The Joke’s On You

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets

The headline says it all. “In the Mets Clubhouse, An Old Slur Resurfaces.” There is no room for equivocation. There is no way to get around the reality that a member of the Mets coaching staff thought calling a Japanese translator a “Chinaman” was funny. There is no denying pitching Dan Warthen regretted what he said, as he apologized to Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s translator Jeff Cutler for his insensitive remark.

It is with that apology that this story begins. It was the apology that Wall Street Journal reporter Stu Woo overheard the slur in question. It is at this point that Woo leapt to action, his cheeks flushed with righteous anger and his reporter sense for a solid story tingling somewhere in the background.

There is a story in this seemingly innocuous utterance. There is no place for it in a modern workplace. Full stop. Despite the monolithic nature of a baseball clubhouse, jokes like this have no place there. The Mets organization rushed to make the requisite apologies and no doubt, Warthen feels awful. If you asked him, I hazard a guess he would vehemently disagree that he’s a racist. That’s probably because he isn’t.

But the time when folks who are the subject or target of these “jokes” should turn the other cheek passed long ago. Expecting Woo and, to a lesser extent, Cutler to just laugh off these comments is unfair and unrealistic. The onus does not belong on the shoulders of those not in positions of power, as Woo states, to be strong.

There can and should be no more excuses. No more excuses of age or upbringing. No excuse flies. Just don’t do it. Think about who you are and where you are and tailor your comments accordingly. Period. It is not complicated. For a sport that twists itself into knots demanding a nebulous brand of professionalism on the field, a few moments of self-awareness in the clubhouse or on a flight is NOT too much to ask.

All manner of frat boy nonsense takes place in a big league clubhouse on an average day. This does no preclude big league players and coaches from the turning of the earth. It’s a different world, one where Japanese American translators and Chinese American reporters need not bristle when thoughtless comments are cast within their earshot.

I don’t know Dan Warthen. But if he is anything like most reasonable people in 2014, he is probably quite uncomfortable right now. He meant no malice and simply took good natured clubhouse ribbing a step too far. Hopefully, he doesn’t feel persecuted or as though he is the victim here. He isn’t. He is a 61-year old man with a chance to learn something. Even if his only lesson is “don’t make insensitive jokes in front of this minority fella”, it’s a start. Expecting a wave of enlightenment to wash over the baseball culture is foolhardy.

But demanding the end of “boys will be boys” and shrugged shoulders is not too much to ask. It is the bare damn minimum. Hopefully the fraternity of baseball can show some professionalism and respect for the game by uniting to raise the bar slightly above “know your audience.” Dare to dream, I know.