Brandon Phillips, hustling and race


Yesterday I wrote a post in which I slammed Brandon Phillips for his “lack of hustle” when he failed to run hard out of the batters’ box.  And, objectively speaking, he did show a lack of hustle on the play in question. Rob Iracane of Walkoff Walk noticed my use of the phrase, however, and today he makes an excellent point about it:

[T]here is no reason to call out any single writer for leaning too hard
on this simple, cliched phraseology. Nor is there any evidence that
points to any single writer being a closet racist. Still, the evidence
is vast: whenever the phrase “lack of hustle” is used, chances are
the player is black or Latino. This is disturbing! . . .

. . . Brandon Phillips is human, and when he erred, he showed it. I was not
inside Brandon’s head when he smashed that baseball, but does anyone
really think he thought, “Darn, I’m tired! Let me just trot a bit here
so as not to exert too much energy!” No, he didn’t run it out; perhaps
it was half hubris and half misjudgment. But to attack his character
with that horrid phrase smacks of prejudice.

In my defense, I wasn’t attempting to make a character judgment about Brandon Phillips. I was simply describing the undeniable fact that, on that particular play, he did not run it out like players should. What was in his mind or his heart I have no idea. I think he misjudged the shot and thought he’d admire it a bit.

But as Rob notes, the terminology of “hustling” is problematic and loaded. Indeed, Rob points out that an analysis of news articles which reveals that “lack of hustle” is a term used almost exclusively to describe black and Latino players, never whites.

This is something of which I’ve long been aware. Nyjer Morgan hustles more than just about anyone I’ve seen, and he’s
never described as someone who hustles. I’ve witnessed Aubrey Huff and Travis Hafner dog it down the line on multiple occasions and neither I nor anyone else I can recall have accused them of “lack of hustle.” Multiply this across the players and the years and, in the aggregate, the selective deployment of the term “hustle” has had the effect of reinforcing bad old stereotypes
about minorities being lazy.

This is not to say that the concept of “hustling” is now some third-rail, politically incorrect thing. Even I’m not that big a sensitive lefty weenie to think that (and I’m a pretty sensitive, pretty left weenie).  But I think that it’s probably worth thinking about how we use the term.

It’s one thing to say that someone did or did not hustle on a given play because they either did or they didn’t.  But it’s something else to say someone, generally speaking, hustles or does not hustle, because that’s a character judgment — a very subjective one, actually, that is usually not easily verifiable nor based on much evidence at all. And, as Rob empirically demonstrates, it’s one that leads inevitably to the land of racial stereotype.

After reading Rob’s post and thinking about it all, I’m mad at myself for using the phrase “lack of hustle.” Not because it was necessarily inaccurate in that particular instance, but because it’s prone to being misused and I don’t really feel like participating, however unwittingly, in the perpetuation of that kind of baloney.

In baseball, if you lose the World Series you still get a ring

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 3:  Detail view of the St. Louis Cardinals 2006 World Series Ring at Busch Stadium on April 3, 2007 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Scott Rovak/Getty Images)
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“Second place is first loser” — some jerk, probably.

The funny thing about “winning is everything” culture in sports is that it’s revered, primarily, by people with the least amount of skin in the game. Self-proclaimed “Super Fans” and talk radio hosts and guys like that. People who may claim to live and breathe sports but who, for the most part, have other things in their lives. Jobs and families and hobbies and stuff. Winning is everything for them on the weekend at, like, Buffalo Wild Wings or in their man cave.

Athletes — whose actual job is to play sports — like to win too. They’re certainly more focused and committed to winning than Joe Super Fan is, what with it being their actual lives and such. But you see far less “winning is everything” sentiment from them. In interviews they talk about how they hate to lose but, with a little bit of distance, they almost always talk about appreciating efforts in a well-played loss. They rarely talk about big losses — even championship losses — as failures or choke jobs or disgraces of one stripe or another.

All of which makes this story by Tim Rohan in the New York Times fun and interesting. It’s about championship rings for the non-championship winners. The 2014 Royals — winners of the A.L. pennant but losers of the World Series — are featured, and the story of rings for World Series losers is told. Mike Stanton, who played on a ton of pennant and World Series-winning teams with the Yankees and Braves, talks about his various rings and how, even though the Braves lost in the World Series that year, 1991 is his favorite.

Also mentioned: George Steinbrenner’s thoughts about rings for World Series losers. You will likely not be surprised about his sentiments on the matter.

Wait, what is the non-tender deadline again?

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For the next day and a half you’ll hear a lot about the non-tender deadline and/or players being tendered or not tendered a contract. Here, in case you’re unaware, is what that means.

By midnight on Wednesday teams have to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. If they do, the team retains control over the player. Now, to be clear, the team is not simply “tendering” the player the actual contract specifying what he’ll be paid. Think of it as more of a token gesture — a placeholder contract — at that point the team and the player can negotiate salary for 2016 and, if they can’t come to an agreement over that (i.e. an agreement avoiding arbitration) they will proceed to submit proposed salaries to one another and have a salary arbitration early in the spring.

If the team non-tenders a player, however, that player immediately becomes a free agent, eligible to sign anywhere with no strings attached.

Basically, the calculus is whether or not the team thinks the player in question is worth the low end of what he might receive in arbitration. Or, put differently, if the guy isn’t worth what he made in 2015, he’s probably going to be non-tendered.

MLB Trade Rumors has a handy “Non-Tender Tracker” which lists the status of the couple hundred arbitration eligible players and whether or not they’ve been tendered a contract. We’ll, of course, make mention of notable non-tender guys as their status for 2016 becomes known over the next day or two.

Mariners interested in free agent outfielder Nori Aoki

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New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept pretty busy in his short time on the job and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that free agent outfielder Nori Aoki could be his next target. The club recently pursued a trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but the asking price has them looking at alternatives.

Aoki, who turns 34 in January, has hit .287 with a .353 on-base percentage over four seasons since coming over from Japan. He was having a fine season with the Giants this year prior to being shut down in September with lingering concussion symptoms.

The Giants decided against picking up Aoki’s $5.5 million club option for 2016 earlier this month, but he should still do pretty well for himself this winter assuming he’s feeling good.

Report: Johnny Cueto is believed to be looking for a $140-160 million deal

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It was reported Sunday that free agent right-hander Johnny Cueto had turned down a six-year, $120 million contract from the Diamondbacks. He’s hoping to land a bigger deal this winter and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has heard some chatter about what he’s looking for.

Jordan Zimmermann finalized a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers today, which works out to $22 million per season. Arizona’s offer to Cueto checked in at $20 million per season. A six-year offer to Cueto at the same AAV (average annual value) as Zimmermann would put him at $132 million, which is still a little shy of the figure stated by Crasnick. Of course, Cueto owns a 2.71 ERA (145 ERA+) over the last five seasons compared to a 3.14 ERA (123 ERA+) by Zimmermann during that same timespan, so there’s a case to be made that he should get more. Still, he’s the clear No. 3 starter on the market behind David Price and Zack Greinke.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Cubs are among the other teams who have interest in Cueto. One variable in his favor is that he is not attached to draft pick compensation, as he was traded from the Reds to the Royals during the 2015 season.