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.

Yankees trade Sonny Gray to the Reds

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The deal was much talked about all weekend and now the deal is done: The Cincinnati Reds gave acquired starter Sonny Gray and lefty Reiver Sanmartin from the Yankees in exchange for second base prospect Shed Long and a 2019 competitive balance pick.

The key to making the deal happen: Gray agreeing to a a three-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The Reds will likewise hold a $12 million club option for 2023. The deal had been struck and a window granted through close of business today to get Gray to agree to the extension and, obviously, he has.

The Reds will get a pitcher coming off of a bad season in which he posted a disappointing 4.90 ERA in 23 starts and seven relief appearances. He was hammered particularly hard in Yankee Stadium but pitched better on the road. Great American Ballpark is not a great pitcher’s park itself but any change of scenery would be nice for Gray, who had become much unwanted and unloved in New York. In Cincinnati he has the assurance of a spot in the rotation and, even better for him, he will be reunited with his college pitching coach, Derek Johnson, who joined new manager David Bell’s Reds staff earlier this offseason. If he bounces back even a little bit, the Reds will have a useful starter at a below market price for four years. If he doesn’t, well, they haven’t exactly gone bankrupt taking the chance.

The Reds will also get Reiver Sanmartin, 22, who started in the Rangers system before being traded to the Yankees. He’s a soft-tosser who figures to be a reliever if he makes the big leagues. He played at four different levels last season, with one game at Double-A and the rest below that, posting a composite 2.80 ERA in 10 starts and 13 overall appearances while striking out 7.8 batters per nine.

The Yankees will get Shed Long, who is ranked as the Reds’ seventh best prospect. The 23-year old second baseman hit .261/.353/.412 at Double-A in 2018 and has hit very close to that overall line for his entire six-year minor league career. He strikes out a bit and may not stick at second base long term, shifting to a corner outfield slot perhaps, but he’s a legitimate prospect.

The Reds get another starter with some upside. The Yankees get rid of a problem and gain a prospect and a draft pick. Sonny Gray gets some job and financial security at a time when it is not at all clear what his future holds. Not a bad baseball trade.

UPDATE: Welp, the Yankees don’t have a prospect anymore. They just traded long to the Mariners for outfielder Josh Stowers. Stowers was a second-round pick in last year’s draft. He’s 21 and batted .260/.380/.410 with five homers and 20 steals over 58 games in Short-Season ball in 2018. He’s ranked by MLB.com as the Mariners’ No. 10 prospect, but now he’s New York bound.