Over at USA Today, Jorge L. Ortiz has an interesting piece on MLB's ongoing culture clash between Latin-born players and U.S.-born players. Ortiz determined the percentage of brawls that featured players of different ethnicities as the primary combatants, and the figure he came up with is fairly shocking. Give it a full read.
In the course of Ortiz's piece, he quotes pitcher Bud Norris, who gives voice to a decidely "old-school" perspective on this matter, possibly the extremes of that perspective:
“I think it’s a culture shock,’’ Norris said. “This is America’s game. This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.
“I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.’’
On the one hand, change is unsettling, and demographic shifts can make for discomfort. On the other hand, this is the reality of baseball. It's a global game -- one that has expanded its talent pool to include most corners of the world. That's a good thing, in that a larger talent pool yields a better game at the highest level. The cultural fissures are real, though.
To a large extent, this boils down to pitchers wanting no hint of celebration on the part of hitters when, say, a home run is hit. This is an established "code," and we see it played out pretty much daily. It's a curious thing, though, and it betrays a lack of accountability on the part of pitchers like Norris. If you don't want hitters to celebrate home runs, then don't allow home runs. If a hitter beats you, then maybe you shouldn't try to dictate how he reacts to it. He did, after all, beat you. You shouldn't be able to impose terms of surrender on the victor.
Or, if we insist on having the game played by emotionless automatons, then pitchers should cease with the post-strikeout fist-pumps and the inning-ending barbaric yawps. You can say that hitters these days are too self-aggrandizing, but you could also say that pitchers these days are too paper-skinned and too burdened by a Victorian's proneness to affront.
It's a pat response, but it bears repeating: Don't give up home runs if you don't like the afterglow of a home run. The call for stoicism on the part of the hitter masks a lack of it on the part of the pitcher.
There's, of course, another, maybe deeper layer to Norris' comments (and this isn't all about Norris, of course). Since the year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, MLB rosters have gone from being 98.5 percent white to being 59.8 percent white in 2015. Over that same span, the percentage of Latino big-leaguers has increased from 0.7 percent to 29.3 percent. That's a very gradual shift, but the effects are still keenly felt at times. As Norris acknowledges -- and as former major-leaguer John Baker recently wrote -- the norms of decorum in the Latin game are much different. Celebration rather than grim-faced stoicism is the norm. Bring more of those players to the U.S. major leagues, and they're bound to bruise against some of the native-born players who were brought up under "head down as you round the bases" ethos.
That's to be expected, and these things tend to sort themselves out. However, at the heart of this you have a slice of players who seem to be insisting that these other players behave the way they want them to. And let's recall that the kinds of things we're talking about -- bat-flips, trots, etc. -- don't affect anyone else in any tangible way (the frail emotions of the pitcher notwithstanding). It's not as though hitters are, say, arm-barring the catcher in glorious observance of a well-struck baseball. Anyhow, throwing a baseball at someone who hurt your feelings -- and who almost certainly won't be able to strike back at you before being tackled from behind -- is the stuff of pre-schoolers.
As for the "American dollars" part, this is, shall we say, "economically naive." MLB is a global business that is headquartered in the U.S. Teams sign Latino players because they think said players will help them win and, by extension, make money on those investments. It's not an act of charity, and indeed it shouldn't be. The baseball pipeline that leads from the far-flung amateur ranks to the major leagues is as about as close to a pure meritocracy as we'll get. So a paycheck comes in exchange for work that makes money for the employer, not work that makes money for the employer plus gratitude to the utmost taxing authority.
At some point, baseball may settle into a demographic equilibrium. Regardless of whether and when that comes to pass, the best advice is to play the game the way you see fit and permit others that same freedom. If you're unwilling to do that, then don't portray it as an act of strength.