Hank Aaron: racists still exist. It’s just that “back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

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Hank Aaron dealt with a lot of blatant racism back when he was growing up in Alabama continuing on through his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record. But as he notes in an interview with USA Today, racists are still around. They’re just wearing different clothes:

We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated.

“We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country.

“The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

Aaron went on to cite the decrease in the number of U.S.-born black baseball players as evidence of racism:

“When I first started playing, you had a lot of black players in the major leagues,” Aaron says. “Now, you don’t have any (7.7% of big-leaguers last season). So what progress have we made? You try to understand, but we’re going backward.”

I’ll agree with him on the first point. Yes, the obvious racism of the Jim Crow era is mostly eradicated or at least well-hidden, but structural and institutional racism still exists and is perpetuated through both intentional and unwitting means.

As for the number of black baseball players: well, there may be some structural racism involved there. A lack of funds for baseball programs in which young black kids can play while expensive traveling youth leagues — available primarily to white players — proliferate. But there is a lot more going on there too. The popularity of other sports like football and basketball among them. And, as we’ve noted several times, baseball may have fewer U.S.-born black players involved, but it is more diverse than ever once you account for all of the foreign born players.

In any event, I’m happy to hear Aaron speaking out about this. There has been this sense of Aaron being elevated into some grandfatherly elder statesman of baseball. Which, yes, in many ways he is. But when people get that treatment they’re usually expected to no longer say controversial or uncomfortable things. To be above the fray, as it were, like other members of the royal class. I’m glad Aaron doesn’t feel like his enormous popularity prevents him from saying things that may make some folks uncomfortable.

Ramón Laureano made an absolutely ridiculous play yesterday

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I talked about it in the recaps, but dear lord does Oakland A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano’s play in yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays deserve it’s own post.

Jays first baseman Justin Smoak led off the second with a single Then Teoscar Hernández then came up and hit a long drive to center. In what, in and of itself, would’ve lead the highlight reels yesterday, Laureano ranged back to the wall and reached over to rob Hernández of a homer.

Laureano is known best for his arm, though, and that’s when he unleashed that hose, attempting to double off Smoak at first base all the way from the warning track. The throw was not on target — indeed, it sailed way past first base — but that was itself impressive as all get-out. As A’s pitcher Brett Anderson said after the game, he’s pretty sure the throw went farther than Hernández hit the ball in the first place. The arm strength on display there was simply phenomenal. But it was also lucky.

Lucky because the throw went so far into foul territory that it gave Smoak the courage to break for second base. Laureano was not the only one playing great defense on the play, though: A’s catcher Nick Hundley backed up the play, got Laureano’s errant throw and fired it down to second, nailing Smoak. And heck, Hundley’s throw was nothing to sneeze at either:

That did not go as an outfield assist for Lauerano, obviously, as his bad throw — which would’ve been an error had Smoak managed to advance, we must admit — broke that up. So, in the books it goes as an F7 and then a separate 2-4 putout. Still, it just shows Laueano’s incredible defensive abilities, both with the leather and with that cannon he has for an arm.

An arm that, this play not withstanding, gets him plenty of assists. Indeed, he has has five assists this season already and has 14 assists in just 70 games, which is a lot. To put it in perspective, it usually takes somewhere between 12-18 to lead the league in a full season with 20 being an outlier of sorts, only seen once every five years or so.

So, if you’re gonna hit it to center against the A’s, make sure you hit it all the way out. And if Laureano gets to it, for god’s sake, don’t run on him.