Today is Jackie Robinson's Day, a big milestone for race relation in America. Before Jackie, blacks were forced to play in Negro League. Superstars like Satchel Paige were not allowed in Major League till they were way past their primes. However, racism is still a big part of baseball. Yahoo Sports has an interesting article today in which Orlando Hudson pointed out the obvious racist nature of the recent disturbing trend of the free agent market, something I had long suspected in all professional leagues. http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news;_ylt=Agp3GX3to9W8qLybb04bCos5nYcB?slug=jp-dyehudson041210. The fact that Jermaine Dye, Ray Durham, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, and Barry Bonds can't get decent offers and guaranteed playing time is beyond ridiculous. Injury prone defensive liability/zero power full-time DH Nick Johnson got 5 million per year. Xavier Nady, coming back from Tommy John surgery to serve as the 5th outfielder, got 3.3 million. Garrett Atkins, who can't even slug in Coors field, got a guarantee 4.5 million. Aubrey Huff, who was absolutely atrocious last year, got 3 million and a starting gig with the Giants.
The obsession with defensive metrics and other sabermetrics measurements such as the "UZR" are recently used as an excuse to justify blackballing productive free agents. Whether or not these complicated analysis actually has any merit whatsoever is debatable. Guys with low UZR have won gold gloves and made the Hall of Fame based on their all-around game. The notion that "run prevention" somehow is more important than "run production" is extremely flawed. How much more runs do they actually prevent than the so-called "defensive liabilities"? Their value is extremely overrated. Basically the whole concept is to drive down salaries (defensive specialists are usually cheap) and justify collusion and racism as sluggers, mostly blacks, can't even find a job while fans are forced to watch triple-a scrubs or journeymen who clearly need more seasoning or are perennial quad-a guys making the minimum on major league rosters. When guys are getting more money through arbitration than free agency, the system is broken and corrupt.
The steroid era was the golden age of baseball. With ever increasing revenues, mammoth homers, and public-funded stadiums, baseball revenue was at a all-time high. Even a mid-market like Cleveland can sell out for 5 straight seasons with sluggers like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Ellis Burks, Juan Gonzalez, and Omar Vizquel anchoring a fearsome lineup. With super agent Scott Boras, a visionary who is determined that the players should go an equal piece of the pie instead of letting the owners rip them off, leading the charge, revenues and players salaries reached a peak around 4-5 years ago when mediocre inning eaters such as Kyle Lohse, Gil Meche, and Carlos Silva were able to garner 5 year deals worth 12 million per season.
Around the same time though, it seems like baseball owners, who have a long history of collusion and racism, is at it again. Barry Bonds was blackballed after the 2007 season after leading the league in OPS and clubbed in 28 homers in spacious AT&T Park. Granted, he was implicated in the BALCO case, but that didn't stop teams from signing guys who allegedly used performing enhancing drugs such as Andy Pettitte. You got one of the most offensively gifted second baseman in Ray Durham getting no interest in the open market because he's black. Gary Sheffield proved last year he can still play corner outfield and slugged at a high rate in spacious Citi Field. In fact, he was the Mets best hitter in the first half last season. He outplayed David Wright. Yet, he can't even land a DH gig. You get Hall of Fame talent like Kenny Lofton, who was still a 30 steal threat who can get on base, but instead teams trot out scrubs like Carlos Gomez, Melky Cabrera, or Tony Gwynn Jr. as their leadoff hitter. Check out the Padres or Astros lineup. Tell me if they could use some of these guys. Orlando Hudson got blackballed last season because he was a type-a free agent, played his ass off to earn all the incentive after settling for a 1 year deal, yet has to settle for another below market value 1 year deal this year. Why are fans forced to watch scrubs and players victimized by the owners' shady agenda?
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