Robbie Alomar and Race in Sports Journalism
The results are in for the Major League Balloting, and the real story is who isn’t on the list: Roberto Alomar.
Alomar, of all the names eligible this year to be voted in to the Hall of Fame, was the one name that stuck out to me as a sure-fire pick. I mean sure, I’ve fallen way off the baseball bandwagon and haven’t followed the sport with any fervor in years. But Alomar is a career .300 hitter and one of the most dominant 2nd basemen of the 90s.
Unfortunately, there was the unfortunate spitting incident. For those that forgot or weren’t paying attention in 1996, a disputed call turned ugly when Alomar spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck, claimed Hirschbeck had uttered a racial slur and accused him of turning bitter since the death of his son.
It was an ugly turn of events, particularly in light of baseball’s precarious public image in light of the recent strike. As such Alomar took even more heat than he would have otherwise, and the event followed him for the remainder of his career: all nine years.
After the incident, Alomar apologized publically and privately. He buried the hatchet with Hirschbeck, and later would develop a friendship with him and the two collaborated on charity work. Yet some sportswriters still hold Alomar accountable as if the incident were still fresh in their minds. Which is odd considering that they routinely forgive lesser men who don’t make amends for far greater transgressions.
While I’m reluctant to ever play a race card, one has to wonder when sports writers took the same attitude (and were quite vocal about it) towards Time Raines due to his cocaine use, and yet notorious white cocaine user Paul Molitor became a first-ballot Hall of Famer with little to no controversy.
It does seem to suggest that these writers believe black cocaine user Raines is an an irresponsible and out-of-control basket case while Molitor, another cocaine user who happens to be white, is a tragic cautionary tale.
It’s an unfortunate truth in some areas sports journalism, a community of writers covering a sport that still wrestles with those that treat and/or write about black athletes as if they were cattle. This is not to lay condemnation at the feet of all sports journalists, or of jock culture as a whole. I would not even say there are exceptions, as I believe those that still carry the bile and bias to be the real exception. However, there are still enough of them to carry weight in situations such as these, and far too few are calling them out on it.
Five of the voters – including Jay Marriotti with the Chicago Tribune (formerly the Chicago Sun-Times), a man so beloved by his journalistic colleagues that fellow Sun-Times columnist Roger Ebert penned an open letter celebrating his departure – decided to make a statement by not voting for anyone. Their feeling was that nobody in the class was deserving of being a “first-ballot Hall of Famer,” and the thought is that others who did vote may have followed suit and not voted for first-time eligible players such as Alomar. Again, though, it goes back to their apprehension towards Alomar due to one unfortunate incident in an otherwise fine career.
What writers given a vote in the Hall of Fame selection process have done is spit in the face of their profession. Rather than covering and/or editorializing the game they love, they used the game’s most hallowed tradition to make a grandiose statement of undeserved self-importance at the expense of a legend. It’s ugly, egomaniacal, unprofessional, and unfair.
And they say bloggers and other commentators on the internet are irresponsible. Yeesh.