Baseball’s Latin Players Are Making the Game Fun. Stop Plunking Them With Pitches.

The stadium scene.
Oct. 3 2013 2:59 PM

Passion Play

Latin players are bringing exuberance and emotion to baseball. It’s time to embrace it.

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Forget about the stats vs. scouts argument: The biggest dissonance in the game right now is between the showmanship of Latino players and the stoicism of the old guard. Some believe it is the fight for baseball's soul. Some believe that allowing such behavior will irreparably damage the game. It's a silly argument, of course, but it's happening. 

A bat flip is not meant to ridicule a pitcher for having allowed a home run. The act is more of a celebration of an accomplishment. What is the harm in that? Furthermore, does the retaliatory action of throwing a baseball at someone really justify the perceived insult? 

"That baseball is a weapon," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said this year, incensed that Boston Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster had plunked Alex Rodriguez. "It's not a tennis ball where it's soft. It's a weapon, and it can do a lot of damage to someone's life, and that's why I was so upset by it. You can't just start throwing baseballs at someone. It's scary."

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Gomez certainly didn't have to be—and probably shouldn't have been—so vengeful about his home run against the Braves, but can you really blame him? He had been thrown at previously by Maholm simply because he'd flipped his bat. At some point, Gomez was going to reach a breaking point. And it never would have come to that if baseball simply modernized to reflect the attitudes of the almost 30 percent of players on its rosters who are foreign-born. 

It may be that the style of baseball that has been played for decades, and was developed during a mostly all-white era, has been long-lasting, but that doesn't make it any better than another style of play. 

So far, no one has been able to convince me that admiring a home run or pumping a fist after striking someone out somehow damages the fabric of the game. It might be showy and, yes, in part egocentric, but it doesn't change anything about how baseball is actually played. 

The Dominican Republic's triumph in the World Baseball Classic this year showed everybody that flash can equal substance and that baseball played in a not-so-serious manner can be fun to watch. The Dominicans boisterously celebrated each hit, each strikeout, each win, and the world did not implode, the seams did not come off baseballs, and anarchy did not reign in clubhouses. 

Baseball will have to adjust to the changing racial dynamic of the game, just as the NBA and NFL did when they became predominantly black-populated leagues. Basketball and football changed off and on the court and field, and eventually, the NBA and NFL embraced these changes and shrewdly marketed the game to a broader audience. Even the NFL, which critics call “the No-Fun League,” allows simple celebrations like a touchdown spike or a fist-pump. Attitudes in baseball must change as well. 

Baseball has recently tried to ease Latino integration. For the past several years, many teams have sent some of their young American prospects to the Dominican Republic for the Instructional League. During their stay, American players tour several of their Dominican teammates' hometowns, with the hope that a greater understanding between the two sides will develop. In some ways it does, but inevitably a separation between the two cultures reoccurs when players return to the United States. Clubhouses are as segregated as ever, with both sides preferring to hang out with their own people.

Full integration in clubhouses will probably never happen, and there's no shame in that. Latino players will always feel more comfortable conversing in their own language. As long as the two cultures understand each other on the field, baseball is headed in the right direction—but right now there's a large gap.

For the entirety of their presence in the game, Latino players have been the ones to change their behavior, their attitudes, and their language in order to be given a chance to play professional baseball. The power of the modern Latino player dictates that it's now time for baseball's old guard to be the ones to change.

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