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Baseball Isn’t Racist

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Globalization and immigration are changing every aspect of American society, including its pastime. Major League Baseball teams are now made up of players from all over the world, with a majority from Latin countries.

For the most part, this diversity has enhanced the sport, but a USA Today study has found that a large number of bench-clearing fights in baseball have a racial component.

Jorge Ortiz wrote in “Baseball’s culture clash: vast majority of brawls involve differing ethnicities”:

Baseball teams regularly bring together people from diverse backgrounds striving for a common cause, which in the best of circumstances results in the quintessential melting pot. But when the dynamic changes and the bonding element is replaced by the fire of competition, a different kind of brew arises and sometimes boils over.

A USA TODAY Sports study of 67 bench-clearing incidents in Major League Baseball over the past five seasons found the main antagonists hailed from different ethnic backgrounds in 87% of the cases.

Just more than half of them – 34 – pitted white Americans against foreign-born Latinos. Another four featured white Americans and U.S.-born Latinos.

Given that most fights in baseball involve pitching and an overwhelming majority of pitchers are white, it’s logical (not racial) that most brawls would start between a white player and a Latino.

Culture Isn’t Racism

There is a racial component, however, and it’s not racism. Baseball is played a certain way in America, with unwritten rules that come with certain consequences. If a pitcher hits a player, that team can expect retribution. If a player shows up the pitcher, he can expect a response. If a batter flips his bat, he’s going to pay for it. That’s just how things are done in American baseball. In other countries, like Japan, the unwritten rules are different. You can flip bats all day long, and no one will care.

So when Padres pitcher Bud Norris said players from other countries need to learn proper on-field behavior in the United States, he wasn’t being racist, he was just telling it the way it is:

I think it’s a culture shock. This is America’s game. This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.

I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.

Erick Fernandez at Huffington Post went into conniptions over that, saying Norris’s comments were patronizing at best and xenophobic at worst.

San Diego Padres pitcher Bud Norris wants to let foreign players know that if they’re going to come play his country’s game in his country and take his country’s money, then they better damn well act how his country wants them to act.

Norris suggests that some players’ ‘antics,’ as he calls them, are ‘a cultural thing.’ Presumably, he thinks those who play the right way (read: white way) don’t share that culture. But more and more of baseball’s superstars are coming from foreign countries. The game is going to change along with them, even with pushback from players like Norris.

Norris wasn’t saying that American cultural values are better than those of foreigners, as one tweet said that Fernandez cited. He’s just saying that if you’re going to play in America, then you need to learn those values. You need to play by our rules—unwritten or otherwise. Fernandez disagrees, taking the stance so many do when it comes to immigration in general—that foreigners are free to break our laws and we have to let them. If we don’t, then we’re hateful bigots.

Celebrate Baseball Diversity

The fact is, Norris wasn’t being racist, and neither is anyone else who plays the right way—and no, that doesn’t translate into “white way” (black players play that way, too, and have for years). It’s the American way. It’s the American baseball way. That’s not something to just toss aside in the name of “change.”

Everyone knows that if you go to another country, you have to adjust to their way of doing things.

This isn’t so difficult to comprehend if people can stop looking at everything through the lenses of racism. Everyone knows that if you go to another country, you have to adjust to their way of doing things. That’s true in every area of society—social etiquette, dating, business affairs, and sports. You don’t just bulldoze your way into another culture and act like you did back home. You respect the country you’re in, and you play by their rules.

Many Latino players are coming into the MLB playing like they did back home—most notably bat-flipping. It’s show-boating—something frowned upon in the United States. Here’s some video of bat-flipping good times in Korean baseball. They enjoy it over there. Not here. Just ask Indians shortstop Jose Ramirez, who had to face the ire of the Minnesota Twins when he flipped his bat after hitting a homer this week.

As Michael Wilbon said on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” MLB teams are made up of players of different backgrounds. Players should regulate themselves and one another, as they’ve always done. If a foreign-born player flips a bat or engages in any other behavior that violates the unwritten codes of American baseball, other members of his team (white, black, Latino) who know better need to take him aside and straighten him out.

If that doesn’t happen, or if players insist on imposing their own culture onto the game in a way that violates these codes, they should expect a backlash. Brawls will happen, but it won’t be because players are racists. It’ll be because some players refuse to respect the American game of baseball that has given them the greatest opportunity of their lives.