Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ozzie, race and economics

Ozzie Guillen last weekend unloaded an Ozzie rant, which is to say it was in more or less equal parts bombastic, profane, self-serving and wise.

This one touched on race — specifically the notion that professional baseball exploits Latin players:

"Don't take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid, (bleep) you, go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it's always going to be like that. It's never going to change. But that's the way it is."

Guillen has a knack for mixing up his pronouns — in one sentence "us" is Latin players, in the next "we" is major league baseball, and "they" refers to both the teams and the Asian players.

But the argument is clear. It's largely factually correct. It includes some misinterpretation of those facts.

Gullen's off-the-cuff monologue — I wish I could find a complete transcript of the 25-minute session — appears to have had three main points:

1) Not enough has been done to teach immature Latin players of the problems with steroids and other performance enhancers.

Guillen here muddied the waters by claiming that he is the only one doing anything about it; I don't have to accept that claim to note that almost all the positive PED tests popping up now involve Latin players in the low minors. There is a problem there, and it has not been fixed.

2) Asian players get preferential treatment and more help handling the language barrier, including interpreters.

The interpreter part, I think, is the result of market forces.

Players such as Ichiro and the Matsuis and Dice-K were already stars in Japan. They came to American ball for the money and the challenge, but it was their choice. They had options. They go straight to the major leagues because they're older, mature, ready to do that. Some hired their own interpreters; some had an interpreter provided as part of their contract.

The typical Latin signee is young — 16, 17, probably no more than 18 — and has few if any alternative routes to a better life than baseball.

Baseball teams (and other employers) have always exploited players who lack leverage — the young and uneducated. As Guillen said, that's never going to change.

I do think that teams have done a better job of providing structured English and acclimation classes to their young Latin players. Some learn the language fairly easily (Johan Santana); some don't (Cristian Guzman). It doesn't seem particularly practical to hire individual interpreters for each Latin player.

So, yeah, the Asian player and the Latin player face similar language barriers, and they tend to deal with it in different ways. They reach the majors, if they do, in different ways. Those differences are partially individual, partially structural — but probably not racial.

3) These young and uneducated players are force-fed into an unfamiliar culture and often dumped at an early age — an age at which American collegians are just entering pro ball.

Factually true, and rooted in the youth of the Latin signees — which in turn in rooted in the far less-formal baseball training systems in their homelands.

American kids have Little League, high school ball, VFW ball, Legion ball, college, amateur town ball — all of which provide structured training for those athletes talented enough for pro ball. The Dominican Republic does not. The baseball structure there is whatever the major league teams have put into place.

So the teams sign young athletes to get them under their control —why would the Red Sox spend their resources to train a player for the White Sox? — but too young to know for sure that they're going to emerge.

A U.S. collegian enters older and more mature. He is a safer wager — and often a more expensive one, because he has more options. And when teams have invested more money in a player, they have reason to take care of that investment.

One other point to consider in all this: It is highly unlikely that Ozzie Guillen is the only Latino in baseball who believes that the deck is stacked against players of his background. If his voice is the one being heard, it's because he is loud by nature, and because he is secure enough in his position and accomplishments to speak up.

No comments:

Post a Comment