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.

Ken Giles: ‘I’m actually enjoying the game more than I did for my entire tenure in Houston’

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Blue Jays closer Ken Giles hasn’t exactly turned things around since joining the Blue Jays on July 31, when the club sent embattled closer Roberto Osuna to the Astros. Giles posted a 4.99 ERA in 30 2/3 innings with the Astros, then put up a slightly less miserable 4.58 ERA in 17 2/3 innings with the Jays. Still, he’s much happier with the Jays than he was with the Astros, even after winning the World Series with them last year. He said to Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star, “I’m actually enjoying the game more than I did for my entire tenure in Houston. It’s kind of weird to say that because I won a World Series with that team. But it’s like, I just felt trapped there. I didn’t feel like myself there. Overall, I felt out of place.”

Giles also said “the communication was lost” with the Astros and it was something that came easy with the Jays. He said, “When I came here, they stayed patient with me. I said hey, I want to work on this thing till I’m comfortable. All right. OK, I’m comfortable, let’s move on to this next thing. Pitching, you can’t just try to fix everything at once. For me, I had to take baby steps to get my groove back. The Jays allowed me to do that. Yeah, the team was out of contention, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still my career. I still have to prove myself. Them being so patient with me, understanding what I want to do, was very, very big.”

Giles, 28, has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He has shown promise despite his overall mediocre numbers. In non-save situations this season (with both the Astros and Jays), he has a 9.12 ERA. But in save situations, his ERA is a pristine 0.38. Giles could be a closer the Jays find themselves leaning on as they attempt to get back into competitive shape. Since it sounds like Giles is quite enamored with Toronto and with the Blue Jays, a discussion about a contract extension certainly could be had.