Racism In Baseball

As we all know, the Twins won the bid for Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Like many Japanese imports before him, Nishioka’s contract includes the rights for an interpreter. While many players also come to America from Latin America, it’s clear that these athletes are not given the same rights.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had a public rant back in August 2010 about the differences in treatment between Japanese and Latino baseball players. From my recollection, Guillen’s complaints – like many of his complaints – were met with criticism. Clearly, this is not “new” news. However, the reason I bring this back up is that with Nishoka now on the roster, the Twins can now be included as a target in Guillen’s grievance.

I remember hearing another complaint about how Japanese players are afforded the luxury of making a major league roster despite only having the experience equivalent to between Triple-A and the majors, while the Latinos are usually guaranteed time in the minors first. Even Aroldis Chapman, who posted a 2.03 ERA and 12.83 K/9 with a 100 MPH fastball, had to spend a majority of 2010 in the minor leagues.

Is this fair? Well, I’m not fully sure. While it may seem like a player’s race is determining their placement into the MLB system, we also need to consider their age. Most Japanese players are brought to America when they are in their late 20s to mid 30s. Nishioka will be 26 on Opening Day. Ichiro Suzuki’s first MLB season was when he was 27. Meanwhile, Chapman was only 22, and Miguel Sano was 16 when he signed with the Twins.

This leads into another part of Guillen’s complaint, where he said that most Latino players above the age of 17 were considered too old to be signed by an MLB squad, while American college athletes are drafted when they’re in their early 20s. To me, this is more a function of the laws in place than anything else. In America, athletes need at least a high school degree before being eligible for the MLB draft. In Japan, teams could scout teenagers, but they’d also have to compete with the NPB teams in order to get these players. In Latin America, these rules and complications aren’t as big of factors.

With Nishioka, he is indeed receiving some benefits that would not be given to players of another race. As I said above, I’m not sure where I stand on this issue. I do feel that Ozzie Guillen made a good point in bringing this up, but there hasn’ t been many complaints apart from him. If you have an opinion on this, what do you think? Should MLB teams change their ways to be more fair to Latinos compared to Japanese players, or is the system working just fine?

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10 Responses to “Racism In Baseball”

  1. Maija Says:

    I don’t see this as racism. I see this as treating people from different backgrounds accordingly.

    There is a bit of a difference between Latin players in their mid to late 20s and American College players and Japanese professional players–namely, the level of competition they have been playing in. College leagues and the Nippon League provide an environment of high competition and development. As far as I’ve ever heard, there are no older, highly competitive leagues in Latin America–outside of the professional camps there that take players at a very young age. Maybe I’m wrong, but I am just skeptical that they have any leagues with players of the same age and competition level as US college leagues and Japan.

    As for interpreters–Spanish is much, much more closely related to English than Japanese. Spanish is much more prevalent in our culture. Latin players aren’t going to feel as isolated in American culture, and can likely learn English much faster. Japanese is… totally different. One of Nishioka’s biggest fears–according what Mike Pomeranz told NPR–is that he is going to be lonely. Nishioka is afraid he will have a bad day and will only be able to go home and be with himself. This would not be the case with a Latin player–there are m,any more Latin players, many more people who know Spanish, etc.

    So basically–Ozzie Guillen can just shut up. Japanese players and Latin players are not treated the same because Latin people and Japanese people are not the same. It’s not racism, it’s just reality.

    • Andrew Says:

      Good stuff. I completely agree with everything except telling Guillen to shut up. The guy’s hilarious, but as for his son Oney….

      • Maija Says:

        Oh–haha, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Ozzie… Seriously. But I think he’d like me telling him to shut up when I really think he should!

  2. JimCrikket Says:

    I do think we have to be careful about using the term ‘racism’ and I agree with much of what Maija writes.

    That said, there’s no question that even those Latinos that get signed by American organizations face a pretty tough road (check out the movie “Sugar” some time).

    The Twins have a lot of Latino coaches in the lower levels but I’ve always wondered why they don’t have one at the Major League level. I guess most Latinos have had a few years of playing ball in the US by the time they reach the Majors but you’d think it still wouldn’t hurt to have a coach around that they could relate to a bit easier.

    • Andrew Says:

      I remember Gardy making a comment about Tony Oliva (or Rod Carew, can’t remember which one) and how he was the only coach in spring training that could understand Carlos Gomez.

      • Maija Says:

        Nah–Carlos Gomez was also understood by teammates like Alexi Casilla. It wasn’t the same situation as Nishioka…

      • Andrew Says:

        Oh I know that, Casilla and Gomez were best friends. I meant that Oliva (or Carew) was the only coach that understood Gomez in spring training.

  3. Andrew Says:

    Also, before I get any complaints, consider this my admittance that YES, I did deliberately use a controversial title for this post in an attempt to get more readers. It’s cheap, but I consider admitting this is better than playing dumb about it.

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