Jorge L. Ortiz, USA Today, October 1, 2015
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.
The figures are startling in a sport where white Americans compose about 60-65% of the population. Based on Opening-day figures, most of the rest is made up of players born outside the U.S. (26.5%)–the vast majority from Latin countries–African Americans (8%) and an undetermined number of Latinos born on U.S. soil.
The season that will conclude Sunday has taken the squabbles to an even higher level, with all 16 bench-clearing instances pitting adversaries of different ethnicity. TheKansas City Royals were involved in four such episodes in the season’s first three weeks, and Dominican-born pitcher Yordano Ventura was a participant in three of them, against Mike Trout, Brett Lawrie (Canadian) and Adam Eaton.
Baseball confrontations often start with a hitter getting plunked, and though there may be several reasons for their high rate among different ethnic groups, many cases point to a culture clash. Baseball has long held to a tradition of unwritten rules of etiquette whose interpretation may vary, with factors such as age and country of origin as part of the mix.
How much is a hitter allowed to “pimp’’ or admire a home run? When is a bat-flip acceptable and when is it offensive? To what extent can a pitcher celebrate getting a big out? What’s the difference between rejoicing over a favorable play and showing up the other team? What kind of actions demand retaliation?
Nobody knows for sure, but there are consequences–typically in the form of a fastball to the ribs or a hard slide–for those who break the code.
While there’s a certain uniformity to the way the game is played in the U.S., the standards are quite different in other countries. In Korea, for example, bat-flipping is commonplace, without negative repercussions.
In Latin countries, the pros typically play more to the crowd, and actions that are often called “antics’’ in the U.S. are regarded as simply part of the show. Dominican-born reliever Fernando Abad of the Oakland Athletics said players often “dog’’ or taunt each other, but it’s considered fun, not disrespectful.
“Baseball back home is very different than here,’’ Abad said. “In Venezuela it’s the same as in the Dominican, where players gesticulate and point a lot. Fans expect it. They’re used to seeing the players do that. It’s part of the custom.’’