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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, March 05, 2001
The Angry Negro Problem
The Primer’s resident bad boy, Don Malcolm, questions whether Gary Sheffield is as out of line as many think he is.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed by Don Malcolm do not necessarily
It’s been with us ever since the first slave ship docked in America (back then, they were called "the colonies," and with good reason).
And it’s not going away anytime soon.
Yes, we are talking about non-whites who are making piles of dough. No, that fact doesn’t mean that deep-seated cultural dissonances have been eliminated. White Americans still are manifestly uncomfortable with demonstrative black males, and they’re probably most uncomfortable with the ones who are making piles of dough.
W.J. Cash, in his classic yet controversial study, The Mind of the South, characterized this problem as one of sexual jealousy toward the black male. The efforts of the white plantation owner to emasculate the potent black man knew virtually no bounds. And, as Herbert Gutman noted in The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, the plantation experience has continued to have a polarizing effect not only between blacks and whites, but it’s created deep-seated dissonances within the black community that echo to this day.
Make no mistake: Gary Sheffield, the latest Angry Negro in baseball, is no Jackie Robinson. The tone for black behavior in the big leagues was set by Branch Rickey’s admonition to Robinson?a man with an explosive temper?to "turn the other cheek." Fifty-some years later, that paternalist credo remains an unspoken law in baseball and in America.
Put simply, Angry Negroes with great talent become demonized, while Angry Negroes with less talent get permanently misplaced. Dick Allen’s "racial problems" (he got into a fight with a white man) have virtually destroyed his chances of being admitted to the Hall of Fame, even while "bubbly" personalities with far less talent (Kirby Puckett) get admitted on their first try.
You can bet that Gary Sheffield, the closest thing to Dick Allen that we’re likely to see in the big leagues for quite some time, will also find his path to the Hall blocked by his reputation as a troublemaker.
Sheffield claims that the Dodgers played mind games with him this winter over their purported efforts to sign Alex Rodriguez. Part of the mind game was telling him that they weren’t going to trade, and then offering him in several potential deals in order to free up payroll for A-Rod.
Sheffield might legitimately wonder why a white pitcher with a lifetime winning percentage under .500 (Darren Dreifort) is being paid $11 million a year on a new contract, while he’s making $10 million a year
after hitting .325 and slugging .643 last season.
His crime, it seems, is in pointing this fact out to the Dodgers and asking for a contract extension.
His bigger crime, however, is in violating his "place." By expressing his opinion about what management should do to improve the team, he has treaded on their turf and called their competence into question. And if there’s one thing that white guys like even less than black guys, it’s having their turf invaded and having legitimate questions about their level of competence surface in the organization and in the media.
So Sheffield has been demonized; as an Angry Negro, he has responded by taking the offensive and demanding a trade. The ever-reliable Bill Plaschke at the Los Angeles Times, the ultimate fuzzy white apologist, ripped Sheffield with terminology that stopped just short of "jungle bunny." Of course, Plaschke has a template for such a column, having used a? virtual carbon copy of it a couple of years ago when he felt the need to demonize Raul Mondesi, an Angry Black Dominican who also didn’t see eye-to-eye with Dodger management.
Will Sheffield get traded? Quite probably. It’s easier to demonize and banish an Angry Negro than to deal with what he’s saying, especially if much of it makes sense, as it does in this case. The case of Paul Robeson some sixty years ago is instructive. There are no black Prodigal Sons in America, and Gary Sheffield will not be the first one, either.
Excerpted from The 2001 Big Bad Baseball Annual, ? 2001 by Mad Aztec Press.
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