Posted on July 27, 2018

With a Loud Ovation, Baseball Shows Its Whiteness

Michael Powell, New York Times, July 26, 2018


The latest eruption comes courtesy of Josh Hader, a 24-year-old white relief pitcher with a smoking fastball and a Twitter account filled with hideous thoughts typed when he was 17 and 18. A Hader sampler: “White Power, lol” (with an emoji of a clenched fist), “KKK,” and “I hate gay people.” He also used that vilest of words for black people.


Point of information: A 17-year-old can drive or serve in the military, and is a year away from voting. That does not describe a child. I’m not unforgiving of youthful stupidity, although it would have been swell if reporters had asked obvious questions: How was it that you attended an integrated high school in exurban Maryland and yet posted racist and homophobic comments? From what sewer line did those sentiments bubble up?

The more breathtaking moment, however, came nights later when Hader walked to the mound in Milwaukee in his first appearance since the All-Star break. Thousands of fans, nearly all of them white, rose and gave him a standing ovation.


Let’s pose a counterfactual: Josh Hader is black, and an excavation of his Twitter account reveals that he called whites “crackers,” wrote of his hatred for them and endorsed an organization that engaged in genocidal violence against whites. One of his tweets included a picture of a clenched black fist. That black pitcher had also expressed hatred for gays and made graphic, misogynist statements.

I’m trying to imagine thousands of white fans rising to their feet and giving him a standing ovation, even after he apologizes and blames youthful indiscretion. Or, rather, I’m trying and failing. We know what happened when a few black football players of good character took a knee to protest police violence against black Americans: They were pilloried by the president of the United States and received no standing ovations.

Billy Bean, a former player who is gay, is the league’s sensitivity and diversity firefighter. If a player says something recondite or distasteful, you can look for him to come walking through the clubhouse door. He talked to Hader and oozed empathy afterward. “I sympathize for him tremendously,” Bean said. “I was really proud of him today.”


Baseball, once a sport with so many black stars, has fallen into an uncomfortable racial ditch. It has fewer and fewer black players and its fan base is the oldest and whitest of the three major American sports. Nielsen reported in 2013 that baseball television viewers were, on average, in their mid-50s, and 83 percent of them were white. N.B.A. games, by contrast, drew an audience that was on average 40 years old, and 45 percent African-American.

For far too long, too many baseball controversies have centered around older, white baseball men complaining about so-called insults to the game. {snip}

Such controversies almost always revolve around black and Latino players. {snip}

A couple of years ago, I spent a day in the company of Curtis Granderson, as thoughtful and public-spirited a player as you can find, and a black man born and raised near Chicago. He spoke of the oddness of playing a sport that draws so few black fans.


I played my version when the Cubs played in the 2016 World Series. Come the fourth inning, I walked from Wrigley Field’s ancient press box to the farthest reaches of right field. My goal was to count every black fan I saw. I found two sitting hard by the right field fence.

Each year, Richard Lapchick of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports issues a report on racial hiring in baseball. As recently as 2009, baseball had 10 black and Latino managers. Now it has four. There is the tiniest handful of blacks and Latinos in baseball front offices.


Not much is flowing. I don’t want to pick on Midwestern teams when my own childhood team, the Mets, is so close at hand and offers such an inviting target. One member of the Mets’ weird three-headed general manager team is Latino, but the rest of the organization is lily white. The team has no black or Latino vice presidents.

Like Chicago, New York is a majority minority city. Yet you can sit in the stands at Wrigley or Citi Field some nights and it looks like 1955. In Milwaukee the other night, it even sounded like 1955.