Getaway Day – Bring Your Talent, Lose Your Passion

Welcome to TSFJ’s new weekly baseball column, Getaway Day. Here, we will question, shake our fists, laugh at, cry about and maybe actually enjoy baseball for what it is – seven months of heaters and homers.

Major League Baseball recently released a demographic analysis of its Opening Day rosters.

The number of players born outside of the United States is the third highest in history at 251. Percentage wise, it’s the fifth highest ever at 28.5 percent. All in all, a good showing for a league that wants to consider itself global.

Checking the demographics of the rosters, a record 102 players are from the Dominican Republic, 68 are from Venezuela, 19 are from Cuba, 18 are from Puerto Rico and eight are from Mexico. Overall, there are players from 20 countries on Opening Day rosters. You’d think that the style of the game would be different. You think we’d see the type of flavor that European players have brought to the NBA.

Wrong.

Latin American players are expected to give up their culture for the sake of being accepted into the baseball. They’re expected to quell the on-field celebrations, the joy and the flair that they bring to to game.  

If they display anything that borders on creativity or shows of emotion other than anger on the field, they’re punished.

The battles that go viral are those where the ethnic divide is hard to deny. Yasiel Puig vs. Nick Hundley or Puig against Madison Bumgarner. Yunel Escobar vs. David Ross and Jonny Gomes. “Sheriff” Brian McCann standing in front of Carlos Gomez or getting miffed at the late Jose Fernandez. Jace Peterson having words with Jose Bautista, Each of these brawls tend to feature players of different ethnicities.

It’s no coincidence that some of the funnest baseball occurs during the World Baseball Classic. Some think that playing for your country ups the stakes, I’d say it’s the players being themselves and not worrying about bullshit repercussions because a White player’s feelings were hurt.

And yes, it’s usually White players.

Let’s go back a few years to Jorge L. Ortiz’s story in USA Today, which showed that 87 percent of bench-clearing incidents in baseball in a five-year at the time involved players of different ethnicities with a particular emphasis on White players vs. Latin players. MLB didn’t require teams to have a Spanish-language interpreter until 2016. It shows a lack of care about a Latin player’s well-being, their adjustment to a new country and concern for them absorbing a new culture. They’re product and nothing else.

While Latin American players get the fun beat out of them, another nation’s baseball league understands that baseball is an entertainment product.

The KBO League in Korea is entertaining, fun, highly gif-able and everything that baseball should be in America. Pitchers have funky deliveries, batters have weird stances and fans bring instruments and come up with songs for each player in the lineup. There are fun chants and bat flips upon bat flips upon bat flips.

The league is fun, has personality and its season has more social media-worthy highlights compared to the average MLB regular season. Though Major League Baseball is still great in spite its flaws, greatness alone doesn’t draw eyes. This isn’t 1962. You need to draw people in another way. MLB has to work for fans.

But you can’t bring fans in if you don’t emphasize the fun. If you’re not going to let Latin American players do it, if you’re not going to go KBO on us, don’t lament the state of the game with young people. The powers that be at MLB know what they need to do, but they’d rather close ranks than let others in.

As Dan LeBatard and Bomani Jones once said on Highly Questionable years back: “Why does every country have more fun playing baseball than we do?”

Notes:

  • Speaking of having fun and showing personality, bless Bryce Harper.
  • Reports have the Mets doing “due diligence” inquiring about signing Dallas Keuchel and the Milwaukee Brewers “circling back” on him. Keuchel isn’t a work email. He’s a 31-year-old former Cy Young Award-winner who had a 3.74 ERA, a 3.69 FIP, a 1.314 WHIP and went 12-11. For the Mets, it sure as hell would beat Jason Vargas,
  • As of Wednesday morning, Zack Greinke had more home runs this season than five teams.
  • Pete Alonso and Fernando Tatis, Jr. are already making a significant impact on their teams. But the Mets and Padres didn’t manipulate their service time, so they won’t get an extra year of cheap labor. In the end, isn’t that all that matters?
  • The first person to show up to a game with a custom jersey that says “Service Time” on the back will be my new best friend. I hope it’s a Blue Jays fan.
  • When your screw-ups happen during the postseason, nothing you’ve done before matters. Everything will be seen under that microscope. Having said that, the Arizona Diamonbacks announcers need to calm the hell down about Manny Machado.
  • Last week, former World Series MVP John Wetteland (you forgot he won it in 1996 didn’t you?) was indicted on three counts of continuous sexual assault of a child. If you consider the reclamation projects that the late George Steinbrenner took on in the 1990s, you wouldn’t think players like Wetteland and Chad Curtis would be the ones caught up in vile behavior. The ‘90s for the Yankees ended with Curtis’ walk-off home run finishing off Game 3 of the World Series (Game 4 was moot), but it started with the likes of Mel Hall and Luis Polonia. Check out how this Orlando Sentinel piece tried to paint Polonia as a sympathetic figure.
  • Jeff Passan’s piece on the future of MLB free agency mirrors what’s happening in the country as a whole: the elite getting their money while the middle class erodes and the rest are under the thumb of executives.
  • Bill Baer makes salient points about the racist, dog-whistle language spewed by an anonymous scout in Sports Illustrated.
  • And yeah…a strike’s coming.

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