Last week, Sports Illustrated ran a quote — which was later amended — in which an anonymous scout criticized Phillies outfielder Odúbel Herrera using dogwhistle language. The scout said Herera is “the antithesis of Brett Gardner,” then called Herrera a “clown” and a “[f***ing] dog.” The term “dog,” specifically, is dogwhistle language when directed at a player of color.
Herrera wasn’t the only player of color an anonymous scout criticized, as quoted by Sports Illustrated. In their MLB preview last week, another anonymous scout said of Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, “Josh Bell can’t play. He’s not a good defender. He’s a big lump. He has bad agility, bad footwork. He can’t run. Supposedly he’s a big power threat, but he hit 12 home runs at first base. This is not a kid! This is his third year in the big leagues! I don’t think he’s got the ability to get better.”
Bell, by the way, hit .261/.357/.411 with 12 home runs, 62 RBI, and 74 runs scored in 583 plate appearances last year. Not MVP numbers by any means, but above-average for sure, especially for a 25-year-old. Bell’s defense was lackluster, but that is something that can be improved upon.
Understandably, Pirates GM Neal Huntington wasn’t pleased with the scout’s analysis. Per Andrew Fillipponi of 837 The Fan, Huntington said on Thursday, “These anonymous scouts are hacks. A lot of their criticisms are directed at minorities…we’re happy these guys don’t work for our organization.”
Huntington also said, via MLB.com’s Adam Berry:
Unfortunately, so much of the information from the anonymous scouts appears to be based on archaic, racist stereotypes. The white players tended to be labeled as ‘gritty,’ ‘smart’ and ‘tough.’ Minority players seemed to be labeled as physically talented but maybe not the most talented, or they had their work ethic or motivation repeatedly questioned. So much of it, unfortunately, seemed to be based on archaic, racist stereotypes, which don’t have a place in our game … That preview just reinforced that they still exist and there still is a lot of work to do to rid those, not only from our game, but ideally from our society.
This is true. We have noted as much here often. It’s a subject that hasn’t been studied in-depth often, but one study by Adam Felder and Seth Amitin in August 2012 found that the language baseball broadcasters use is different for white players and non-white players. A similar study, but of print journalism, found similar results in July 2011. It would follow that scouts are subject to similar biases. So, too, are fans.
It is important that someone high-ranking like Huntington pushed back against the comments anonymous scouts are making. It’s one thing for fans and writers to do it, but for Huntington to express complete disapproval has the potential to send a message to scouts across baseball, thereby curbing or potentially altering their outmoded ways of thinking.