Does Bigotry Plague Baseball?

I didn’t intend on thinking about the question “Does bigotry plague baseball?” this week. After all, it’s not an easy topic to discuss. But a question at a ballgame last weekend made me reflect. I was watching the Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway last Monday when a novice fan tapped me on the shoulder. “Can you tell me who the good players are?” Toronto was batting, and Jose Bautista was warming up in the on deckBigotry Plague Baseball circle. “He’s pretty good,” I said. “He’s the one who got a lot of flack for flipping his bat after hitting a home run last year.” The guy’s face lit up and pointed Bautista out to a friend while repeating what I said before turning back to me, “Who cares if he flipped his bat? He can’t get excited?”

What does a flipped bat have to do with bigotry? Purists of the game flipped (pun intended) after seeing Bautista’s enthusiastic gesture, which made many ask: Does bigotry plague baseball? After hearing what New York Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage said on ESPN, some say yes: “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him.” Many wondered why Gossage had to mention Bautista’s Latin heritage at all. Why is that important? Bautista isn’t the first to flip his bat. So for many, it’s not so much the enthusiasm that players show when they hit a home run, as much as how the color of their skin can sometimes influence the way opposing players and fans react. This issue has plagued baseball since the days of segregation, particularly the Red Sox, who were the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate when Pumpsie Green joined the team in 1959.

Baseball has made enormous strides towards combating bigotry. Jackie Robinson Day has become an annual celebration where all baseball players wear the number 42 to commemorate the man who broke baseball’s color barrier. But comedian Chris Rock recently made comments that made me think further about the problems with bigotry that remain in baseball. Rock said being a black baseball fan makes him an endangered specie while criticizing the game’s unofficial codes, “When you score in baseball,” Rock said on an episode of HBO’s Real Sports, “the code says: ‘You better not look too happy about it.'” Since then, Chris Rock has said that because of its conservative attributes, baseball is still living in the past and isn’t keeping up with what makes other sports so exciting. So when Bautista flipped his bat, many of those who love the history and tradition of the game found themselves at a crossroads. Many didn’t know how to defend their love for baseball’s honor without looking like they were also defending its flawed past. How do you defend the game’s longstanding traditions without acknowledging that past?

No One Wants to See Bigotry Plague Baseball

Of course, no rational person wants to see baseball return to the days of segregation.  However, it is important for baseball to continue with the strides it has made since Jackie Robinson integrated the majors. So if bat flipping signifies that baseball is progressing, then its purists should keep in mind that it’s not a departure from the honor in baseball, as much as it is a departure from the bigotry that plagued baseball in the first place. Issues like Bautista’s bat flip don’t always have to be about race and ethnicity, but it’s an effort that all parties have to keep in mind if the game is going to continue making strides towards equality.