Ferguson and the Cardinals

During spring training I was watching the Mariners, harassing Jesus Montero falling down while fielding and in awe of Robinson Cano’s crazy cool nonchalance, when it occurred to me that most of these guys were maybe not great people. To which those watching with me said, in other words, duh. Baseball players were my childhood heroes, and while there are players like Sam Fuld respected for how they think about the game, I think most baseball fans, including myself, generally grow to favor a player for their athletic performance, or how they wear their hat.

The Mariners players are probably just fine human beings, don’t get me wrong, but are they kind of people that I could be friends with? How does Justin Smoak treat his wife? How does Dustin Ackley vote? What’s the deal with Cano’s child support issues? What do these guys, making at least the major league minimum half-million dollars, think about Seattle’s rise in minimum wage? Brandon Maurer looks like might be a fan of legalized marijuana…what does Jack Z’s drafted core of white dudes from Florida and the Carolinas think about gay marriage?

That said, it’s clearly unfair to judge baseball players on their beliefs. Carl Everett doesn’t believe in dinosaurs. So what?

The internet has been abuzz with the tragedy and ongoing protests in Ferguson for a while now, and this puts the St. Louis Cardinals in an tricky position. People have strong, vitriolic and polarized responses to the Ferguson protests, and the Cardinals clearly wanted to remain as neutral as possible without leaving the issue unaddressed. Here is the team’s official statement:

“Ladies and gentlemen, for over a century Cardinals baseball has been an integral part of the fabric of St. Louis — bringing us together as a community and enriching our lives in so many important ways. St. Louis is good community with good people who care about one another, our neighborhoods and our city. In recent days we have all been heartbroken by a series of violent events that do not reflect who we are as a people. We ask that you join us tonight in taking a stand against violence as we unite as one community.”

Here’s what Mike Matheny had to say:

“It’s a sad situation. It’s a tough situation for our city. Hopefully, all the voices that are trying to get this resolved get it resolved quick…This is a great city with a lot of great people and we’d just like to all see this get resolved.”

At face value these comments seem admirable, nonpolitical. That said both, Matheny and the Cardinals also seem to be wishing this all away. Perhaps when Matheny wants everything “resolved,” he is quietly suggesting police reforms. Perhaps when the Cardinals refer to “violence,” they refer to all of the original shooting, looting, and police response to protesting. But, as I read those statements, the team and Matheny just want things to get back to normal.

St. Louis prides itself on being the both the kind of city those statements describe, and a baseball town, averaging both the second-highest attendance and second-best TV ratings this year. Not only has the status quo has been great to the Cardinals organization and great for baseball fans, but also it would a big stretch to lay any blame on a baseball team for underlying racial issues in a given city.

But. That the Cards broke camp as one of three clubs with no African-American players is almost certainly not because of any malignant franchise philosophy rather than because MLB has seen a huge decline in African-American ballplayers. In the 1970s, baseball was 27% African-American, now it’s 8.5%. It should be noted that the Cardinals are known for drafting college players, and that may have an impact on the racial chemistry of their teams but the Cardinals draft the way they do for strategic reasons, and they’ve obviously been really successful.

What the Cardinals do demonstrate is the whiteness of baseball. Baseball has increasingly become a game of privilege. The decline in African-American players has in some part influenced by the expense of baseball equipment compared to other sports while income and wealth inequality has grown since the 1970s and the gap between African-Americans and Caucasians is wider than it’s ever been before. Many, including myself, treat baseball as an escape and an entertainment, and as an entertainment I don’t think baseball’s demographics demonstrates an issue itself so much as it demonstrates privilege, and white privilege, in general — it’s a privilege to be entertained.

Do our entertainers have to be good people? No. They have to be entertaining.

That said, many rappers have been vocal in their support of the Ferguson protesters (while others have not). That a rapper might be more articulate than a baseball player, or manager, shouldn’t be any surprise in that rappers make their living with language. I don’t expect Robinson Cano or Matt Adams to have a stance or statement about Ferguson, and it shouldn’t be expected of them.

The Cardinals, though, probably felt they had to make a statement, and they did. To attempt neutrality on a subject like Ferguson is tough, as it’s such a polarizing subject, and neutrality here is akin to apathy. What the Cardinals want is a move back to status quo, for financial reasons or otherwise, and as a baseball organization in a billion-dollar industry they shouldn’t be expected to want anything else.

Before Ferguson politicized the idea of St. Louis, the Cardinals were already busy making themselves look bad.

Mike Matheny, All-Star Game manager, started Adam Wainwright over Clayton Kershaw. He used two Cardinals relievers as well, so, in total, Cardinals pitchers had one-third of the innings in a loss that he probably thinks counts. Wainwright went on to admit to ‘grooving one’ to Derek Jeter and the Cardinals, in general, looked terrible.

After the All-Star Game, the Cardinals announcers played off Matheny’s move as rewarding his guys, and said it’s what All-Star managers usually do. In a more recent game they described Kolten Wong as the clear front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year, despite his having about one-third the WAR of Billy Hamilton at the time. Hamilton has a skillset easily appreciated by traditional measures, so while his UZR has certainly inflated his WAR, it’s also tough to look past a .270 batting average and 40+ stolen bases.

The Cardinals organization seems to like to toot their own horn. On the one hand, what team doesn’t? On the other hand, Matheny and the announcers both have demonstrated an inability to act with fairness and understanding when ‘their own guys’ are involved. So who are the Cardinals’ guys in Ferguson? They’d tell you it’s not any group or side, but the language of their statements suggests they’re certainly not with the protesters.

In 2001, in the midst of their 116-win season, the Mariners asked the city of Seattle to shut up the iconic trains whistles in broadcastable earshot of Safeco Field. Their reasoning, as offered to the city:

“[To] ensure that Seattle and Safeco Field are shown in the best possible light — something we are sure you will agree is important given the less than favorable opinion many people have of Seattle in the wake of the WTO and the Mardi Gras riots.”

The Mardi Gras riots mentioned were racially charged and resulted in 70 injuries and one death. Neither event is looked back on rosily. But in 2001 the Mariners, and in 2014 the Cardinals, missed the point.

Bill James defined sabermetrics “as the search for objective knowledge about baseball” and FanGraphs is an extension of that search. Matheny wanting Ferguson to be “resolved” is a little different than wanting a pitcher to resolve an issue in his mechanics. Objectively there is something wrong happening when people protest. Protesters feel there a problem or inequality, and whether they are justified may be subjective opinion but in this case someone died needlessly. Wanting that to go away isn’t going to fix anything. Objectively there are still a lot of things wrong with our country, and baseball isn’t one of them, but MLB shouldn’t position itself in the way of progress either. This is the sport that Jackie Robinson played, after all. Baseball can make a difference.



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17 Responses to “Ferguson and the Cardinals”

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  1. CKROME says:

    Cleveland Indians.

  2. Matthew Moore says:

    I can’t decipher the point of this article at all. What would you prefer the Cardinals do….rush to judgment and condemn one “side” or the other in Ferguson? Do the rest of the corporate entities in St. Louis owe something to the situation? Can you possibly pounce on one word from Matheny (a guy who has always been pretty quiet throughout his career) any more? What is the issue?…racism in St. Louis (and the nation) or a successful MLB organization being over-supportive of its own successful players?

    This is an exercise in how to make a “story” out of nothing. If this had occurred in Los Angeles, you’d have no link to either baseball team. Good for you that you can pile on with hate for the franchise that toots its own horn too much for your liking. If you’re going to throw around an accusation, then grow some cojones and articulate it. Here, you’ve said very little of substance and plenty of pointless mud-slinging.

    • Matt says:

      Cojones? Like to say I assume you’re racist because you’re angry about this? Or that you’re angry about the mention of your own privilege? Or cojones, as in, if you don’t say something angrily and in a cut and dry black and white, men doing man things fashion, than don’t say it all? K.

      “Story of out of nothing.” “Nothing.” Exactly my point, bud. There ya go bud.

      • Satcheration says:

        If the President I elected to get rid of the racism epidemic in this country can’t even get this nation to turn the corner on the issue, why are you all up on a baseball manager to “make a difference”?

        Folks in Ferguson, rest assured, most of them want the whole thing to go away too. And, most of them are tired of pompous whites calling out other whites for a blame game on an issue that frankly none of you know the first thing about.

        And “neutrality is akin to apathy”? Does this mean that everybody who doesn’t go out there on a daily basis to speak out against racism is apathetic about the racism epidemic?

        • Matt says:

          So…racism is over because we elected Obama…no, wait, Obama has failed because racism isn’t over? If some guy drone-striking hundreds can’t fix it…who cares, right?

          Neutrality is not the same as inaction. Whether you live in Ferguson or anywhere else, wanting this to go away is not constructive. African-Americans are killed by police and security guards every 28 hours in USA. It doesn’t matter if I or anyone else is pompous: you’re attitude is apathetic to the deaths of an oppressed group, and your own privilege likely affords you that apathy.

        • Satcheration says:

          As a working-class African-American, I simply laugh at your assertion that I am either “privileged” or apathetic to the plight of my brothers and sisters. My parents rallied with Dr. King and would be appalled by what’s going on all around.

          Let me ask you two things Matt

          1. Do you want this to go away?
          2. If so, what do you propose to do in order to make this go away?

          I’d just love to hear your constructive suggestions. Seriously.

        • Matt says:

          Clearly I don’t want this to “go-away.” That people are upset about this shouldn’t go away, and it will, and things will likely slide back towards a status quo of vast inequality. Training and education are clearly needed…so is greater participation in democracy. Or how about tazers. A baseball team could say “We are appalled that an unarmed 18 year old was shot dead and and deeply upset at the protests, both by the looting and police response.” So bad? But they can’t blame the police…Name dropping MLK is great, and what would Malcolm X say. And, am I a politician?

          If we’re asking questions: why any opposition? Why ‘simply laugh’ at opposition to neutrality on racial issues. People are dead. You’re neutral too? And, regardless of race, you are privileged. Do you live in Ferguson? Make minimum-wage? And, even then, what about the rest of the world? Renunciation of privilege is totally backwards.

        • Satcheration says:

          Quote: I simply laugh at your assertion that assertion that I am either “privileged” or apathetic to the plight of my brothers and sisters

          Your misquote of my above quote: Why ‘simply laugh’ at opposition to neutrality on racial issues.

          Twisting someone’s words is not how to “win friends and influence people” :)

          Especially someone like myself who is NOT neutral on racial issues, or believes that anyone should just shrug their shoulders about the plight of their fellow human beings.

          Matt, I’m beginning to agree with Matthew Moore that you have a problem clearly making your point. I mean, you did give constructive (if generic) solutions such as more training and education (good)..greater participation in democracy (also good)… and then TASERS? (what ARE you trying to say by that?). I’m left to assume that you’re just out there trying to be snarky and argumentative, with the way you ramble and vent.

          I was interested throughout the first part of your article, it seemed like it could be going somewhere. But then you go off on a tangent about the Cardinals and some of their mess ups. So I understand that someone is confused because you just aren’t getting at the point.

          But nothing compares with your closing:

          “And, regardless of race, you are privileged. Do you live in Ferguson? Make minimum-wage? And, even then, what about the rest of the world? Renunciation of privilege is totally backwards.

          Do you even get how you shot your own argument down right there? You, sir, are implying that nobody except the most dirt-poor citizens of the third world must recuse themselves because of privilege, including the stagnating underclass in Ferguson and other places like it. Which would mean remove the reason for the protests in the first place, if I follow your rule of automatically disqualifying folks of “privilege” from trying to make any kind of statement.

          I really hope you’re not a law-school student. Because your logic skills are killing you at every turn.

      • Matt says:

        No one should recuse themselves of privilege over others, nor of caring about of issues of oppression and inequality. That’s apathy. Has nothing to do with protesting or being upset. Is everyone totally privileged or completely oppresses? That my suggestions are generic is why they’re not in the article, that they’re obvious is exactly how the Cardinals are mis-stepping.

        • Satcheration says:

          BINGO!

          Man, I wish you said it that concisely in the article, cause that was the kind of compelling conclusion that we need to chew on.

          Thanks for responding Matt. Any difference that any one of us can make here is worth any struggle involved. Take care.

  3. Matthew Moore says:

    What exactly are you saying about the Cardinals? Say it.

    Don’t confuse my comments with calling the Ferguson incident “nothing.” The “nothing” is making a correlation between piling on the Cardinals for tooting their own horn, the fact that they didn’t have an African-American on the opening day roster, and an awful tragedy occurred 10 miles from Busch Stadium. None of them are correlated.

    You wanna call the Cardinals racist? Stand up and do it. When the facts are revealed, you’ll get as far as you do with assuming I’m racist.

  4. BMarkham says:

    “What the Cardinals do demonstrate is the whiteness of baseball. Baseball has increasingly become a game of privilege. The decline in African-American players has in some part influenced by the expense of baseball equipment compared to other sports while income and wealth inequality has grown since the 1970s and the gap between African-Americans and Caucasians is wider than it’s ever been before.”

    Yup, that’s how all those Cubans and Dominicans are getting into the game as well. All that white privilege.

  5. Lanidrac says:

    Um, Wainwright deserved the All-Star Game start due to Kershaw missing the first six weeks of the season (although by now Kershaw is probably once again the Cy Young frontrunner), and there was only one St. Louis reliever both on the team and in the game, a guy who still has an ERA well below 1.00 on the season. I do agree, though, that I don’t see how Wong deserves Rookie of the Year over Hamilton at this point.

    • Lanidrac says:

      Oh yeah, and people seem to forget that Wainwright chose his words poorly about his All-Star performance. He never meant that he actually grooved one to Jeter.