Ryne Sandberg opines on baseball’s steroid era

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Phillies third base coach Ryne Sandberg is expected to be the next Phillies manager if and when the Charlie Manuel era ends. Sandberg started his playing career with the Phillies but went to the Cubs in the infamous Ivan de Jesus trade in 1982, arguably one of the worst trades in baseball history. With the Cubs, Sandberg would become one of the best second basemen ever to play the game. In recent years, he has worked his way up through the Minor Leagues as a coach.

MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom peppered Sandberg with questions about his past when he managed in the Minor Leagues, what he expects in the future, and got Sandberg to opine on how the Hall of Fame should handle players from the steroid era.

Sandberg: I’m not a sportswriter. I don’t get to vote. I don’t get the ballot in the mail, so it’s out of my hands either way. I can say that in the history of the Hall of Fame, there are no suspicions about guys who are in the Hall of Fame. It’s an elite group. And once you’re in the Hall, you’re in the Hall. Up until now, I think the voting system has handled things very well. And like I said before, there are no suspicions in the Hall of Fame.

MLB.com: But in your speech, you did say that Andre Dawson should be in. You said, “He did it the right way, the natural way.” So you have voiced your opinion, even though you don’t have a vote.

Sandberg: But that wasn’t about drugs. That was about a player whose numbers, I thought, were being dwarfed by those put up in that era. I played with the guy and against him for most of my career. I saw most of his career. For a number of years, he was overshadowed by the guys who hit 60 or 70 home runs. Those numbers were astronomical and were numbers I could not relate to. I thought he was a Hall of Famer and had had a Hall of Fame career. That’s why I voiced my opinion on that, and I was very happy to see him go in.

Sandberg isn’t 100% right about there being “no suspicions in the Hall of Fame”. The Hall is rife with bat-corkers, ball-scuffers, spitballers, players who have taken amphetamines (e.g. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt), and so forth. Not to mention the otherwise unsavory characters like Ty Cobb.

Older eras of baseball were just as impure as the steroid era has been purported to be. You see this a lot when older people talk about the younger generations. Take TIME Magazine’s latest cover, for instance, titled “The ME ME ME Generation”. Or their 1990 cover titled “twentysomething”, asking if the generation is “laid back, late blooming, or just lost?” People tend to romanticize the generation in which they were brought up and demonize ensuing generations. It seems like that’s what Sandberg is doing here, willfully glossing over his own generation’s seedy history to complain about those damn kids with their loud music and their steroids.

Brewers won’t punish Josh Hader for offensive tweets

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Some old tweets of Josh Hader‘s surfaced during the All-Star Game on Tuesday, containing offensive and hateful language. Major League Baseball responded by ordering Hader to attend sensitivity training and attend diversity initiatives.

The Brewers won’t punish Hader themselves, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. GM David Stearns says the club is taking its lead from MLB, which has already handed down its punishment to Hader. Additionally, the Brewers’ lack of punishment has to do with the tweets occurring when Hader was younger — 17 years old — and not involved with professional baseball.

Stearns also said of Hader’s tweets, “I don’t think they’re representative of who he is. I think they’re offensive. I think they’re ill-informed and ignorant but I don’t think they represent who he is as a person right now.” Stearns added, “I don’t know how he’s going to work through it. The truth is he has put himself in this situation. And he’s going to have to work very hard to get through it.”

Hader apologized on Wednesday, saying, “I was 17 years old, and as a child I was immature, and obviously I said some things that were inexcusable. That doesn’t reflect on who I am as a person today.” Hader said, “I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve said. I’m ready for any consequences that happen for what happened seven years ago.”

Lorenzo Cain, a black outfielder and teammate of Hader’s, said, “I know Hader; he’s a great guy. I know he’s a great teammate. I’m fine. Everybody will be O.K. We’ll move on.” Cain further defended Hader, saying, “We’ve all said crazy stuff growing up, even when we were 17, 18 years old. If we could follow each other around with a recorder every day, I’m sure we all said some dumb stuff. We’re going to move on from this.”

First baseman Jesús Aguilar also came to Hader’s defense:

However, Aguilar also retweeted a tweet from Scott Wheeler of The Athletic which had screencaps of Royals 2B/OF Whit Merrifield and Angels outfielder Mike Trout using the word “gay” pejoratively in tweets. Merrifield also used the word “retard” pejoratively.

The “he was 17” defense rings hollow. At 17 years old, one is able to join the military, get a full driver’s license (in many states), apply for student loans, and get married (in some states). Additionally, one is not far off from being able to legally buy cigarettes and guns. Given all of these other responsibilities we give to teenagers, asking them not to use racial and homophobic slurs is not unreasonable. Punishing them when they do so is also not unreasonable.

A study from several years ago found that black boys are viewed as older and less innocent than white boys. A similar study from last year found that black girls are viewed as less innocent than white girls. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Cameron Tillman, among many others, never got the benefit of the doubt that Hader and countless other white kids have gotten and continue to get in our society. When we start giving the same benefit of the doubt to members of marginalized groups, then we can break out the “but he was only 17” defense for Hader.

We also need to ask ourselves what our inaction regarding Hader’s words will say to members of those marginalized communities. Will it tell them that we value the comfort of those in power above everyone else? Will it tell members of marginalized groups that they are not welcome? In this case, it absolutely will. It communicates the message that, as long as you are white and can perform athletic feats, there’s no level of bigotry the league won’t tolerate. Furthermore, as the league and its 30 individual teams make more efforts towards inclusiveness with events like “Pride Night,” the inaction comes off as two-faced and hypocritical. This is why Major League Baseball — and the Brewers — should have done more to respond to Hader’s tweets.