Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
Baseball Hall of Fame

Must Read: The story of Carlos Paula, the first black player for the Washington Senators

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Everyone knows about Jackie Robinson, the man who broke baseball’s color line. Most folks at least know the name Pumpsie Green, the last man to be the first black player for a major league team. In between them there were 14 other men who became the first black player for their respective clubs. You may know the person who integrated your favorite team if it was around back then but many if not most people would have a really, really hard time naming more than a few from all of the others.

That’s why this article about Carlos Paula at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website, by author Larry Brunt, is fantastic.

Paula, a fast, muscular slugger from Cuba, integrated the Washington Senators. He was not a fantastic player. After making his debut in 1954 he played in only 157 games across three seasons for Washington and never appeared in the big leagues after 1957. The long accepted story of Paula’s short career is that he was a defensive liability — which is true; he had a great arm but a poor glove — but it’s not the whole story. Not at all.

As Brunt explains, Paula’s career got a late start because, even though everyone who saw him thought he was a star in the making, the Senators kept him down on the farm for a puzzlingly long time. Then, once he did arrive, there seemed to be an almost pathological fixation on what Paula didn’t do well as opposed to what he did do well. In 1955 he went on a 22-game stretch when he hit .450, with 10 doubles, 3 triples and a homer among his 36 hits and struck out only 4 times. It was barely covered by the press. A lot of play, however, was given to his mistakes and an alleged “hitch” in his swing about which his manager complained but no one else really seemed to see. He’d go 3-for-5 and an article would appear that only mentioned his base running mistake. Stuff like that.

More troubling was the way in which he was profiled by the press on a personal basis. His heavily accented English was phonetically reproduced in the paper, with the clear purpose of making him out to sound uneducated. There were stories of his life in Cuba — some obvious fabrications — which made him out to be a rube. Over time he literally became a punchline. And not just during his playing career. Paula’s name was invoked for decades after he was out of baseball, used exclusively for a dumb or mistake-prone player. One high-profile Boston scribe continuing to use Paula’s name as a go-to joke into the 1980s.

Brunt’s research and the detail he puts into this article is fantastic. It tells both the story of a baseball player and the story of a baseball establishment that did everything it could to marginalize and debase him. Some of the examples are, to be sure, quite extreme by modern standards, but you can still see the same general pattern of treatment of Latino players today. The fixation on their weaknesses rather than strengths. The tendency to fill in gaps of knowledge about the man with stereotypes and assumptions. In this the story serves as both history and general critique of how Latino players fare in the eyes of a primarily white press and baseball establishment.

This is must read stuff, folks.

Cubs place John Lackey on the disabled list

Associated Press
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It’s good to have a 13 game lead in your division in August. That lets you do stuff like what the Cubs are doing: placing starting pitcher John Lackey on the disabled list.

Lackey left his last start with shoulder tightness. It’s not thought to be particularly serious, but he’s being placed on the DL as a precautionary measure. He may not have been shelved if the Cubs were in a tight race. What’s more, assuming there isn’t anything seriously wrong with him, the time off will serve to give him a dog days breather and may allow him to be a bit sharper and fresher come playoff time.

 

Ryan Howard, Ryan Zimmerman cleared in Al Jazeera PED report investigation

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Back in December, Ryan Howard of the Phillies, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals and multiple other athletes, including Peyton Manning, were linked to performance enhancing drug use in a documentary that aired on the Al Jazeera network. Their primary accuser was a pharmacist named Charlie Sly who worked for an Indiana-based anti-aging clinic in 2011 and was caught on hidden camera bragging about his alleged client list, which he claimed included these athletes.

Howard and Zimmerman sued Al Jazeera for libel and denied all wrongdoing. Another baseball player, Taylor Teagarden, was suspended for 80 games for violations of baseball’s drug policy. Teagarden, it should be noted, appeared on camera in the documentary openly discussing his PED use. There was no such evidence, or anything close to it, related to Howard and Zimmerman.

Today Major League Baseball announced that Howard and Zimmerman have been cleared, and noted their cooperation with MLB’s investigation. Major League Baseball’s official statement:

The Office of the Commissioner has completed its investigation into the statements made by Charlie Sly concerning players Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals in the Al Jazeera documentary “The Dark Side.” This thorough investigation did not find any violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by either Howard or Zimmerman.

Both Howard and Zimmerman fully cooperated with the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation. Mr. Sly did not agree to speak with the Commissioner’s Office or provide requested information.

The most likely explanation here is that Sly, not realizing he was being recorded, erroneously claimed that Howard and Zimmerman were clients of his. Though, of course, his refusal to speak to Major League Baseball leaves that an open question.

What is not open is (a) Howard and Zimmerman being in the clear with their employer; and (b) their lawsuits against Al Jazeera still pending. So have fun with that, Al Jazeera.

UPDATE: Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman both released statements as soon as this decision was announced:

Zimmerman:

“I understand why Major League Baseball found it necessary to explore this matter, and I appreciate that MLB after a thorough investigation, was able to publicly affirm my innocence. Throughout my life and career, I have been true to myself my family, the Nationals organization and my community. It is not right that a so-called news organization and its personnel can publicly make false accusations that damage my reputation and call into question my integrity without any consequences whatsoever. As I said in January when I filed my lawsuit, I am determined to hold Al Jazeera and its reporters accountable for their defamatory actions.”

Howard:

“The accusations from Al Jazeera came out of nowhere, and I was shocked and outraged by their false claims. I welcomed the investigation by Major League Baseball as an opportunity to clear my name. I was fully cooperative and transparent in the process, and MLB’s findings validate what I have said publicly. I am glad that this part of the process has concluded, and I look forward to holding the responsible people accountable for these false and defamatory claims in my ongoing litigation against Al Jazeera and its reporters.”