The Minnesota Twins rarely re-sign minority players. The trend does not reveal overt racism living within the organization, but rather illuminates the effects of institutional racism fueled by the fact that people subconsciously discriminate against people who are different from themselves. As the Twins are a business and the fans their main source of capital, the continual drive to push profit margins in the right direction are often built on these realities to maximize financial returns while turning a blind eye to the discriminatory side effects.
This line of thought also holds water on the other racial side of contract negotiations. Players who have been re-signed in recent years such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Nick Blackburn and most recently Glen Perkins are more similar in demeanor and appearance to a good portion of the fan base who fund the team through ticket sales, in addition to those in the front office who make most of the crucial decisions on these matters. While the possible cultural implications of this are obviously unsettling, it also has a impact on the quality of baseball the Twins are able to play as the race of a player should have no impact on their future with a team. That impact is being felt within the Twins organization, and it’s not an isolated incident, but rather a trend throughout the game that reveals one of the more damning effects of the almighty dollar in professional sports.
Here is a list of seasonal statistics before and after talks concerning a contract extension between minority players and the Twins failed:
Matt Lawton: 1998: .278/.387/.864, 21 HR, 77 RBI | 1999: .259/.353/.708, 7 HR, 54 RBI
Johan Santana: 2006: 19-6, 2.77 ERA, 245 Ks, 24 HR allowed | 2007: 15-13, 3.33 ERA, 235 Ks, 33 HR allowed
Torii Hunter: 2007: .287/.334/.839, 28 HR, 107 RBI | 2008 (with the Angels): .278/.344/.810, 21 HR, 78 RBI
Delmon Young: 2010: .298/.333/.826, 21 HR, 112 RBI | 2011: .268/.302/.695, 12 HR, 64 RBI
Francisco Liriano: 2010: 14-10, 3.62 ERA, 201 Ks, 9 HRs allowed | 2011: 9-10, 5.09 ERA, 112 Ks, 14 HR allowed
Here’s how it panned out for white players who received the team’s largest recent contract extensions.
Justin Morneau: 2007: .271/.343/.834, 31 HR, 111 RBI | 2008: .300/.374/.873, 23 HR, 129 RBI
Joe Nathan: 2007: 37 Saves, 1.88 ERA, 77 Ks | 2008: 39 saves, 1.33 ERA, 74 Ks
Joe Mauer: 2009: .365/.444/1.031, 29 HR, 96 RBI | 2010: .327/.402/.871, 9 HR, 75 RBI
My point here is that the issue at hand is not whether giving the contract extension was justified or not. The argument that the giving a player contract actually makes the player better is hazy at best – Morneau got better, Nathan stayed about the same and Mauer infamously receded. And though the stats show a trend among the minority players, Young and Lawton did suffer injuries that impacted their post-negotiation play. Lawton had a career year two seasons later in 1999, and Young dazzled for the Tigers last October.
What can be seen, however, is that after solid play leading into contract negotiations (it’s worth noting Morneau won the MVP in 2006), it seems that some players got resigned, others didn’t and the difference between the two runs down the racial divide. Hypothetical questions concerning how a re-signing could have impacted their play are irrelevant; the fact that the Twins time and again don’t resign their minority talent is not.
As a life-long Twins fan, I remember the general discussion surrounding these minority players usually toeing the ‘I wish we could afford to keep them’ line, as opposed to the Morneau/Mauer/Nathan extension talks, which always seemed to center around ‘we have to keep them,’ which they did. There is a level of respect that comes with a team showing enough belief in a player to reward his superior play with a corresponding contract. It says they want them to return and be a part of the organizational family, not just a transient box score beautifier. So the question becomes, what would keep the Twins from re-signing these players, other than cold-hard racism, which I already acknowledged is not at all likely?
My take is this: race is a divider, a categorizer, one of the most basic distinguishing differences between people’s appearances. In life, we tend to identify with what is familiar. Identification often leads to preference, and the flip-side of preference is rejection. Since Caucasians hold a disproportionate amount of the wealth in this country, the things they prefer receive a disproportionate amount of preference, and the things they reject … you get it.
Most of the Twins front office, ownership, and a majority of the paying customers who fund their operations – like just about every major sports organization – are white. Thus, what they prefer, even if it is subconscious, will more often than not end up creating what takes place in the future. At the most basic level, Mauer, Morneau and Nathan are easier for many white fans and team officials to identify with than Lawton, Hunter, Young, Santana and Liriano. Those people have money, and what has taken place?
This is happening with less subtly in Miami, as the Marlins have bolstered an already Latin-heavy squad with the additions of Jose Reyes, Carlos Zambrano and the guidance of manager Ozzie Guillen this season. The team’s white owner (who recently made some less than admirable critiques of Reyes’ character and the city of Miami’s intelligence) has used his money to field a team the city, which is well over 50 percent Latin, can identify with. The issue with this – as well as in the Twins case – is that these acts are not in the genuine interest of fielding the best baseball team possible. In Miami’s case, the team is presenting a facade of a team like the people in the city, when in fact they are generally richer and lead drastically different lives than the fans that sit in the cheap seats. Same goes for Minnesota, where the team tends to resign players that white fans can identify with easier, though the identification happens primarily through appearances and attitudes presented by the sports media.
This is simply organizations trying to figure out how to garner excitement, and from that more money, from the fans in their city. It discriminates against the fans that make up the minority of a team’s market. It makes it harder for a minority to be re-signed by the Twins, just like there may have been superior white players that were looked over in Miami. The problem here isn’t your classic race war of white vs. everybody else. The issue is that when armed with deep pockets and a business strategy geared towards making the most money off fans instead of winning the most baseball games, the willingness to take advantage of the our country’s racial diversity and regional demographics for that purpose seems to merely be the latest way for greedy owners to stuff a few more dollars into their wallets.
- by Jesse Mandell-McClinton