Give us Your Potential, Your Talent, Your Hungry

Andy Rooney thinks there are too many Latinos in baseball while others think there’s not enough African-Americans. It is what it is. Deal with it.

By Eric Gouldsberry, This Great Game—Posted September 26, 2007

TGG Opinion

Baseball, the American game synonymous with apple pie, hotdogs and Chevrolet, doesn’t seem to have as many Americans playing anymore. 

Back in the old days—before many of us were born—major leaguers came from such faraway towns as Boise, Del Rio and Redding. But now, those towns are relatively down the road, mere neighborhood spots upon a dramatically grown map from which “faraway” is now defined as places like Australia, Venezuela, Taiwan and the Netherlands. 

But some people aren’t thrilled with this increased diversity. Andy Rooney, the 60 Minutes opinionate who’s made a living whining over mass minutiae, recently lamented over the influx of Latino names in baseball. Black activists are complaining over the declining rate of African-Americans in the game. Gary Sheffield thinks Latinos get preferential treatment over blacks, while Ozzie Guillen believes they’re being exploited. 

Note to all of the above: Stop it. 

Americans expect and, usually, get the best. Major League Baseball is no different. It is a league that features the best of the best, where a player’s birthplace should be a non-issue. And if we want to continue to see the game at the ultimate level, a level unmatched around the world, we should all throw away the racism, quotas and affirmative action. Right now. 

Foreign ballplayers come to the States for two reasons: Too make it big, and make big money. There’s no bigger or profitable stage then MLB. Japan can pay Daisuke Matsuzaka all the yen he wants, but he’d rather be in America for the competitive nature that comes with the big bucks. Would you rather boast of striking out Alex Rodriguez at Yankee Stadium, or Tuffy Rhodes in Kobe? 

Everyone strives to be in a MLB uniform because that’s where it’s at. They come for the money, the glory, and to make an All-Star team that’s really All-World. Twenty-four players at this year’s All-Star Game in San Francisco were born outside of America. They weren’t in the States by accident. 

What do we say to those who bitch about the lack of blacks in the game today? Quite a bit, actually. Nobody’s keeping them out as they did before Jackie Robinson. African-Americans these days have a choice. They’re simply not choosing baseball, opting for numerous other sports and activities. Critics will respond by claiming blacks can’t choose because there’s a lack of urban ballfields to hone their potential brilliance. If that’s true, then how did the great Negro Leaguers of old become All-Star level players in far rougher and more segregated times? A lack of baseball fields in the ghetto never stopped kids from playing stickball on the streets of Harlem, even if Willie Mays wasn’t expected to show up. 

The word “quota” should only apply in the majors toward the subject of revenue sharing and not roster make-up. MLB is way too competitive to even contemplate this thought. When an owner needs the best available player to win, fill his ballpark’s pricey seats and grab all the revenue he can to get ahead of the next owner, xenophobia is the furthest thing from his mind. 

There’s something else Bud Selig and Co. may also be keeping in the back of their minds. MLB may seem invincible or untouchable relative to other baseball leagues around the globe, but that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be that way. There’s always the possibility that, somewhere, someplace, a guy with a ton of money may pop up and prop an existing league up or start from scratch, luring big name talent to help him give him legitimacy beyond the bankroll. At a minimum, All-Star caliber players would salivate at such offers. Loyalty to the perks that offset a lesser paycheck doesn’t exist; contrary to what the players say when they sign a big contract, it is all about the money, and if someone in Japan or Europe or Australia has more than MLB will offer, the players may very well take it. 

Remember 1946. That’s when a Mexican multi-millionaire named Jorge Pasquel tantalized dozens of major leaguers, many of them worthy of a marquee, with fat contracts to play south of the border. A number of players went for it, but others—including Stan Musial, who was offered—reluctantly stayed home out of fear from MLB, who threatened to blacklist any player who rode afoul of the reserve clause. Today, with players wielding far more power and independence from a union that has long since shredded the clause, MLB would stand much less of a chance against a raider like Pasquel. 

The bottom line is, baseball has outgrown its American roots. The sport is now fervently international; Manchester United doesn’t hold a monopoly on the dreams of young kids around the globe hoping to become a sports superstar one day. They also dream of becoming an ace pitcher for the New York Yankees, or slugging one out for the Boston Red Sox, or making a diving catch for the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

And we, the fans and keepers of the greatest baseball organization on the planet, should be proud and privileged to welcome them into our country. So to Andy Rooney, Jesse Jackson and all the other lobbyists arguing for the way they want baseball to be, take my advice: Stay away from the ballpark and find another soapbox. The majors are a better place without your rants.