Brandon Phillips, hustling and race

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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.

Rockies activate Ian Desmond from the disabled list

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The Rockies activated first baseman Ian Desmond from the 10-day disabled list on Sunday, the club announced. Cristhian Adames was designated for assignment to create roster space. Desmond is in Sunday’s lineup against the Diamondbacks, batting sixth.

Desmond, 31, signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Rockies in December. In March, he was unfortunately hit by a pitch and suffered a broken left hand. He underwent surgery to repair the damage.

Desmond had been playing in extended spring training as a precursor to rehab games, but he looked so good that the Rockies decided to activate him from the disabled list a little early.

Aaron Sanchez exits game after one inning with a split fingernail

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This wasn’t how Aaron Sanchez was supposed to make his triumphant return from the disabled list. The Blue Jays’ right-hander was activated for his first start on Sunday after undergoing a minor surgical procedure to have part of his fingernail removed. According to MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, the surgery should have accelerated the healing process for a troublesome blister, and the team appeared confident in the right-hander’s ability to take the mound for the tail end of their homestand. Instead, Sanchez lasted just 13 pitches before exiting the game with a split nail on his right middle finger.

The team has yet to address Sanchez’s revised timetable for return, but Chisholm points out that they should be able to roll with their current rotation through May 9. If he sits out longer, the Jays could turn to left-hander J.A. Happ, who should be eligible to start sometime next month after he makes a full recovery from a bout of left elbow inflammation.

Sanchez, 24, entered Sunday with a 4.38 ERA, 2.9 BB/9 and 6.6 SO/9 through 12 1/3 innings with Toronto. He was replaced by right-handed reliever Ryan Tepera in the top of the second inning.