Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sheffield's Comments Miss Real Issue

Gary Sheffield’s comments in GQ magazine have created quite a firestorm. His premise is that Latin American players are "more manageable" than African-American players, and that is why there are three times as many more (8 percent compared to 24 percent) in the major leagues. Like everybody else, he has a right to his opinion. I don’t take his view as bigoted, either, as much as misguided and misinformed. It seems like a rationalization that isn’t necessary.
It’s simple, in Latin America, baseball is king. Kids growing up in those areas, many of them dirt poor, use baseball as their tool to escape poverty. They are hungry to get out. They play the game with a drive that is not unlike many urban kids in this country with basketball. Baseball is not, generally, the sport of choice in urban areas in this country. It is more in Tampa, where Sheffield was raised - and the numbers reflect that - but not in most other areas. Not even in Los Angeles. Not anymore. Baseball teams could care less about where players come from or their racial makeup. That is why they scout Latin America so extensively. Why you are seeing more players from the Pacific Rim countries. And why an African-American pitcher, David Price from Vanderbilt, will likely be the first or second pick in the upcoming baseball draft. If anything, Latin American players have more to overcome because of the language and cultural barriers they face that are unimaginable to American players - regardless of race. That is the part where Sheffield is not being respectful to Latin American players.
It just seems like this is Sheffield justifying the shrinking number of African-American players in the major leagues with one ridiculous swipe of a brush. It doesn’t need to be justified, no more than white Americans need to justify why there are relatively few white players in NFL or NBA compared to the general population. I thought, maybe, we were getting beyond obsessing about the racial makeup of sports teams. Guess not.
My concern about the future of baseball in this regard isn’t necessarily about the way the sport breaks down along racial lines, but economic ones. There was a time when it was the game of the people. Now kids take lessons - hitting or pitching - from paid instructors. It’s almost become like golf in that way. They have to be on travel teams. It’s almost become like hockey in that way. Those have become necessities to keep up. Both factors cost money. A lot it. Baseball was never meant to be a sport for the elite, but rather one that everyone can play and have an equal chance. I’d like to see the sport become more a part of our urban areas, which, by the way, tend to have a large population of African Americans.
If there is a problem, that seems to be the solution. Not crying "Fire" when there really isn’t one. You know, like Gary Sheffield in GQ.

Random thoughts

- I am not sure how the Rasheed Wallace situation is going to play out. He has become the symbol of all that went wrong with the Pistons. And he definitely brought it upon himself with the way he just quit on his team when the issue still was a long way from being decided in Cleveland. Too much crying. No doubt. But there is flipside. He is a very good player. He is a player who has come through for the Pistons in the past. Generally, he does have the respect of his teammates and those within the Pistons organization. I don’t see that as necessarily the issue. But will he still have the respect of the fans? Seems like they have turned on him. And once that happens in this town, that player is usually done.

- Good for Michigan in advancing to the Super Regionals in the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t that long ago when Michigan reaching the College World Series was anything but unusual. Eastern Michigan got there, too. Lake Orion’s Nate Recknagel is making quite name for himself as big-time hitter for the Wolverines.

- It will be interesting to see how the Spurs defend LeBron James in the NBA Finals. Bruce Bowen is more than aggressive player. He is often a dirty one. So is Big Shot Bob.Wonder if those tactics will work with LeBron. They sure did with Steve Nash and the Suns.


Anonymous Marty said...

That was a well thought out commentary on the racial makeup of Baseball. I have always wondered why there weren't more white players in the NFL or NBA, because in my experience a persons race doesn't seem to have anything to do with their ability, and there are more white people in the United States than Minorities (hence the name minority). Yet there are more minorities in the NFL and NBA than there are whites. When I was little I wasn't sure if maybe the organizations were racist and just took black players because they had the prejudice that they were better than white players because of their race. Now that I am older, that just seems ridiculous. I am sure there is a good and logical reason for there being more minorities in professional sports than non-minorities; I just don't know what it is right now.

9:30 AM 
Blogger Rick said...

Pat, good thoughts today. I've been reading your sports writing for many years. My grandfather owned a service station in Clarkston for 70+ years and I always looked forward to visiting with him so I could read the Oakland Press on Sundays. Keep it up!

11:53 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

My point is that I really care what the racial make up. I do want to see baseball at the younger levels become a sport for just elite. I hasn't yet, but it is definitely a suburban game, especially around here. I don't think what Sheffield said was valid in the least.

12:30 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Thanks for the kind words. Clarkston is a great town.

12:31 PM 
Blogger Fred Brill said...


I heard you do the pre-pre-game show yesterday – it had been awhile. I felt like a kid in university sitting in the big hall listening to the best Prof on campus. I didn’t have a tape recorder, or a pad of paper. I did however have a couple beers. I learn more listening to you in two hours that in two weeks with … well … other hosts.

And I almost called in to get your take on the GQ Sheffield comments – but it’s a touchy issue, and if you didn’t volunteer going there, I wasn’t going to ask you to. That and the couple of beers too.

That being said, I was very happy to read your post today. I think you have articulated your position better than anybody else has. I hope you put this into published print. I’ve been reading everybody I can get my hands on. And I agree with you on every aspect of what you wrote save perhaps the comment that Sheff is misinformed. I think he may know more than is given credit for. I just wish he could have said it better. He’s getting the public Love from his team mates. And I love those guys, and if they support what Sheff said – then “who am I to blow against the wind”.

Mind you, I am just a big dumb white guy in Canada no less. So take me with a grain of salt – or at least a Pepcid AC.

Rasheed Wallace. It is really odd because I could have sworn I read these exact same words about Big Ben last year. Ben gave up. Ben quit the team. Maybe it’s a Wallace thing?


I think this is a Flip Saunders issue – and I am going to miss the core five guys whatever happens. It’s like Saturday Night Live – you always have a hard time warming up to the next cast of character after the last good batch leaves.

I think the Sens are toast. Don’t miss the last Coaches Corner till next fall. Let's hope Cherry comes back or the CBC lets him back.

Thanks Pat

3:32 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Oh no. No Don Cherry and my life wouldn't be the same. I am sure Sheffield has noticed some things I wouldn't on that front. That is why I don't think he is being bigoted about the issue. You make a good point about Rasheed Wallace being the scapegoat like Big Ben was last year.

4:16 PM 
Anonymous lennyw1971 said...

Book, your right on about Shef and his comments. I'm a 35-year old black man who ate, drank, and slept baseball as a Detroit boy in the 80's... and I wasn't the only one. In the spring and summer, it was baseball for me and my friends... and it wasn't always played on a well manicured diamond (sometimes it was just a nondescript, grass field). It's been years since I've seen a pickup baseball game in Detroit. I don't think that Sheffield took into account the computer and video game explosions that took the American kids' attention away from outdoor social interaction with peers. Shef also needs to take into account the lack of the marketing of the sport to black youths in the major cities. His comments probably were not malicious, but his lack of tact and sensitivity seems to be a pattern. We as fans want to embrace this decorated slugger, but he should just learn to SHUT UP and enjoy the twilight of his career with this wonderful team full of proud Latin Americans.

Rasheed was dead wrong when he melted down, but we're stuck with this talented powder keg... no ifs, ands, or buts. If he's traded, fans would have to look at a totally uncertain front line... McDyess and Nazr may be the only holdovers from this year's team. Can you depend on Cheick Sam or Amir Johnson to smoothly step in... maybe, but who knows? Say it after me fans:"IN SHEED WE TRUST"

San Antonio's defense is based on what the '04 Pistons' defense was based on... solid MAN-TO-MAN principles. The Spurs have already reconciled within themselves that King James will have his beautiful impact on the games. All they want is to minimize the impact without the Saunders' style junk zones. Championships are won and defended with MAN-TO-MAN defense and a few hard, "clean" fouls to keep things in balance.

9:29 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

I would love to see baseball become a viable thing among the kids in Detroit again. I like the game when it is played in a city setting. There is a nice field right across the street from Yankee Stadium. There are games going on there all the time. You see a major leaguer or two coming from the Bronx. I'd love to see something like that in Detroit.

10:10 PM 
Blogger johnny500 said...

Love your blog and your radio show Pat.

Don't you think it's strange that Sheffield isn't being demonized for his comments? Why is he getting a free pass on this? If Inge or Casey would have said it, all holy heck would break loose.

Just a thought. One other thing...can you think of a more formidable 3 & 4 hitter than Sheff and Maggs, including Ortiz and Manny?

11:19 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

I agree there is a double standard, but I have never been one for overly enforcing political correctness - on any front. I don't believe he meant that as a slam as much he was expressing his concern for the lack of black players in the major leagues. I think he was wrong, but not malicious. Ortiz and Ramimez definitely, but none others.

11:55 AM 

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