The Chicago Cubs’ overall offensive failures in their 2-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday were overshadowed by one particular play by the Northsiders’ primary catcher, Willson Contreras. In the bottom of the 5th inning, Contreras came to the plate facing Reds SP Luis Castillo following a 1-out walk to INF Addison Russell. The Cubs backstop hit a fly ball to deep center field. He watched his shot, failing to run hard out of the box since he thought he had hit a home run. However, the ball hit off the wall in center, and Contreras had to turn on the jets to make it safely into second base. Russell failed to score on the play, only advancing to 3rd base, but later scored on a sacrifice fly by OF Albert Almora, Jr. for the Cubs’ only run of the game.
Instead of the Victor Caratini drive over the first base bag in the 4th inning that was mistakenly called foul by the 1st base ump after he was unable to get out of the way, which could have potentially tied the game if called fair, the focus of post-game analysis instead fell on Contreras.
Joe Maddon on Willson Contreras flipping his bat and standing at home plate on a double: “Horrible. I didn’t like that all. That will be addressed. The whole team didn’t like that.”
— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) September 16, 2018
During his own post-game discussions with media, Contreras showed contrition for his actions during the game.
Contreras: “I thought it was gone. I hit it super good … Thank God I was able to run hard and make it to second base because what I did was not good for baseball. … It was bad. I’m embarrassed with myself. I apologized to the pitcher and my team.”
— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) September 16, 2018
However, this did not stop an official MLB Twitter account, @Cut4, from slamming Contreras’ play in this tweet ridiculing his failure to run out of the box using a play on Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s slogan “Respect 90”, which is meant to encourage hustle.
Disrespect 90. pic.twitter.com/uRewpOA2lQ
— Cut4 (@Cut4) September 16, 2018
The reaction to this tweet was overwhelmingly negative and from fanbases with animus toward the Cubs, such as the Cardinals, Brewers and White Sox. These fans are unlikely to pay attention to Contreras’ statement to Chicago media, so their perception will be shaped only by this tweet.
I find it very curious that this account is singling out a player for ridicule when it is an official MLB promotional account known for lighthearted tweets that is meant to appeal to a younger audience, an area of concern for MLB. Here is its Twitter bio:
I glanced through the last month of tweets from this account and did not see any similar tweets placing an individual player in a negative light. This makes me wonder what it is about Contreras that would make him a candidate to be singled out in such a way. The most likely answer: racism. Contreras is a Latino player from Venezuela. In an essay for Vice Sports, former MLB pitcher Dirk Hayhurst discussed the pressure on Latino players to conform to “white American baseball values,” generally referred to as the “unwritten rules” of baseball or “playing the game the right [white] way.” Players who do not conform are punished with what Hayhurst calls “frontier justice” (beanball), or are criticized for failing to appreciate the country that has given them the opportunity to make millions of dollars playing a kids’ game.
As discussed by Hayhurst, this racism that is baked into the baseball establishment leads White players to believe that enforcing the “unwritten rules” is upholding the sanctity of the game against foreign intrusion, but instead is homogenizing baseball to the detriment of its future growth.
It’s only in tangling a concept like “playing the game the right way” into race that a guy like Bud Norris can drape himself in the American flag and say he’s doing all his countrymen a solid. Worse, it’s how he and others like him can insinuate that unpunished flashy or emotional play will lead to the destruction of what we hold dear: By god, just think about how horrible our sport would be if players showed emotion!
Actually, more emotion might lead to more kids playing baseball. You think this bullshit doesn’t trickle down through the sport, from professional, to amateur, to youth? You think kids don’t notice 65 brawls in five years?
It’s not the sluggish pace of game that keeps kids away. It’s the homogenization. The league has representation across the racial spectrum because, as Norris says, the doors are open to other countries. But players from those countries are discouraged from expressing their individuality. The game stays white, no matter who plays it.
This inherent racism in the baseball establishment has trickled down even to MLB social media account managers. The goal of the Cut4 account is to promote players and build the MLB brand with a younger audience by showing fun moments from around the league, but when Contreras failed to play the “right way”, Cut4 published a negative tweet completely out of keeping with the style and purpose of the account. Shitting on Contreras for lack of hustle isn’t fun or lighthearted and doesn’t attract new fans. There is no purpose for such a tweet other than to shame him for not conforming to “white American baseball values.” However, it is MLB that should be ashamed in this instance for its institutional racism that has placed Contreras under additional pressure and scrutiny during a particularly tough stretch for his team, and also for failing to promote the game and its players in a positive light.