Did anti-semitism prevent Hank Greenberg from breaking Ruth's home run record?

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Hank Greenberg.jpgHoward Megdal thinks so, arguing that Greenberg experienced an uncharacteristic spike in walk rates towards the end of his 1938 season.  Megdal says “the American League didn’t seem exactly thrilled with Greenberg’s
pursuit,” and concludes that “the statistical record stands as evidence that Greenberg’s religion
might have been an additional barrier” to him in surpassing Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season.

Jack Marshall simply isn’t having it. He notes just how small a sample size Megdal is looking at, notes that Greenberg’s 1938 walk total isn’t exactly a big outlier for him and notes that other record-challenging sluggers walked and awful lot, likely due to the fact that their home run tears struck fear in pitchers’ hearts. Marshall acknowledges that Greenberg had to deal with significant anti-Semitism during his career, but sees no evidence that it had anything to do with him hitting 58 homers in 1938 instead of 60.

I’m with Marshall on this one. The antisemitic mood of the nation in general and baseball in particular in the late 30s is beyond dispute, but the evidence Megdal presents here is less than compelling. Is it possible that Greenberg wasn’t getting anything to hit because he was a Jew? Most definitely. It’s just not the sort of thing, I think, that can be divined from the statistical record alone.  At least this record.

MLB executive: Bruce Maxwell’s kneeling may keep him from finding work, not his arrest

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In September 2017, former Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem, joining the handfuls of NFL players who had been doing the same to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Maxwell’s effort was laudable, but he got into trouble a month later when he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. Maxwell allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person.

Maxwell, 27, played sparingly for the Athletics in 2018 and then was designated for assignment at the beginning of September. He officially became a free agent on November 2 and has had trouble finding work in the month-plus since.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Maxwell fired his agent, Matt Sosnick on Thursday because he’s still jobless. According to an unnamed MLB executive Slusser spoke to, “It’s the kneeling thing that might keep him from getting another job, not the arrest. Owners aren’t going to want to deal with that whole anthem issue.”

That makes a lot of since since abusive players haven’t had too much trouble finding new work otherwise. Addison Russell, Jeurys Familia, and José Reyes, among others have either stayed with their teams or quickly found new work. Given the relatively weak catching market, had Maxwell only had the assault charge, there is no doubt he would have been signed to be a backup catcher somewhere.

In the NFL, Colin Kaepernick — who popularized kneeling during the anthem — has remained unsigned even though teams have opted to sign and start clearly inferior quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, and Sam Bradford, among many others. Team owners tend to run conservative in terms of politics, so they may not like the protest to begin with, then there is the public blowback to signing such a player as those who dislike such protesting make up a slight majority in the U.S., according to various polls including one done by the Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that Maxwell has a career .240/.314/.347 triple-slash line in 412 plate appearances. We’re not talking about J.T. Realmuto or Buster Posey here. That being said, there have been 15 other catchers to have put up a lower aggregate OPS since 2016 (min. 400 PA). One of those players, Derek Norris (.600 OPS since 2016), signed a minor league contract with the Tigers just three months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic violence policy. Makes you think.