearly, in World War II there were a group of people who stood up to the Nazis to protect the rights of those being marginalized. He told me that back during that time — he is good friends with a Holocaust survivor — the Jews were being helped by people in resisting the Nazi persecution. He told me they called the people who helped “upstanders” because they stood up to the injustices taking place. Those who failed to act, or claimed plausible deniability, were considered to be “bystanders.”

Though we may feel like we are miles away from the injustice that has taken place in the past, we would be fools to ignore what is happening around us right now. What happened Monday night in a baseball stadium is inexcusable. A place meant for joy and exuberance turned into torment and racism. There is no place for that in a ballpark, nor, anywhere.

So the question becomes, are we to be bystanders or upstanders? I choose to be an upstander, trying to fight for those who have been fought against and speak for those with no voice. Though they may look a bit different from me, that doesn’t make them any less than me. I echo the words of Dr. Martin Luther King that people should be “judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” For it is that which makes them human, it is that which makes them equal. For the sake of our game, our country, and for humanity — we must all choose to stand up.

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