Ma­jor League Base­ball races to main­tain its code of con­duct

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - Kevin B. Blackistone sports@wash­post.com

“Base­ball just doesn’t have rules from an­other time. It has an old­fash­ioned code, too. When you score in base­ball, the code says: ‘You bet­ter not look too happy about it.’ . . . It’s the only game where there’s a ‘right way’ to play the game . . . the way it was played 100 years ago. This code doesn’t ex­ist in other places where they play base­ball, like Korea, where bat flip­ping is an art form, or the Caribbean, where the game is a car­ni­val.” — Chris Rock, HBO’s “Real Sports,” April 2015

Base­ball im­i­tated Chris Rock’s sear­ing hu­mor Wed­nes­day af­ter Jose Bautista launched a pitch from Sam Dyson into the fur­thest reaches of Toronto’s Buck Rogers Cen­tre. Bautista glared at the base­ball he had turned into a mis­sile and ever so briefly stared at some of his Texas op­po­nents who wit­nessed it. He then de­fi­antly flung away his bat as if it was a sword with which he slew a dragon.

The home run proved to win the play­off se­ries for Bautista’s Blue Jays, and Bautista’s bat flip pro­voked anger from Dyson, some other play­ers, a num­ber of fans and some of my col­leagues in the me­dia.

“Jose needs to calm that down,” Dyson said he told one of Bautista’s team­mates in the wake of the mo­ment. “Just kind of re­spect the game a lit­tle more.

“He’s a huge role model for the younger gen­er­a­tion that’s com­ing up and play­ing this game,” Dyson ex­panded later. “He’s do­ing stuff that kids do in whif­fle ball games and back­yard base­ball. It shouldn’t be done.”

Dyson is a 27-year-old white Florid­ian. Bautista, whom Dyson scolded and lec­tured as if he were a child who had acted out in fine restau­rant, is a 34-year-old from the Do­mini­can half of His­pan­iola, the first stop in the transat­lantic slave trade. It was an anec­do­tal re­minder of the cul­tur­ally pa­ter­nal­is­tic na­ture of base­ball, which be­came this na­tion’s pas­time dur­ing the first half of the last cen­tury when it overtly sup­ported racial supremacy norms of the times.

In base­ball, there aren’t just rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions on the field of play like fair play and hon­esty. There are de­mands for hu­mil­ity and re­stric­tions on call­ing at­ten­tion to your­self. And it all gets cam­ou­flaged un­der the cloak of sports­man­ship, no mat­ter that base­ball was any­thing but sports­man­like to gen­er­a­tions of men sim­ply be­cause of the color of their skin.

But that is what base­ball’s keep­ers hear­ken to when they sound their mantra to play the game the way it was meant to be played. It is back to a time when the game didn’t in­clude play­ers — 29.3 per­cent this sea­son — from Afro-Latin coun­tries like Bautista’s Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, Yoe­nis Ce­s­pedes’s Cuba or Car­los Beltran’s Puerto Rico and an­other 8.3 per­cent from the prog­eny of en­slaved Africans in this coun­try. It is the im­po­si­tion of its man­u­fac­tured sen­si­bil­i­ties, no mat­ter how non­sen­si­cal, on oth­ers.

In­deed, a USA To­day Sports study ear­lier this month quan­tifi­ably ev­i­denced the cul­tural dis­so­nance in base­ball. It found that of 67 bench-clear­ing in­ci­dents in the ma­jor leagues over the past five sea­sons, the main an­tag­o­nists hailed from dif­fer­ent eth­nic back­grounds in 87 per­cent of the events. A lit­tle more than half of the events — 34 — pit­ted white Amer­i­cans against for­eign-born Lati­nos, while four more fea­tured white Amer­i­cans vs. U.S.-born Lati­nos.

There is disin­gen­u­ous­ness in base­ball’s Amer­i­can-only way of com­port­ing your­self, too. As Bautista and his or­ganic emo­tional re­ac­tion of bat flip­ping were be­ing ha­rangued around the coun­try, the game it­self was vir­tu­ally pro­mot­ing the act on its Web site with a video of an­other player try­ing it as if he was en­gaged in the time-hon­ored prac­tice of shag­ging fly­balls. Then there was the not so small case com­ing into this sea­son of Cuban slug­ger Yasiel Puig, who caused quite a ker­fuf­fle last sea­son with his fre­quent ex­er­cise of bat flip­ping. It drew him crit­i­cism and scorn. It also earned him the cover of one of base­ball’s most pop­u­lar video games, MLB The Show, which in­cluded a spe­cial fea­ture for him: bat flip­ping af­ter hit­ting home runs.

Base­ball isn’t our only sport that ap­pears to force con­form­ity upon those who once were locked out of its fields and are­nas of play. In the af­ter­math of the brawl at a Pac­ers game in Detroit that also in­cluded fans, the NBA es­sen­tially sought to cleanse its game, as Wil­liams Col­lege po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Stu­art Alan Clarke once ob­served, of “black men mis­be­hav­ing.” It im­posed a dress code to make its melanin-rich x-gen­er­a­tion ath­letes look less like the stars of the hip-hop cul­ture in which they were born and more like the New York lawyers who worked all around Man­hat­tan near the league’s of­fices. It air­brushed the tat­toos from su­per­star Allen Iver­son when it fea­tured him on one of its league mag­a­zine cov­ers. It dared for a mo­ment to seek the em­ploy­ment of GOP im­age­maker Matthew Dowd to re­cast the league’s look.

Once foot­ball be­gan let­ting play­ers groomed at his­tor­i­cally black col­leges onto its fields, it be­gan to leg­is­late against the style they brought to the game — cel­e­bra­tions con­sid­ered gra­tu­itous were flagged, as was in­ces­sant ban­ter in­ter­preted as trash talk­ing, gen­u­flect­ing seen as taunt­ing and ac­ces­soriz­ing uni­forms in a way viewed as dis­tract­ing at­ten­tion from the con­cept of team.

But no sport dug in so deep for so long to with­stand the grad­ual but seis­mic de­vi­a­tion from what was its norm as base­ball. No won­der, Chris Rock added, that teams build “fake an­tique” sta­di­ums. It’s yet an­other re­minder of how much it loves its prob­lem­atic past. Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN pan­elist and vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Philip Mer­rill Col­lege of Jour­nal­ism at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, writes sports com­men­tary for The Post.

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