For the past three days Yoenis Cespedes has rolled into the players parking lot at Port St. Lucie with a fancy car. Here is this morning’s model. Yesterday he had the fire-breathing, waffle-retrieving Lamborghini. The day before that three-wheeled thing. It’s been great fun.
That is, unless you’re New York Daily News columnist John Harper, who has decided that Cespedes’ cars are a problem. Today he writes that Cespedes’ convoy of luxury cars is only OK if he backs up his “swag” on the field and that fans will “tire quickly of hearing about Cespedes’ luxurious lifestyle if he doesn’t put up big numbers.” He goes on to note that his other apparently eccentric behavior like, um, playing golf and taking batting practice indoors could also raise the ire of fans if he’s anything less than a superstar this year. Because no ballplayers play golf I guess? I don’t know.
But I do know that this, in a word, is crap. And it’s crap infused with no small amount of casual racism.
Harper has been covering baseball for a long time and he knows, I am certain, that player parking lots have been filled with crazy, tricked out rides forever. Remember Jon Lieber’s truck? How about Mark Buehrle’s? Grant Balfour’s? Just this week we read about Dustin Pedroia’s $300K Jeep. How many guys are driving Maseratis and Porsches? Even the guys making the major league minimum buy tricked-out Ford Raptors which have a base of around $50K and can get WAY more expensive once you modify them. I don’t recall them being called out for their “swag,” let alone warned that their cars will become points of contention should they not produce. But Cespedes had better be humble! He had best not drive a flashy car unless certain arbitrary benchmarks are met and fans and columnists are satisfied.
Harper didn’t use the word “uppity” here, but he didn’t really have to. Minorities have long been subject to the view that their conspicuous consumption of luxury goods is a negative in ways that it isn’t for whites. That when they do it they’re being “flashy” with the sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken implication that they either haven’t earned the right to flaunt wealth or that they could lose that right at any time, subject to someone else’s judgment or whim. Like, say, the judgment or whim of some Mets fan who has decided that Cespedes isn’t playing as well as he’d like him to. No one tells a rich white player how to spend his money, but everyone, apparently, gets to sit in judgment of Cespedes and tell him that he’s on probation given the way he’s spending his.
Cespedes is doing nothing different here than a ton of ballplayers have done in the past. He has earned tens of millions of dollars playing baseball and has decided to spend the money on some cars. A much smaller percentage of his money, it should be noted, then some dentist buying a BMW 5-series or some tech-bro buying a Tesla has spent, but we don’t blink at that. The only difference at all is that this week, unlike most weeks in spring training, some reporters, bloggers and fans are having some harmless fun talking about Cespedes’ cars.
That Harper has decided to turn that fun into a “put up or shut up” column speaks volumes of his character and speaks volumes about the sort of ugly dog-whistling he and the Daily News thinks its readers will respond to.