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.

Giants closer Mark Melancon is heading to the disabled list once again

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The Giants have placed closer Mark Melancon on the 10-day disabled list with a right pronator strain.

This is the same injury that sent him to the disabled list last month. He came back from that quickly, but it can’t be great that this is happening again. You have to assume he’ll miss more time given the recurrence of trouble. He’s going to get an MRI too. Sam Dyson is expected to serve as the Giants’ closer while Melancon is sidelined.

Melancon has a 4.35 ERA and 11 saves in 22 appearances this year. He signed a four-year, $62 million deal with San Francisco last December.

The Cubs visited the White House. Again.

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Last January, the World Champion Chicago Cubs visited the White House. It was a bit unorthodox, as World Series winners typically wait until the following summer and make the trip during a road series in Washington or Baltimore.

They did it, however, because when the Cubs won the Series, then-President Obama asked the Cubs to visit before he left office. He’s a White Sox fan but a Chicago guy and said he was rooting for the Cubs. So the Cubs visited.

Today they’re back again. It’s been characterized as an “informal” visit. No suits and ties or big official photo-ops in front of the White House. It was even unclear until this afternoon if they’d even meet with President Trump. The visit was inspired in part by Maddon’s longtime friend, U.S. Congressman Lou Barletta, and partially by the Ricketts family’s ties to the Trump administration. The Ricketts are significant Republican donors and one of the Cubs’ co-owners, Todd Ricketts, is Trump’s deputy commerce secretary.

So to the White House the Cubs went. At least some of them. Many decided not to go for a number of reasons, ranging from “no-comment” to game preparation considerations (the visit just happened, much later in the day than usual White House visits). At least one vocal Trump supporter, Jake Arrieta, did not go. Another, John Lackey, did go, but declined to give any comment on it, expressing concern that his quote would be used for political purposes. I’ve yet to see anyone say they weren’t going specifically because they do not support Trump, though I presume some felt that way. The man isn’t exactly popular at the moment.

Nevertheless, the political overtones of all of this are hard to ignore. The Cubs already had their official White House visit, so a second one has to mean something, right? Teams don’t just get invited to the White House whenever they happen to be passing through town. Some of this is probably about the Trump administration smarting a bit over Obama swooping in for that visit in January. Some of it is probably about the Ricketts family either wanting to send the team for a non-Obama visit, to do a favor for Trump or some combination of those things.

Joe Maddon was defensive about it all yesterday, saying it wasn’t political. Trump obviously didn’t hear him as he used the time when the Cubs were standing next to him for photos to take questions about the health care legislation and slag on Obamacare:

Maybe Maddon and the Cubs wanted to keep out of politics, but politics makes no such agreement with anyone.