Last October, when Toronto Blue Jays player José Bautista dramatically flipped his bat after hitting a home run during a playoff game, it was the kind of gutsy, attention-grabbing move that professional baseball really needs more of in the new millennium. So why did Hall Of Famer Goose Gossage tell ESPN that Bautista was a “disgrace to the game” after the stunt? While the NFL crushes the ratings and the NBA fires up imaginations on social media, Major League Baseball is starting to look more and more like a dusty, antiquated relic of America’s past. Part of the problem, writer Jay Caspian Kang argues, is that the gatekeepers of America’s pastime (read: grouchy old white people) are failing to properly showcase the achievements of Latino players and are barely even trying to appeal to young African-Americans. Kang takes the sport to task for these and other oversights in a New York Times think piece called “The Unbearable Whiteness Of Baseball.”
In terms of overall attendance, Kang explains, baseball is doing fine and may not see a reason to correct its current course. But there are other metrics that clearly point to a problem. The average baseball-watching fan is 56, for instance, and World Series ratings have been waning for decades. Now is the time for Major League Baseball to highlight the kinds of players Kang grew up admiring: the rebels and showboats who flaunted tradition and made the game their own. Kang specifically cites the precedent of ’90s sensation Ken Griffey Jr., with his untucked shirts and backward-facing caps. Isn’t baseball supposed to be a melting pot? Sadly, the supposed integration of the sport is only skin deep. Black and Latino players are expected to conform to stodgy, white-mandated traditions in order to fit in. In a competitive new era, with other sports making so much noise in the larger culture, baseball may have to readjust its priorities or face extinction.