Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Where’s Roger Kahn?

After a tumultuous week that had Gary Sheffield defending comments he made in the current GQ, William Rhoden wrote an interesting and even-handed column in Saturday’s New York Times. The piece featured quotes from Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations, which helped make Sheffield’s case that the popularity of Latino players is largely part of an economic imperative that makes them more appealing than African American players.

“The reason that the academies were put there is basically economic,” Solomon told Rhoden. “When a major league team develops a player in Latin America, that player is not subject to baseball’s draft. When a club builds an academy in the Dominican Republic and signs a bunch of players, those players belong to that club and they can sign all those players.”

Rhoden wrapped up his column with this: Gary Sheffield, baseball’s bull in a china shop, has indelicately brought attention to a delicate subject.

Rhoden may have been hoping for a bit too much from some.

Yesterday, Jon Heyman countered on SportsIllustrated.com:

“When you see Major League Baseball putting academies in other countries, obviously that throws up a red flag,” Sheffield told GQ. “You wonder why they ain’t going up in our neighborhood. Bottom line, what I see, I talk about… I see it over and over. If anybody can show me I’m wrong, then show me.”

That’s where MLB had to step in. According to Solomon
[the same Jimmy Lee Solomon quoted by Rhoden in the Times], MLB just put up a $10 million baseball facility in Compton, Calif. called the Urban Youth Academy, complete with four fields and a 12,500-square foot clubhouse on a 10-acre plot.

Not only that, but Solomon said that the Atlanta Braves put up an academy in Atlanta with the financial backing of Chipper Jones, Mike Hampton, Brian Jordan and John Smoltz. In addition, a site is being selected in Washington, D.C., the Phillies are building an academy in Philly, the Red Sox in Boston and the Astros in Houston.

Plus, MLB has run the RBI program since 1991, with 165,000 of 200,000 of its young ballplayers playing in the U.S. And there’s more. The Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a joint venture from MLB and the Players Association, has targeted $10 million in grants to aid baseball in inner cities and impoverished areas.

Solomon said: “If Gary had taken the time to call the office, he could have said, ‘That’s not enough. But not to get the facts ... well, that’s unfortunate.”

Those facts show Major League Baseball’s efforts are sorely lacking. Two academies, a couple of programs and a few plans and promises is not nearly enough for a multi-billion dollar industry in a country of more than 300 million people.

Sheffield is the only one willing to speak out against these injustices and aside from Rhoden’s column, he has been vilified for his courage and candor.

What changed with Solomon between the time he spoke with Rhoden and then Heyman? And how do two writers, working with essentially the same subject, produce two completely different stories?

This incident capsulated many of the injustices that cut through our society and too often go ignored because anyone who dares speak out is quickly labeled and their points are never examined or investigated.

Jackie Robinson’s story was chronicled by baseball writers who knew the social significance of the story and refused to be put off by labels and vague generalizations.

Where’s Roger Kahn when you need him?

6 comments:

Ross said...

I have to disagree with you. In the earlier post you said that MLB exploits these Latino players for cheap labor only. You also one of the few people to agree with the insanse Gary Sheffield. I don't see your point: how is giving kids who would probably end up dirt poor working in the fields a chance to play baseball exploitation? The reason academies are put in Latin America is that baseball is extremly popular in that region and that there is a ready supply of talent. The key work here is popularity.

Baseball isn't popular among urban blacks anymore. You and Sheffield miss that point completly. MLB is putting academies in poor American areas and will put more there in the future. But the truth is, black America likes football and basketball much more. The proof is in the percentage of blacks in the NBA and NFL. Maybe Latinos are signed cheaper, but that's not exploitation if they are being paid a decent salary (many top Latino players get signing bonuses in the six figures) and have a chance to earn more. Once some of the Latin players reach the big leagues, they have a chance to earn much more and are certainly not shortchanged.

Some of the MLB academies in Latin America are also setting up educational facilities so these players have options if they don't make it. You and Sheffield again don't get the facts straight. Exploitation is a problem with American buisness but baseball is hardly the place to complain about it. These people are being paid thousands of times more than the average worker to play a child's game. (This applies to Latinos too. You say they are "exploited" I say their signing bonus is still many times more than a peddler or field hand makes) They aren't exactly working in coal mines.

Todd Drew said...

Ross,
Major League baseball exploits cheap labor. I don’t think that fact is even up for debate. Major League Baseball’s own Jimmie Lee Solomon explained how it works in great detail (whether he meant to or not) in Saturday’s New York Times.

Gary Sheffield did not miss the point. He squared it up and drove it out of ballpark. If you want to throw it back on the field, that’s fine.

I choose to take this opportunity to discuss an issue that hurts thousands of young ballplayers, who also happen to be human beings. The fact that this system benefits a few is not justification for exploitive labor practices. Reasoning that certain people would be “dirt poor and working in the fields” anyway, is also not justification. If you think about, I’m guessing that’s not what you really meant say.

Painting broad strokes about baseball’s popularity with “Black Americans” or “Latin Americas” doesn’t bring much to the debate so it’s probably best to move past it.

To address your final point: Baseball in not inherently corrupt. It exists within a corrupt system. The point Sheffield brought up cuts across society and if people are willing to look deeper into these issues we might actually solve a few problems.

Bill Mehlman said...

I must have missed something, or someone stole a page from my CIA World Factbook: which country of 3 billion people are we talking about here?

Todd Drew said...

Bill,
That's over 300 million. Sorry.

Henry said...

I’m impressed Bill Mehlman. You CIA guys don’t miss anything.

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