I was thinking the other day about all of the subtle code words announcers use to be subversively racist. I don’t think it’s intentional on their parts, it’s just ingrained into the fabric of the game and American language. Kenny Lofton never hustled; Lance Berkman never didn’t run out a grounder. These sort of things you don’t realize until you’re made aware of them.
Anyway, I want to keep track of that this year. Any time you hear one of these, note the date and time and who said it and post it here.
1. “He’s a great athlete.”/”He’s very talented.”
I’m never quite sure what this means because it’s used so differently each time, but most of the time it means the player in question is better than average at physical attributes that aren’t baseball specific. Running, jumping, diving, that sort of stuff. More often than not, it’s applied to athletes of color.
2. “He’s got a great baseball IQ.”
The times, they are a changing. I was reading a scouting report on a player and the guy who wrote it gave (I think it was) Justin Upton a “high baseball IQ.” First and only time to date I can remember the phrase being used for a black man, but I digress. This is usually reserved for white baseball players who have great skills that the commentator doesn’t know how to explain. Saying he’s “baseball smart” or some variation provides an excuse. Not only is it racist, it’s lazy. Greg Maddux was lauded for this the same way Brett Favre was for “being a kid out there.”
Ever since FireJoeMorgan, the use of these three has significantly lowered, but hustle, scrap and grit were previously used to hype a white athlete who didn’t have a whole lot of talent, but played with enthusiasm–think Reggie Willits.
4. He didn’t run out that grounder
You may have noticed that basically no players run out groundballs–most times they jog, a polite tip of the hat to the coach to say they’re not dogging it. Sometimes you’ll see a player run halfway there and stop as soon as the throw is caught and he’ll get heat for it from the press the next day. I remember Carlos Beltran hitting an infield fly ball and not running to first immediately and boy did he catch hell for that.
5. “He’s explosive”
Again, another feature of black athletes. You will likely never hear about an explosive white man.
For some reason, and maybe this just goes into innate contrast and compares that we do as humans, players are often compared to their like-skinned amigos. Jason Heyward got tagged with a “Ryan Howard” tag once. That’s just awful.
7. Double standards
Think Barry Bonds’ treatment vs. Roger Clemens. That’s apples to oranges, but you do sometimes hear something and wonder if the athlete were the opposite race, what would happen. I wondered this myself when Milton Bradley politely asked to be traded. He went a little far and said the team and its fans are too pessimistic for him (which may have led to the fallout), but he was still cut before the end of the season despite producing above-average for the team. There was no attempted outreach to him. The team dished him off and paid a heavy price for it, accepting a higher-paid player with no positive assets (Carlos Silva) in return. It was a stupid, poorly thought-out decision.
1. “Baseball IQ”
Putting this here too because it deserves to be. There are players who are great athletes and there are players who make the best of their ability, but baseball IQ is an absurd notion. What does this mean? Does the pitcher run to first to cover the bag differently? Does the outfielder take different routes? Does the hitter understand something different that no other hitter does? They hit the ball, they throw the ball, they try to do either or both to the best of their ability. Would you say Manny Ramirez has a high baseball IQ? Probably not, but he’s one of the smartest hitters in the game statistically speaking and an easy first-ballot hall of famer. There is some truth to actual baseball intelligence (read here for a not-so-bad article), but a lot of times, the phrase is misappropriated as though it can substitute talent and a ballplayer’s talent can–and will–heavily outweigh any smarts in the game. The only difference being that a pitcher who studies the game vociferously can have a mild advantage (see: the Scott Hatteberg section of Moneyball).
This is my preliminary list and I’ll add to it as the season goes on. Please feel free to add yours in the comments.