Take this bit by ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, in describing the New York Yankees' second baseman, the Dominican-born Robinson Cano:
"[Cano] learned an even more enduring lesson in September 2008, when [manager Joe] Girardi benched him for lollygagging after a ball in short right field against Tampa Bay. Cano, seven months removed from signing a $30 million contract extension, needed someone new to prod him after third-base coach Larry Bowa left the Yankees to join Torre in Los Angeles."
What exactly is Crasnick adding to the story with that second sentence? Why does a report on Cano's benching require that we be told Cano's new financial situation unless we're meant to understanding that getting rich has made him lazy and complacent? And what's his rationale for the claim that Cano requires someone else to keep him focused, as if an elite athlete needs this kind of babysitting?
Moshe Mandel at the baseball blog TYU notes how the subtly racialized characterizations of Cano are especially apparent when he's compared to his white counterpart on the Boston Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia:
The Bronx incumbent is smooth, super-cool and has a hitting DNA to die for. But Pedroia plays harder and has a greater emotional investment in the day-to-day outcome of his team. In other words, he cares more than Cano. From Fox Sports' Bob Klapisch:
"The Bronx incumbent [Cano] is smooth, super-cool and has a hitting DNA to die for. But Pedroia plays harder and has a greater emotional investment in the day-to-day outcome of his team. In other words, he cares more than Cano."
How do we know that Pedroia cares more? That Cano is "super-cool"? That Pedroia "plays harder"? Or that Cano has "hitting DNA"? Who knows? But what we do know is that these associations of success with hard-work and intelligence (Pedroia) or else biology and natural talent (Cano), and the privileging of the deliberateness and accomplishment involved in achieving the former - that is, the natural talent can backslide or grow complacent because he hasn't earned it, whereas the learned talent knows failure and is less likely to take success for granted - are undoubtedly racialized assumptions. (Obviously, I'm thinking about this because of my Lady Gaga post from a couple days ago.)
And this is especially true given that these assumptions rely on supposed 'information' about the players that would be virtually impossible to locate or verify - have the writers run Cano's blood through tests to quantify his ability, or are their assumptions about Pedroia based on the way that he gets down on hands and knees with a toothbrush to clean the kitchen floor? (Though I suppose that being able to 'evaluate' or 'assess' these players is what supposedly makes these writers experts in their fields. Supposedly.)
Mandel also supplies this quote from a baseball talent evaluator, assessing which of two young pitchers who've recently been signed to big contracts - the white Justin Verlander and the Hispanic Felix Hernandez - is a safer bet:
“Now we’ll see what the contracts do to both guys. It won’t faze Verlander, but I guess it’s possible Felix could get a little complacent. His makeup doesn’t suggest it, but you never know."
This quote requires a little less explanation, I think - if his 'makeup' doesn't suggest it, then what does? And why does the white guy get a free pass?
Baseball commentators on TV, I should add, are routinely terrible. (This is why the website FireJoeMorgan was created: because the former players who dominate the jobs, in particular, have a surprisingly poor understanding of how the game works - success rates, probabilities, likelihoods, percentages - outside being able to offer glimpses into player psychology.) That they should be terrible at their job and racist? Ugh.