Racism in Baseball?

Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IApril 14, 2010

Maybe.  It isn’t exactly obvious but there are definitely some worrying signs.  However, it’s definitely a complicated question.

Here’s an article by Jeff Passan of yahoo sports (Orlando Hudson sure thinks so) and a response from mlbtraderumors.com’s Tim Dierkes.  My own opinions as to the inability of Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield to get contracts this year are as follows.

At least from what I’ve read, Dye’s salary expectations were not reasonable in this market.  For a guy who can really only play left field at this point in his career, he didn’t hit enough in 2009 to merit anything more than about $2 million, at least once the market really went south after January 1, 2010.  At age 36, he’s not a good bet to regain his past glory.

Same for Gary Sheffield.  Sheffield has always been a pill that teams would put up with as long as he hit like Gary Sheffield.  Kind of like Manny Ramirez.  However, Sheffield hasn’t hit like the guy who’ll most likely be elected to the Hall of Fame one day since 2005.

The reports I heard this off-season is that Sheffield had unrealistic expectations about his 2010 playing time (he didn’t want to be signed primarily to pinch hit), and it’s almost guaranteed that he wanted a starter’s paycheck rather than a pinch hitter’s.  He also didn’t help his cause by sitting out a game in August 2009 when the Mets wouldn’t give him a contract extension.

I note that Carlos Delgado is still looking for a job in 2010.  He’s of at least some African descent, but he’s generally considered “Latino” rather than “black”.  I haven’t heard much negative, if anything at all, about Delgado during his long major league career.

However, I’ve never followed the Blue Jays closely, so it’s possible I’ve missed things.  I haven’t registered anything negative about Delgado as a Met, though, and playing in New York every peccadillo gets reported.

The upshot is that it’s just not a good time for over-priced, over-the-hill veterans.

However, over-the-hill white guys like Aubrey Huff almost always seem to be able to hang around longer than comparable African American players.  Yeah, as Dierkes notes, other general managers thought the contract Huff got from the Giants was a mistake, but Huff still got someone to give him that contract.  Of course, the Giants were looking for a 1Bman, not a left-fielder.

Clearer examples of racism, in my mind at least, are the black-listing of Barry Bonds a couple of years ago and the fact that no one has signed Elijah Dukes to a minor league contract almost a month after the Nationals released him.

Barry Bonds was certainly a pill, and he was the face of the steroid scandal.  However, there was an awful lot of blame to go around on performance enhancing drugs.  More importantly, at the time that Bonds was involuntarily retired, there were still a lot of major league teams that Bonds, even with a diminished bat, would have helped.  At the time his career ended, he would still likely have hit 25 HRs with 100 walks for every 500 plate appearances.  That’s lot better than a lot of the DHs with jobs, even if Bonds only hit .260.

It’s hard to understand why not one of the remaining 29 teams has yet risked a $65,000 minor league contract on Dukes.  He turns 26 later this month, and he has clearly hit in the past.

He does have quite a history, however.  According to wikipedia, Dukes has been arrested three times for battery and once for assault.   On May 23, 2007, it was reported that his wife filed a restraining order after he threatened to kill her. On June 12, a 17-year-old foster child who was living in the care of a relative of Dukes accused him of impregnating her. Police said the sex was apparently consensual. When the girl confronted Dukes, he allegedly got angry and threw a bottle of Gatorade at her. [wikipedia provides the citations.]

In fact, when he was traded by the Rays to the Nationals, the Nats hired a former police officer whose job was to keep Dukes out of trouble.  Obviously, a team will pay that expense for a major league player who can help them win.  Nobody is going to do that for a AAA player.

Still, I can’t entirely shake the suspicion that if Dukes were white, somebody would have given him another chance at the AAA level by now.  The player who comes to mind is Josh Hamilton, who got a second chance three full years after drugging his way out of professional baseball.

Sure, Hamilton was a former number one draft pick, but three years is a long time to be out of professional baseball and still get a second chance.  If Hamilton was deserving of a second chance (and as history has proved, he obviously was), why not Dukes?