How Much Does Racism Affect Team Building Today?
Yesterday afternoon I had a chance to speak with a source (who, of course, wishes to remain anonymous) in Florida who knows Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria. He had an interesting story about the negotiations between Albert Pujols and Loria that occurred on Tuesday December 6, 2011.
According to this source, Deidre Pujols spoke with Loria by telephone at one point that Tuesday afternoon and allegedly made the following demand:
“Albert wants at least three Dominican players on the team. He likes to associate with Dominican people.”
If accurate, that statement seems to speak volumes about many of Pujols’ actions as a Cardinal, as well as some of the actions taken by the organization in response.
One of the primary complaints regarding Pujols’ clubhouse presence was his tendency to segregate himself within a small clique of Dominican or Hispanic players and coaches. Of course, this is somewhat natural; everyone would prefer to speak their native language if possible.
But it often seemed to come at the expense of leadership within the team. For instance, the Pujols who refused to talk to a young, struggling Colby Rasmus for over a year is the same man who spontaneously cleaned out his spillover locker so that newly-acquired Rafael Furcal could snuggle between him and Yadier Molina in their special corner of the clubhouse. It’s safe to assume that Marc Rzepczynski didn’t get that kind of welcome. The separation and favoritism of this clique was often palpable even to casual fans.
That preference for Latin players seemed to spill into Pujols’ free agency negotiations. One of the selling points used by both Loria and Angels owner Arte Moreno to lure Pujols was the significant Latino populations surrounding their respective stadiums. At the time, Loria was busily pursuing every well-known Latin player on the market (snagging superstar Jose Reyes), while Moreno had already assembled a team in Anaheim with one of the highest percentages of Latin players in baseball. Of course, it’s just good business to build your team to appeal to your market, right?
While these Latin-oriented teams were courting Pujols, the Cardinals seemed to be going in an interesting direction. They had already given the managerial job to Mike Matheny over Pujols-favorite Jose Oquendo (when asked, Pujols curiously described the move as “surprising”). The team had also elected to pass on re-signing Latin favorite Octavio Dotel, and seemed intent on using Tyler Greene at short rather than retaining Dominican-born Rafael Furcal.
The Furcal situation is of particular interest here. After Pujols decided to leave the Cardinals, the team immediately signed Furcal to an incredibly ridiculous deal – two years at $7M annually. Almost everyone in baseball scratched their heads in confusion given that, by any statistical analysis or examination of his dependability, Furcal is not worth such a price tag or those years.
It’s not so curious if you consider the huge public relations problem the team faces this year: Molina becomes a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. Molina is arguably the most popular Cardinal, as talented as Pujols but much more lovable. The sudden about-face decision to retain Molina’s buddy for two years may be an interesting way to make Molina feel more at ease.
Consider this, too: After re-signing Furcal, the team immediately signed Carlos Beltran (Dominican Republic) for two years, and also signed J.C Romero (Puerto Rico) to replace the clubhouse favorite Arthur Rhodes (Waco, Texas). Are the Cardinals stacking the deck with Latin players in an attempt to keep an expensive star, or are these moves believed to be truly beneficial to a winning team? If they are trying to win over Molina, it doesn’t appear to be working – he skipped the Winter Warm Up in 2010 and 2011, and also skipped joining the team at the White House this week.
But to answer the question posed by the title, it’s clear that the teams in Miami and Anaheim are built to appeal to their Latino bases. This is a subtle form of racism in which wealthy white owners profit from discriminating in favor of Latin players. There is also racism inherent in the alleged demands of Deidre Pujols, suggesting that a team should meet certain Latino requirements if it wants the services of the (supposed) best player in baseball. And racism has, in some degree, been part of the Latin clique wedged in its tight corner of the Cardinal clubhouse for the last ten years, which has often affected the composition and cohesiveness of the team.
That clique will be challenged again in 2012. Just keep in mind: The Angels will be able to either trade or release solid catcher Chris Iannetta (Providence, Rhode Island) by the end of the season. Do you know any superstar Latino catchers that might fit in with the crowd there?