Larry Krueger, a radio personality for the San Francisco (baseball) Giants, recently ignited a firestorm by saying that he was frustrated by the Giants'
brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly.
In response, Giants manager Felipe Alou has demanded Krueger's firing, asserting that this statement represents the worst sort of racism, and that he refused to accept Krueger's apology because "There's no way to
apologize for such a sin."
OK, at the risk that Krueger turns out to be a serial idiot with a long history of racism, I will deal with this statement solely on its face. And in context, the reaction to his statement strikes me as extremely exaggerated.
Some background: Typically, hitters can be thought of in two classes:
- Picky hitters, that sort through pitches like my wife shopping for vegetables, carefully picking out only the best to swing at, and gladly accepting walks when they come. These hitters are often considered more "thoughtful" hitters
- Aggressive hitters, who swing more indiscriminately at pitches, and who often consider a walk to be a failed at-bat. These hitters often described as "intuitive" or "natural" hitters, rather than thoughtful.
Some managers prefer the first type, some the second (for example, Miguel Tejada's being indiscriminate at the plate drove A's GM Billy Beane crazy, while other managers are happy to let him hack away for their team, given his huge numbers). Which brings us back to the Caribbean. What's interesting to me is that the Caribbean is not actually a race, but a location. And in that location, it is very clear that hitters are schooled to be type #2 aggressive hitters. Players in the Dominican Republic, Filipe Alou's home country by the way, have a saying: "You don't walk off the island". In other words, to get the attention of the US scouts and come to the majors from the Caribbean, a hitter is trained to be an aggressive type 2 player. They are taught that going down hacking is better than a walk.
In a sense, the Caribbean is a big (and very very successful) baseball school for training players to play in the US. And it turns out that this "school" tends to teach players be more indiscriminate hackers at the plate. Ask any manager in the majors if Caribbean hitters on average are less picky, more aggressive hitters at the plate and they will say "of course".
So, to some extent, Krueger is getting flamed for saying what everyone already knows. Saying that Caribbean hitters can be indiscriminate hackers is like saying that PAC 10 quarterbacks tend to be more NFL-ready and polished than Big 12 quarterbacks -- its just a fact that is not always true, but is true on average given how they were trained. Krueger's real mistake was probably using the term "brain dead", which can be a dangerous term when it has racial overtones, but in context probably refers to hitting style rather than absolute IQ. I think Alou is reaching to say that Krueger was referring to Caribbean hitters poor English skills, but I will admit that he has more history with Krueger and may have reason to make this interpretation from past events.