I’m a big fan of Dirk Hayhurst, however, like most people in my line of work and of a certain vintage (and, most likely, a certain level of stubbornness), I absolutely despise Bleacher Report. So, while happy to see him get a good gig, I was partly disappointed when he announced that he’d been hired on as a national MLB columnist there, at the home of what A.J. Daulerio once extraordinarily aptly termed Google-raping SEO “stories”, because I do not and will not read that site.
Except, as it turns out, in exceptional circumstances.
I can still get my Dirk fix through his personal blog — and from Bigger Than The Game, a review of which is still coming, and would have been here sooner had I not left my copy on the damn couch when I road tripped to the southern states last month! — which is great, especially for juicy Rogers- and Jays-related tidbits like this one, which came from a piece Dirk wrote after he was irked by a former colleague saying his snark towards the Jays on Opening Day may have been driven by “sour grapes”:
I was also the guy who, half way through the season, tweeted that the music Rogers Jays coverage was playing on every Blue Jays highlight package—two song choices, Metric’s Stadium Love, and Monster Truck’s Sweet Mountain River—had gotten to a level of annoyance that, when combined with the abysmal Jays season, made me want to leap off the CN Tower.
Twitter followers loved it. Rogers management… not so much. I was back roomed and told never to do that again. I laugh about that now because, when it happened, I was like, “but, it is annoying—you know it, I know it, and they (the fans) know it.”
Delicious stuff, right?
Less delicious, however, is what he laid on the organization today, in one of the few non-”What time does the Super Bowl start?” pieces available at BR.
“This team has too many Latinos on it to win,” mused the old scout beside me. “Get too many of them together on a club and they take over. The club divides, has no sense of itself. They might not be terrible. I mean, them boys can play, but they ain’t gonna win no championship. They’re too emotional to go the distance.
“No, no”—he shook his head—“I ain’t seen no team with this many Latinos in the lineup win.”
. . .
The comment didn’t shock me. Spend enough time around the inner workings of the game, you’ll hear this kind talk. Mostly from its antiquated members who’ve been overexposed to the same idiosyncratic, psychosomatic, superstitious behavior that brought players classic baseball rules of thumb like, “The darker the skin, the tighter the spin.”
What may be shocking to you is that this scout was a valued decision-maker. An evaluator of talent whose job it was to see what the team needed in order to win. He was the kind of old dog that was brought in by young, sabermetrically inclined officials to help bridge the gap between eyes-on baseball experience and cold, mathematical production analysis. His big contribution so far: the team was dark.
And the club this person is talking about? The club that he worked for?
Your Toronto Blue Jays.
[Edit: As some commenters have pointed out, it's not explicitly stated who the scout works for, however, the second paragraph is only just ambiguous enough to leave open the possibility that this could be a scout there to watch the Jays on behalf of another club if you squint real hard. Seems fairly clear that the team he's been hired by as "an evaluator of talent whose job it was to see what [they] needed to win” is the team he made his “big contribution” to by saying that it “was dark.”– AS]
Dirk drops this turd in the Jays’ punch bowl — or, more correctly, he points out this turd that has been dropped in the Jays’ punch bowl– and then moves on with his thoughtful and honest piece on racism in the game, which appropriately arrives on the eve of Jackie Robinson Day. Unfortunately, I suspect most Jays fans will miss a lot of that, zeroing in instead on the setup.
On Twitter, Brian Persaud — who pointed the piece out to me (since, as I may have mentioned, I don’t read Bleacher Report) — worries about the optics of the supposed sour grapes, and explained to me that “it would be a more powerful article if he didn’t name the team” because “it would be seen as a league wide issue.”
In a way I think he’s right, but I also think that the thing that makes Hayhurst so compelling — like Jim Bouton and Bill Lee before him — is his honesty about areas of the game where other people simply will not go, at least not when on the record. Not covering a Blue Jays “valued decision-maker” in a veil of deeper anonymity certainly reinforces that posture.
Sure, we could debate the choice to be specific or its place in the piece, but that would seem to me to be not only missing the forest for the trees, but possibly doing so deliberately to avoid an uncomfortable (alleged) truth about the team we invest so much psychic energy in. And that truth, of course, isn’t that the divisive nonsense allegedly spewed by an alleged Jays decision-maker is right — that stuff is obviously dumb as shit — but that these attitudes still exist, perhaps even in what we want to believe is (and what the Jays want to present as) an organization that is better than that.
Then again, it’s not like we didn’t know that, or haven’t heard this before — in general and about the Jays specifically. There are stories out there — at least that I’ve heard, though never legitimately corroborated — about attitudes like this back in the Ricciardi era. There is also the fact that, during this past off-season, Blue Jays Plus spoke with a “veteran player, gone from the team now,” who “went as far to tell Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos that his team would never win if it featured a Latin clique like the one present over the past couple of years.”
There’s something different, however, when it’s openly coming from a “valued decision-maker” (assuming we believe that this person has Alex’s ear — except, y’know, on the point about having all the Latino guys, on which he was clearly ignored), and not mere whispers, or for some player whose opinion no one gives a shit about. Yet the most insidious thing about this kind of talk may actually be entirely in the way that it’s too-commonly reacted to — it being subsumed into baseball discussion that, unintentionally or not, legitimizes the racist point of view — which is something that Dirk is sure to make clear:
After the comments were made and once batting practice ensued, we broke ranks to discuss. Not how what the scout said was racist. Not how we hoped he didn’t hurt anyone’s career because they had the wrong color skin. We conjectured over whether he was right—did a mix of too many Latinos mean a team couldn’t win?
This leads Hayhurst into an assessment of some the ignorance he saw at work while he was in the minor leagues — one part actual divides and barriers and aspects of racist-joke locker room culture that have led many in the game down this path, another part the same kind of ignorance highlighted in last week’s excellent piece by Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald on the criticism of Yasiel Puig — which he suggests can fester into something far more heinous; something that has no place in the game — nor anywhere, for that matter, but especially not in the form of professional assessment from a trusted adviser who continues to be employed the day after giving such an opinion within earshot of journalists.
Yes, many Jays fans may want to slough it all off as some kind of a hit job — as, sadly, I’m sure there are some out there who would slough it off because they believe that what the scout said isn’t horrendously stupid, or because they don’t react like Dirk, who later says that “every time I hear someone talk about playing the game the right way … I can’t help but think of how much ignorance gets perpetuated under the guise of baseball cliche,” and who will be angry at both of us for knocking the Jays specifically when they’re really just stand-ins for the whole of baseball culture — but it’s exactly because ”our” team is so central to the piece that we ought to be reading it in its entirety.
Sure, maybe it’s picking at low-hanging fruit to say that racism is still everywhere and is awful, but the sentiment sure as fuck isn’t wrong, and even if we sometimes find ourselves at a loss on how to combat it — save for just waiting for all the ignorant old fuckers out there to simply die out — it’s always a point worth reinforcing. Even if you’re not a Jays fan. Even if it happens to be written at Bleacher Report.