Columns: Babeball and racism

The world according to babeball

Leah Scheitel // Wants to marry a shortstop

In September, four people were kicked out of a Boston Red Sox game at the infamous Fenway Park for unveiling a sign that read, “Racism is as American as baseball.” Immediately after, a group of self-described “anti-racist protestors” claimed responsibility for the homemade banner and said it was done to highlight America’s problem with racism. As the group later told The Washington Post “We want to remind everyone that just as baseball is fundamental to American culture and history, so too is racism.”

There is an underlining sense of irony in this situation, as baseball’s history with racism is a speckled one at best. And there are multiple examples of racism’s close ties with America’s favourite pastime.

This wasn’t the only time this season that Fenway Park made headlines for extreme gestures. In May, the Red Sox organization made a formal apology to Adam Jones, an African-American out elder for the Baltimore Orioles. Fans hurled racial slurs and peanuts as Jones, who said that while he has experienced racism from fans at Fenway Park before, this was the most extreme encounter.

The Orioles players were also subjected to racism in Canada during the 2016 playoff game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jay fan Ken Pagan was caught on camera throwing a beer can at Orioles out elder Hyun Soo Kim, while other fans yelled racist insults at Kim and – once again – Adam Jones. Because of his actions, Pagan lost his job as a sports copy editor at Postmedia and was banned, temporarily, from every stadium in the MLB.

More recently, the Houston Astros fell in lukewarm racist waters when their first baseman made an obscene gesture in the World Series. In game three, Astros’ Yuli Gurriel hit a home run off a pitch by Yu Darvish – who is of Japanese descent. Back in the dugout, in his celebratory state Gurriel turned to the camera and slanted his eyes, a gesture that was construed as mocking Darvish’s Japanese heritage.

Gurriel received the largest suspension against a Major League player – a five-game suspension equating to a loss of $320,855 and the requirement to take sensitivity training. While this was the largest suspension, it received criticism because Gurriel was allowed to continue to play in the World Series and won’t serve the suspension until the beginning of the 2018 season.

These are just the recent examples of racism thriving in baseball. Seven decades ago, in 1947, Jackie Robinson made history as the first African-American player to play in the Major Leagues. Before that, all players of colour were relegated to the Negro leagues. The Brooklyn Dodgers, who signed Robinson, faced a shit ton of outrage for their decision.

Why this matters is because how ubiquitous baseball is in North American culture. Name one person who doesn’t know what third base is or uses some baseball euphemism in their vocabulary. Millions of people watch the sport regularly and when they see players -and to a lesser extent, fans – act in a way that is culturally unbecoming, it could make them think it is okay.

Gurriel was booed at the Dodgers’ stadium after his gesture when he returned for game 6, but not before – as I saw on Twitter – multiple Astros’ fans mimicked the gesture towards Darvish in game 5.

Penalties should be harsh for fans and players who exhibit racist gestures, and while Gurriel’s was the harshest penalty in MLB history, many people were upset that he was allowed to continue in the World Series, so as to not harm the Astros chances at the Pennant.

If players, fans, or the MLB are still partaking in racist behaviour, allowing others to embrace it, then maybe a little penalty that will make winning the World Series tougher isn’t so bad.

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