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There are no U.S.-born black players on the Giants. Is that a problem?

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CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly made an observation while hanging out in the Giants’ clubhouse here in Scottsdale the other day:

I looked around the room, I realized that [Willie] Mays, and his assistant, were the only people of African-American heritage in it … Sure, there have been times when the Giants did not have a single African-American on the roster. But no representation whatsoever in big league spring training? More than 70 players, and not one African-American in the room? That realization stunned me.

It is rather stunning given how many people are in camp.  As Baggarly notes, of course, it is part of a larger trend in baseball in which black players from the United States are less and less common in the game. It’s territory that has been covered often in the past several years. And it’s attributable to any number of things, be it economics, shifts in tastes, other options available, international scouting, the draft and its rules and on and on. While some want to portray this as something sinister or as a crisis — which, it should be noted, Baggarly does not do —  my view is that it just … is.

source:  While there’s no denying the oddity of a group of 70 professional ballplayers not containing a single black player from the United States, it’s not as if this or any other clubhouse is lily white or lacks diversity. As I was walking around in it this morning I saw black skin, brown skin and white skin. There were players from North and South America, the Caribbean and Japan. I heard conversations in at least three different languages being covered by media writing in three different languages. That guy to the left is Santiago Casilla. If you didn’t know who he was and didn’t hear him speak, I’m guessing you wouldn’t say that the Giants lack diversity.

After I walked outside, I came across Bruce Bochy sitting for an interview with what appeared to be a Japanese TV station. He was asked to characterize what, apart from baseball skill, made his team a good one. Bochy’s answer was diversity. He described it in two ways: first, diversity of character, referring to guys with beards, guys with crew cuts, guys who joke, guys who don’t, and on and on.  Then he talked about having players from Venezuela, the United States, Curacao, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. He says it’s just a great mix of people.

Now, sure, he may be pushing that as a bit of spin in the days since media outlets picked up on Baggarly’s story about the lack of black players in camp. Or he may simply be doing what every other manager does in spring training and talk about what a great group of guys he has. Heck, even Bobby Valentine talked that talk last year.

But I also tend to think that Bochy is speaking a lot of truth here about where the game is at the moment. Without question, it sucks that more black players from the United States aren’t playing the game. I think Bochy would agree with my long-held sentiment that life would be 100 times better if every guy who was playing in the secondary of an SEC football team was instead patrolling an outfield because, man, it’s such a waste to see that kind of athletic wasted on such an inferior pursuit.

But that’s not where we’re at for a million reasons. And while it would be a good thing to try to change that, the fact that we’re not there doesn’t mean baseball has a diversity problem. It’s just changing. As it has always changed and likely always will.

Mets owners get some breathing room on their Bernie Madoff settlement payments

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon stands on the field before baseball's Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Associated Press
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For years the central fact of life of the New York Mets has been that their owners, the Wilpon family and Saul Katz, lost a ton of money after investing it with friend and business partner Bernard Madoff, perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. It has hampered their payroll and led to huge amounts of borrowing and restructuring that, before last year’s pennant run, seemed like it’d be a millstone on the Mets competitive prospects for years to come.

In addition to losing money, it was later determined that Katz and the Wilpons unfairly gained in some other respects and thus they ended up having their phony earnings clawed back via a settlement with the trustee managing the fallout of the Madoff scandal.  The upshot: the Wilpons and Katz, in addition to their losses, were ordered to pay nearly $60 million dollars back, half payable this week, half payable next year. That’s a lot of money for anyone to fork over and this week’s payment loomed large.

Now, however, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Wilpons and Katz will get some breathing room. Specifically, they have modified their agreement with the trustee and some of the owed money has been deferred. Instead of some $29 million payable this week, they will only have to pay $16 million. The remainder will be paid in four installments — from 2017 through 2020 — with an interest rate of 3.5 percent on the unpaid balance, Rubin says.

Now, there obviously was no promise that the $13 million saved this week be invested in the baseball team, but it’s probably a good thing overall for the Mets if their owners’ debt payments are reduced a bit.

Mike Napoli hit a homer for a fan with cancer

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 30: Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field on May 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Last night a fan named Kathi Heintzelman showed up at Progressive Field in Cleveland with a sign asking Indians first baseman Mike Napoli to hit a home run for her and to give her a hug. But there was a reason beyond her love for Mike Napoli. She’s starting chemotherapy today and the hug and homer would be a nice thing.  Hard to disagree with that, even if everyone knows that ballplayers can’t hit homers on demand.

Well, most players can’t. Mike Napoli did the easy part before the game, giving her a hug. Then in the sixth inning, he went yard:

 

Whether you believe that such things can be fated or if you merely acknowledge that Heintzelman asked Napoli for a homer at a good time — he’s on a hot streak right now and has hit bombs in four of his last 11 games — it’s a great story.

 

The Twins recall Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton
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Byron Buxton has been recalled from Triple-A Rochester by the Twins.

Buxton will replace Danny Santana, who was placed on the disabled list following a hamstring injury. But the bigger picture here is that Buxton will get a fresh go-around to show that he is the future of the Twins like so many assume he will be. The 22-year-old hasn’t hit so far in the majors, but he batted .336/.403/.603 with six homers, four steals, and a 26/11 K/BB ratio over 129 plate appearances after his demotion to Triple-A last month.

At this point the Twins, who stink on ice, need to just put their top young player in the game and let him learn to swim at the big league level rather than try to squeak out a few extra relatively meaningless wins with guys who won’t be part of the next contending Twins team.

92-year-old World War II vet throws a nifty ceremonial first pitch

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Think of how many bad ceremonial first pitches you’ve seen. From the worm burners from local business owners and pillars of the community at minor league games to ex-big leaguers who obviously haven’t picked up a ball since they retired to the famous celebrity ones that go viral the next day, there are probably a lot more bad first pitches out there than good ones.

But when the good ones come, they’re really enjoyable. And few are more enjoyable than the one which preceded yesterday’s Padres-Mariners game in Seattle. The pitcher: Burke Waldron, a 92-year-old veteran of World War II. He did it in his dress whites. He ran out onto the field beforehand. And though his catcher didn’t set up the full 60 feet, six inches away from where Waldron threw it, it was still a spiffy pitch. Way better than most: