Tag: baseball

The Revenge of Tony Plush

So my hometown Milwaukee Brewers are bound for the National League Championship Series. And I’m pretty damned happy about that.

It may be awkward timing, or a little bit of a buzzkill, but I just published an article for Being Latino magazine that is critical of Major League Baseball. You can find it here.

Whatever conclusions you draw from it, however, don’t let it distract from rooting for Morgan, Fielder, Braun, and Gallardo. I know I can count on you.


Hiding in Plain Sight

Imagine my surprise.

I’m a huge baseball fan, and I take pride in knowing some of the more arcane figures and obscure facts in its history. Come on, it’s pretty geeky to remember UL Washington — the Royals shortstop who played with a toothpick in his mouth — and to know that Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and Three-Finger Brown pitched their final games against each other (Mathewson’s team won).

So when I recently read a list of top Latino players in baseball history, I expected to see names such as Clemente, Marichal, and Pujols. But then I saw…Ted Williams…what?

http://beinglatino.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/secret-latinos-in-our-midst/


Be on the Lookout

Here in Los Angeles, we’re relieved that police have arrested the thug who beat up a San Francisco Giants fan outside Dodger stadium (yes, I know the suspect is innocent until proven guilty, but let’s just say for the sake of this post that he did it).

As you may recall, on Opening Day in LA, a man dressed in Giants regalia, Bryan Stow, was jumped by a pair of angry Dodger fans, who beat him into a coma from which he may never wake up.

These boosters of the local team were supposedly pissed that a San Franciscan was on their turf. The real reason, of course, is that they were moronic hoodlums.

Because the main assailant was described as a Latino, Hispanics had time to brace ourselves for this latest ethnic embarrassment. Indeed, the suspect, Giovanni Ramirez, is described as “a stocky 31-year-old with a head shaved bald” who is a “documented member of [a] street gang,” and has “at least three prior felony convictions.”

In other words, he’s a cliché. But he’s a particularly lethal one.

I’ve written before about the frustration that Latinos feel whenever a Hispanic person commits a high-profile crime.

It’s an unpleasant sensation that doesn’t afflict members of the majority culture. For example, I doubt many white people cringed when Jared Loughner’s race was revealed (although we all winced upon discovering how easy it was for a psychotic to get a gun in this country).

Ramirez is just the latest living stereotype to make us all look bad. He’s one of the reasons why people frequently conjure up imaginary Latino assailants when they’re trying to conceal their own criminal behavior.

Recently, for example, a Canadian man named Robert Spearing lied to his wife about having tickets for Oprah Winfrey’s star-studded, mega-hyped, our-messiah-is-ascending final show.

Who knows why Spearing told this blatant fib to his spouse, but regardless, they drove all the way to Chicago before the guy realized, “Shit, I better make up some reason why I don’t have tickets.”

So “just before showtime, Spearing — bleeding from the forehead and his hands badly scraped — filed a report with cops claiming he had been mugged and the tickets stolen. He said two men — one African American, one Hispanic — had attacked him on the street.”

I suppose this can be viewed as an egalitarian approach to ethnic profiling. It wasn’t two black guys or two Latinos — it was one of each!

Of course, the cops quickly uncovered the fraud. Perhaps they realized that if anybody was going to be mugging people for Oprah tickets, it wasn’t going to be two guys (of any race). It was going to be distraught suburban women clutching copies of O and shrieking about Dr. Oz.

With hope, both Ramirez and Spearing will get their comeuppance. Their penalties will look very different, and their crimes don’t compare. But they share a mindset: They both believe that Latino men equal violence.

The fact that one of them is Hispanic just makes it all the more pathetic.


A Couple of Kooks

Baseball season is winding down, and my hometown team continues to flounder (no, I don’t want to talk about it, thank you).

But one bright spot in this dismal year is the perpetually colorful Ozzie Guillen. The manager of the Chicago White Sox often makes comments that range from bizarre to offensive, and one never knows if he’s going to let loose with a maniacal observation, incoherent insight, or slanderous attack. Not many people can go from egotistical rant to self-loathing diatribe in the same interview, but Guillen manages it.

Recently, Guillen made news by claiming that Major League Baseball treats Asian players better than it does Latin American players. He pointed out that, among other things, Asian players are assigned translators, while Latin American players are left to fend for themselves.

Guillen added that “We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid … go to the minor leagues, good luck.”

OK, his syntax is garbled (it’s part of his charm). But Guillen’s point — that Latin American players are treated as less important and more disposable — is a valid one.

One could argue that it’s simple economics. MLB probably assumes that the many players from the Dominican Republic and Cuba and so on will look out for each other. Maybe they feel that they have to coddle a kid from Taiwan. I don’t know.

But I appreciate that Guillen, in his own undeniably idiosyncratic way, has once again gotten people to think about an issue bigger than baseball.

The other outrageous comment that caught my attention recently came from an unlikely source.

Yes, Rupert Murdoch, Mr. Fox News himself, recently called for immigration reform that would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents. This is the infamous “amnesty” provision.

Murdoch said that we’re missing a chance for reform because we’re bashing illegal immigrants too much. He added that Americans need to deal with the fact that more residents are speaking Spanish, saying that such changes have “been going on in this country for hundreds of years. You’ve got to adjust.”

Coming from a guy who signs Bill O’Reilly’s paychecks, his comments are clearly more shocking than anything Ozzie Guillen could say.


Called out on Strikes

First, let me acknowledge Henna, Cold Spaghetti, Island Meri, and Steven for their recent comments. I appreciate your thoughts.

Second, let me segue from thanks to apologies. Specifically, I may owe one to Sammy Sosa.

In a recent post, I wrote about Sosa’s apparent use of a skin product designed to make him appear whiter. I wondered if the baseball great’s light skin was a capitulation to the colonizer mentality. This mindset holds that anything white is superior, and it has caused many black people to go to absurd lengths to seem whiter (both culturally and literally).

As we know, Hispanics can be of any race. Sosa, a Dominican, is obviously a dark-skinned Latino. Many people have wondered if he is trying to renounce his Hispanic and/or black status.

As it turns out, maybe Sosa isn’t to blame if he wants to be white. Apparently, some of the man’s fellow players think that he is not really black in the first place.

Specifically, Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, a great player and multiple All-Star, believes that black players from Latin America are “imposters.” Hunter said that he and his fellow African American players “have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us. It’s like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela because you can get them cheaper. You can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips.”

I must admit that I didn’t know the rates for Dominicans were so reasonable. Perhaps we should all get one.

Hunter goes on to pose the ultimate rhetorical question about a former MVP. Hunter asks, “Hey, what color is Vladimir Guerrero? Is he a black player? Come on, he’s Dominican. He’s not black.”

I have no idea if Guerrero considers himself black. Perhaps he answers, “Hispanic” or “Dominican” or “human” or “right-handed slugger” when asked about his status. But he’s certainly within his rights to say, “black” or “black Latino.”

In the picture below, Hunter is on the left. Guerrero is on the right. One of them is positively not black.

Perhaps Hunter meant that Guerrero and other players from Latin America are not African American. That’s a noncontroversial point. However, Hunter comes across as a cultural jingoist, reminiscent of people who said President Obama is not really black.

His comments bring up the whole messy topic of how we categorize race and ethnicity, and why. I’ve written before about this, and several readers have chastised me for (among other offenses) saying that Chicanos are Hispanic and Spaniards are not. I’d like to think, however, that I was a bit more diplomatic than Hunter.

Perhaps we are indeed all too hung up on race and who is one category and who is not. But to deny that these constructs – artificial as they are – actually exist is to deny their power. And that’s why, despite the earnest pleas of many Americans, we will go on talking about race and racial matters.

As for Hunter, he has claimed that his comments were taken out of context. If so, it lessens the creepiness of their content, but not the stupidity of their mere existence.

Hunter ended his racial-conspiracy rant by saying, “I’m telling you, it’s sad.”

Oh, it’s sad, alright. But not in the way that Hunter thinks. It’s sad that he said, “They’re not us” when referring to teammates like Guerrero.

As the baseball writer Craig Calcaterra points out, “the fact that more and more of baseball’s black players happen to come from a couple hundred miles south of an artificial political border doesn’t mean that there is no one around to receive the torch passed down from Jackie Robinson.”

In fact, many of those players who thrive under Robinson’s legacy are Hispanic. And yes, they may even be black too.


The Strange Case of Sammy Sosa’s Skin

I’m a big baseball fan, which I’ve mentioned before. As such, Mark McGwire’s admission this week that he was juicing is a depressing development, even if it’s the least surprising news since the observation that rain can get you wet.

McGwire will always be associated with his fellow power hitter (and probable steroid user) Sammy Sosa, who retired a few years ago. Like most pro athletes who hang it up, Sosa has more or less kept a low profile. Still, when he did pop up recently, it was in alarming fashion. Compare his complexion in the two photographs (try to ignore his wife’s cleavage):

Yes, the guy is several shades whiter. Sosa couldn’t just ignore the questions about his newfound albinism, so he claimed that he had undertaken a “skin-rejuvenation process” and exceeded the recommended dosage. Think of it as the movie “Soul Man” but in reverse.

However, many in the Hispanic and black communities don’t buy Sosa’s explanation, especially since he also started wearing green contact lenses. As such, the former Cubs great has been accused of trying to bleach his skin and make himself whiter, both figuratively and literally. He has, in essence, been labeled as a self-loathing Hispanic who has adopted the “colonizer mentality.”

Now, readers with naturally fair complexions may ask several questions. For example, what is a colonizer mentality? Also, why would a person want to appear whiter, especially if everyone knows that he’s actually dark-skinned? And finally, is the movie “Soul Man” available on Blu-Ray?

Well, I can answer some of these inquiries. First, the colonizer mentality refers to the fact that virtually all of Latin America, at some point in history, has been ruled by European or North American powers. These rulers – either by direct decree or social implication – told natives that fair-skinned people were better, smarter, hotter, and more respectable than the dark-skinned heathens. A person who has internalized this mentality will therefore do whatever he can to appear whiter, even if he comes out looking like a freak-show attraction.

Sosa is a native of the Dominican Republic, where people tend to be black (remember that Latinos can be of any race). According to the blogger Grio, “there is a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination… against blacks within Dominican society.” This is the colonizer mentality in action.

So is Sosa guilty of caving in to this loathsome mindset? Or is he just a dumb jock who couldn’t follow medication instructions? Only Sosa knows, and he’s sticking to his original story.

Regardless, we can all be grateful that the colonizer mentality is just an issue in Latin America. In the United States, at least, we don’t judge people based on their skin color.

That could lead to problems.


On a First-Name Basis

In my previous post, I wrote about my love of baseball.

No sooner had a I written it than Manny Ramirez – that highly talented, hulking, crazy-eyed freak show on the LA Dodgers – got himself banned for fifty games for taking performance-enhancing drugs.

MannyRamirez1

There’s a whole debate over why certain efforts to gain an edge – popping fistfuls of “vitamins” or sleeping in oxygen tents – are ok, but injecting a liquid is a punishable offense. We can look deeper and examine the themes of hypocrisy, American hyper-competitiveness, hero worship, and misguided priorities. But I’ll leave that to the sports bloggers.

What I found interesting is that when the news broke, it was “Manny” this and “Manny” that. It reinforced my observation that white sports stars tend to be referred to by their last names. Hispanic and black athletes, however, are often called by their first names.

If this is true (and the evidence is only anecdotal), is it a sign of disrespect or a display of affection? Does it mean anything at all?

I first noted this about a decade ago when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were in their epic homerun race. The references to “Sammy” were ubiquitous, while I don’t recall anyone calling the St. Louis slugger “Mark.”

Similarly, in debates of greatest pitchers of recent history, there’s a lot of talk about Clemens, Johnson, Maddux… and Pedro (as in Martinez). Even when the white athlete has an uncommon moniker (I’m looking at you, Chipper Jones), he usually gets the last-name treatment. That’s not always the case with, say, the very troubled Ramirez (as we see here).

Perhaps this is all just overanalysis. But at the very least, maybe some sociology grad student out there can use my observation as the basis for a dissertation. Just give me credit for the idea.


Play Ball!

Let me give a quick thanks to Macon D and Xey for their comments on my last post (“A Latino Rodney King”). They agreed with my conclusion, which is great. But let me also thank Turtle, who disagreed with me. It’s good to get a free flow of ideas going.

But because the last couple of posts have been so serious, I’d like to lighten up with his one.

Like millions of other American males, I love baseball. It is the only sport I follow religiously, and it is one of the few topics that I feel comfortable talking about at length without fear of coming across as ignorant (deluded and opinionated perhaps, but not wholly unknowledgeable).

So I’m thrilled that the season has started again. My team is above .500, and their efforts should be a cause for alternating bouts of joy, frustration, disbelief, and relief for the next five months or so.

Perhaps my fondness for this most pastoral of games has a cultural basis. As you may know, baseball is incredibly popular in Latin America, trailing only soccer. But I’m convinced that a lot of the enthusiasm for that foot-based sport is glee over the announcers yelling, “Gooooal!,” which is more entertaining than the games.

More likely, my appreciation for baseball is because of its inherent, tension-ratcheting drama (the very aspect that critics mislabel as “boring.”) And I’ve always been fascinated with its history, which has often served as a metaphor for America itself. For an obvious example, look no farther than the great Jackie Robinson for an instant analysis of racial relations.

As such, it’s disappointing that Hispanics are shut out when it comes to one aspect of the game. That’s right, the whole controversy over team nicknames has excluded us.

Native Americans can get up in arms over the Atlanta Braves or Cleveland Indians. But Latinos are unlikely to protest the San Diego Padres. It’s just not the same.

In fact, the whole issue of offensive names has a distinctly Native American flair to it. There have been arguments about various collegiate Fighting Sioux teams, and overt hostility toward the NFL’s Washington Redskins (a moniker so pejorative that I can’t see how it’s even open to debate).

But what do we Hispanics have? The UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos are unlikely to incur our wrath. Similarly, we just aren’t going to lose our minds if anybody decides to call themselves “The Amigos,” which would be the least terrifying team name ever.

On second thought, that honor probably rests with the UC-Santa Cruz Fighting Banana Slugs:

bluegoldblack400

Yes, it can be difficult to be left out of a racial/ethnic controversy, but I guess we’re just going to have to let this one pass. So I say, good luck to those Native Americans who are fighting the good cultural fight. Latinos can offer you no more than moral support.

Let me add, however, that I’m part Irish. As such, I’m offended that Notre Dame has chosen some brawling, drunken leprechaun as its mascot…

No, I’m just trying too hard now. Forget it.


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