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Major League Baseball has a racism problem

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Tuesday’s Say Hey, Baseball talks about Angel Hernandez’s lawsuit against MLB, ice cream, and an unlikely tale of the concussion of a Mets prospect.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

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Monday, Cuban-born 24-year veteran umpire Angel Hernandez filed a suit alleging racial discrimination against the Office of the Commissioner, in part because Hernandez alleges that Joe Torre held a personal grudge over him for almost two decades, dating back to when Hernandez called a balk on Andy Pettite.

After the 2001 game, Torre told the media that Hernandez “just wanted to be noticed over there,” a sentiment that has been echoed in his evaluations since 2001 when Torre joined as Chief Baseball Officer. However, Hernandez’s suit also centers around charges of racial discrimination in MLB’s promotion and postseason assignment policies — which, I mean, yeah, who’d be surprised? Hernandez hasn’t umpired a World Series game since 2005 despite high internal ratings, and his four applications to become a crew chief were denied in favor of “less experienced, generally white umpires.”

First, we need to have a talk. The thousands and billions of times that Hernandez has probably screwed your favorite team over really, truly, honestly is not at issue here. The problem is that if for years Hernandez was passed up on for opportunities like a crew chief title or a World Series gig in 12 years despite his relatively good internal evaluations, then MLB’s ingrained racism is probably to blame. Hernandez believes that he is being discriminated against. It’s not a light accusation, and it has implications about how the employees above, below, and equal to him are treated as well.

It’s true that Hernandez is not great. However, the fact of the matter is that Hernandez can historically make bad calls and the league can be racist at the same time.

Consider that the three truths of life are that you’re born, you die, and umpires blow it. Ask Armando Galarraga, any one of Joe West’s victims, or even ‘ole unreliable, C.B Bucknor. The Ohio judge isn’t going to hold Hernandez’s 2013 Cleveland Indians home run call against him. He’ll more likely care about internal evaluations, such as Hernandez’s 96.88 ball/strike accuracy in 2016. Or he might care that since 2000, each of the 23 umpires promoted to crew chief has been white. Or maybe he'll notice that in the past six seasons, according to the suit, 34 of the 35 World Series umpires were white.

Let’s not act like anything close to perfection is not demanded of crew chiefs, either. West is bad and has been for 49 whole years. He’s been a crew chief since 2002, and has six World Series appearances, giving him more World Series games than any other umpire. West worked his first full-time season in MLB in 1978 (please retire, Joe) and was given the title of crew chief in 2003. Hernandez has been in the league as long as West was when he was given the promotion. Longitude isn’t a good measure of effectiveness, but it’s likely utilized by MLB and it’s one of the best available until or if umpire evaluations get leaked (@Snowden).

The racism and xenophobia endemic to MLB is proven often, but in few places is it more clear than in the demographics of leadership. The hope is that this keeps pushing MLB in the right direction of necessary change. Though the suit singles Torre out for personal animus, it specifically discusses that the issue at hand is a systemic mistreatment of minorities, not limited to umpires.

The number of minorities in leadership positions is a telltale sign of the discrimination at play. Selig’s Rule hasn’t brought about the change it needed to. There are only two black managers in baseball (Dusty Baker and Dave Roberts) and one Latino manager. The limited power that minorities hold is not only alarming but also makes the league less appealing and more difficult to grow.

Mina Dunn

  • These All-Star rosters are part of a balanced breakfast and are made possible in part by internet voting. Grant Brisbee takes you through how the internet voting process influences a vote. Please don’t show this article to a baby boomer. No one can handle a “Millennials Are Killing Paper Ballots” thinkpiece.
  • This headline calls it luck, but it is pretty clear that the ball knew it was destined for greatness and found its way into Dustin Pedroia’s glove and onto Carlos Gomez's back. Also, note the number of people on the ground as the play concludes. The first base coach seems to be having the out-at-first equivalent of sympathy pains?
  • Mets prospect Logan Taylor was concussed in Salt Lake City by a homeless man wielding a tire iron. This is a real sentence.

Note: This article has been updated to correct earlier inaccuracies that stated (1) Angel Hernandez hadn’t worked in a World Series and that (2) there are no Latino managers in Major League Baseball.