One of the funniest and most absurd episodes of The Office was “Diversity Day.” In this episode, Michael Scott tries to prove he’s not a racist by holding his own diversity seminar entitled “Diversity Tomorrow.” The highlight of the episode is when Michael encourages/forces the employees to celebrate the melting pot of America by acting as the stereotypical versions of a particular race and guessing what race that particular person is.
The reason why this episode was great, other than the genius of that show, was showing how even the most innocent of us carries or knows of biases. I don’t think it’s always purposeful, intentional, or with malice. Sometimes, it’s something we have been told is always true and had no reason to deny.
That’s why today’s Fangraphs’ post “Examining Latino Hitters’ Plate Discipline” is so thoughtful and provocative. We’re all familiar with the phrase, “you never walk off the island.” It’s meaning is fairly innocuous. It just means in order to get noticed by scouts, you need to hit the ball. A scout will be more impressed with power and plate coverage than the ability to draw a walk.
However, the correlation is that Latino baseball players don’t draw walks. You can get them out with pitches outside the zone because they’ll swing at everything. Its not just that they need to hit to get noticed, it’s also that they’re undisciplined, at least at the plate. It’s like a perceived flaw with a whole group of people. It just seems true, doesn’t it?
Well, it turns out that Latino players do “‘indeed swing their way off the island.'” However, it’s not true that they are less disciplined as American players. Latino players strike out less frequently and walk just as frequently as American players. Frankly, I was somewhat surprised by the result. I don’t have the time on my hands that Fangraphs does, so I limited my sample size to one player: Vladimir Guerrero.
In my opinion, he is the stereotype that fits the bill. He was an incredible baseball player. Everyone thought he was a wild swinger. His plate coverage reputation was Ruthian in scope. This video perfectly represents what we believe about Guerrero (and to a lesser extent Latino ballplayers):
It’s absurd, isn’t it? In one sense, it shows his greatness. In other, it highlights the undisciplined stereotype. But was Guerrero really undisciplined? The answer is a resounding NO. Guerrero had a career .379 OBP. That’s better than renown American players like: Derek Jeter, Pete Rose, Willie McCovey, Paul Molitor, and Craig Biggio (to name a few).
So like Michael Scott, Vladimir Guerrero shows that there may be some truths to reputations others have, it does not make them inferior.
This is important to me as a “Mets Daddy.” My grandfather had a saying, my father always repeated, which goes something like “every generation should do better than the one before.” It’s why my grandfather was a construction worker, who insisted his son go to college. It’s why a DAV insisted his children go to graduate school.
In my opinion, it means more than that. We also need to be smarter and more enlightened than the prior generation. Please note, this is not saying my father and grandfather were racists. They were far from it. Rather, this is merely an acknowledgement that each generation views race differently.
I think now we need to be open and honest as to what makes us different and unique. A child growing up in the Dominican Republic will have a different life and baseball experience than my son. By extension, I want him to be open and honest enough that there are differences between different people. I want him to be able to realize that while Latino players hit their way off the island, it doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with Latino players.
I’m not going to be a phony and say I want his group of friends to resemble the United Nations. I’m saying I want him to have no issue or problem befriending anyone of any race or culture. I’d like for him to celebrate the similarities, like baseball, rather than treating people differently due to their different background.
I acknowledge that starts with me. In a small way Fangraphs helped with that. So to that, I say, “thank you.”