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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.

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  represent those of the Baseball Primer or any of its other authors. For those who
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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.

Don Malcolm Posted: March 05, 2001 at 05:00 AM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Sean Forman Posted: March 05, 2001 at 12:00 AM (#603428)

We might as well go for a lawsuit out of the box, eh?

I read the Plaschke article and it does cross the line in my opinion.
His use of thug imagery is pretty disturbing. I can't see him making
a similar statement about Mike Piazza or Roger Clemens. Also, I'm
not so sure that the Dick Allen/Kirby Puckett argument flies either.

Kirby was on Roberto Clemente's career path before his injury and
is a pretty good player. Dick Allen has no HOFers in his top ten most
   2. Rich Rifkin I Posted: March 13, 2001 at 12:00 AM (#603433)
Don - you wrote:

"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."

What evidence do you have to support that statement? When something is "manifest" it is obvious, clear to the eye. I am of the pale persuasion and don't mind people of any race or ethnicity who make lots of money. Being "demonstrative" is so vague, there is no way to know whether or not you are right in this regard. I am sure there are millions of other white Americans who share my lack of prejudice, in this regard. Thus, what your biased eye sees is evidently not so manifest.

I find your making broad generalizations about a whole race of people despicable. Despite a long history of mistreatment of blacks by whites in the United States, it is no less racist to paint with a broad brush against whites than it is to make idiotic generalizations about black Americans.

I recommend that in the future you restrain your racist impulses, unless you have some hard evidence to prove your claims.
   3. Sean Forman Posted: March 16, 2001 at 12:00 AM (#603447)
While I feel that Don went overboard on a sociological implications of
this flap, I do think that Sheffield, Thomas and Bonds may be held to
a different standard than other players. Also, no one aside from myself
has commented on the Plaschke article that ran in the LA Times. Would
such an article have been written about a white player?

I've also added a link to an interesting piece in SportsJones regarding
Allen Iverson, another black man with a negative image in the population at large.

I also thought it might be instructive to make a list of players who have held out,
demanded trades, etc. This year, Thomas and Sheffield are the main ones.

J.D. Drew, Bobby Hill and the Travis Lee/John Patterson crew are some
minor leaguers who had got around the draft system either by their will
or a team's ineptitude.

Roger Clemens, David Wells, Omar Vizquel are some other recent squawkers.
Others? Vizquel's threatened holdout is very similar to Sheffield's in my

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