There is certainly reason for Mets fans to be skeptical about the way Yoenis Cespedes has carried himself on the field throughout his career. A kicked ball in the World Series, a questionable workout regimen, and some run-ins on the golf course tell a story of a player who has indeed had his issues staying focused. And credit Cespedes for making an effort to minimize the distractions and focus wholly on baseball this season, and staying healthy.
However, a recent Joel Sherman article decrying Cespedes’ “antics,” reveals a more troubling interpretation of player behavior, particularly towards Latino players, and it has started to manifest in a multitude of ways throughout baseball across the past year and a half.
Sherman’s first gripe, in itself, seems a tad out of place, as he points out the fact that Cespedes is taking part in outfield drills with his hat worn backward, occasionally tossing balls back underhanded. Even more baffling is the fact that Sherman admits, literally a paragraph later, that Cespedes lay down while conducting drills, waiting for the ball to lift off so as to try making more challenging plays, with the outfielders around him following suit.
We witness a similar pattern of criticism and subsequent back-track a few sentences later, as Sherman bemoans the fact that Cespedes himself was unavailable to take part in postgame interviews, yet admits that similar freedoms from confrontation are extended to Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and even Tim Tebow.
So again, what is the central point to arguing against Cespedes’ qualities as a leader? Is there a real reason to single him out when Noah Syndergaard, who practically stood up the organization in refusing his MRI last season, still continues to flaunt an inflated sense of self-worth as he invites the press to watch him run shirtless?
I will answer the question by offering a couple more perplexing, troubling testimonies from players and journalists alike. Here is an article detailing a conversation in which Mike Schmidt argued that Venezuelan center fielder Odubel Herrera could not serve as a leader for the Phillies because of a “language barrier,” unaware of the fact that over 27% of Major League Baseball players are Latino (according to a 2016 SABR study).
Check out Ian Kinsler criticizing the manner in which Dominican and Puerto Rican players express themselves and their emotions in the World Baseball Classic last year, which features some incredible GIFs of some rather emphatic American players.
Here is a CBS report of the Braves’ desires that Venezuelan outfield prospect Ronald Acuna wear his hat straight so as to “maintain a professional appearance.” Tim Tebow, who many could argue wouldn’t even qualify as a professional baseball player, wears his hat in an equally “unprofessional” manner.
I want to make clear that, particularly with the fashion in which the Mets finished the 2017 season, it’s appropriate for fans to take umbrage with Cespedes’ antics. With that said, it’s also important that we draw a line between what constitutes detached, lackadaisical behavior and what Sherman clumsily explains as “disruptive.” An otherwise established, respected writer like Sherman failing to understand these glaringly concerning biases indicates just how far out of hand such a prejudice towards Latino ballplayers has gotten.
Jay Bruce, who perhaps should have been listened to a bit more keenly, ultimately said it best in Sherman’s article that “not everyone does things the same way.” Different cultures will inevitably bring about baseball players with different playing styles, and even more importantly, players who carry their passions differently.
Noah Syndergaard tweeting about his cameo on Game of Thrones as the Mets were getting shelled by the Dodgers in a summer series last year can be ignored, as it was, by the media and baseball fans. However, fans who fail to give our best offensive player that same pass after he declines an interview are inherently perpetuating a bias against Latino players who are often victimized by more traditional, Americanized interpretation of a sport that is played all over the world.
Expecting Latino players to not only play the game in the presentable, American sense but to also apply this mindset in practices and communications is unfair. To label Cespedes and other players for failing to do so here and there as a “disruption” is shallow, ignorant, and totally unfair.