The 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros recently accepted President Trump’s traditional invitation for the best in baseball to come to the White House, meet the president, and celebrate in the Rose Garden.
Of course, these are not normal times, people say. Accepting this invitation is normalizing fascism, extremist liberals will tell you.
Oh wait, that was the sports mothership in Bristol, Conn., otherwise known as ESPN.
ESPN’s "First Take" program digested what fire and fury the baseball and social justice gods would rain down upon Houston’s baseball heroes for crossing into the Seventh Ring. Will Cain had to talk Max Kellerman, twitching the entire time, down from a cliff after sounding like every other cookie-cutter Twitter account that spits fire against Trump and the GOP.
Cain was able to argue that the invitation goes above politics, but it was Stephen A. Smith’s comments about baseball as a whole that got to me.
Smith has actually been (kind of) a reasonable voice in the last few years, along with Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports. Once, Smith openly wished every black Democrat would switch allegiances to Republican for one election, just to make a statement to Washington that every one of the country’s voices must be heard.
This time, though, Smith didn’t turn to his logical left brain. He let that free-flowing right side take charge, lamenting that the Astros voyage to the White House is simply another step in baseball’s history of being “late to the party.”
As an avid baseball fan, my gears went into motion.
1. On integration: It’s true that baseball did not have its first black manager until Frank Robinson in 1975. The NFL has had black head coaches since its earliest years.
However, even avid baseball fans forget that Jackie Robinson did not integrate the game, but in fact it was Moses Fleetwood Walker in 1884. Three years later, because of racists in the game like Cap Anson, who refused to play against any team welcoming diversity on their rosters, the owners had a “Gentleman’s Agreement” to collude against signing any non-whites, which lasted for 60 years.
Even with a past scarred in racism, teams began to sign black players in 1947. Baseball, being the American unifier, began conversations about the country’s changing nature. Sports really opened Americans’ eyes in general, with individual athletes like boxing’s Joe Louis and track’s Jesse Owens dominating on the world stage.
Seven years before the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board, and 16 years before Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington, baseball was confronting the hard questions and providing glorious answers.
2. On opportunity: Whitlock has pointed out time and again that football has been like no other business in lifting young black boys out of poverty in America, and giving them the chance to make millions of dollars on nothing but pure athletic ability. College football and college basketball absolutely provide this platform, especially since the NBA takes 19-year-olds who are only one year removed from their high school graduation.
But what if I told you (cue the "30 for 30" music) that baseball has reached into not just American poverty, but third-world poverty? Outside of the United States, the country with the second-most players in Major League Baseball is the Dominican Republic. Read about the childhoods of Pedro Martinez, or Sammy Sosa, among others. The common thread is always growing up in dire poverty — not just a lack of Jordans, but going to bed hungry. Yet no one derides football and basketball for being behind.
3. On globalization: While soccer, by a large margin, continues to be the world’s game, baseball has certainly had a long history extending its hand outside its shores. Negro League players in the 1930s would play winter baseball in Latin America and Mexico. Japan’s had professional leagues dating back to playing Babe Ruth’s All-Star team in 1934. As far as foreign influence in the United States, the NBA and MLB have similar international populations on its rosters. In 2013, MLB Opening Day rosters were 28.2 percent foreign-born, according to mlb.com. Starting the 2015-16 season in the NBA, 28.6 percent of players were foreign-born, reported Business Insider.
Smith also commits the error of creating a juxtaposition listing the Astros’ Hispanic players, and mentioning Trump’s rhetoric on building a wall along the southern border. Smith should know 29 percent of Hispanics cast their votes for Trump in the 2016 election, despite his “divisive” immigration stances.
Yes, baseball has had a checkered past. But just peel the cowhide off the cover, and keep unwinding the twine from the guts of the ball, and you will get the gold nugget on the inside. You will discover that baseball isn’t such an old fogey. In fact, it has its own modern #woke qualities as well.
Neil Dwyer is a graduate of the University of Miami, a political and sports broadcaster, and a freelance writer.
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