I have to admit, I’m a bit confused about the uproar about San Francisco Giants radio host Larry Krueger’s comments last week. For those that don’t watch ESPN every single day, here’s what he said:
I just cannot watch this brand of baseball any longer. A truly awful, pathetic, old team that only promises to be worse two years from now. It’s just awful. It really is bad to watch. Brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly.
He went on to compare Giants’ manager Felipe Alou’s brain to a bowl of cream of wheat. Alou is understandably upset, though not so much at the Cream of Wheat thing as the “brain-dead Caribbean hitters” crack. Alou refuses to accept Krueger’s apology on the grounds that “hundreds of millions of people” were offended and that he doesn’t speak for all of them.
Now, first off, it seems to me that ol’ Felipe is speaking for “hundreds of millions of people” when he categorically claims that they’re offended. Second, there aren’t anywhere close to 100 million people living in the Caribbean. Most importantly, though, I just can’t see what is so terrible about what Krueger said.
Now, let me back up a bit and say that, from all that I’ve read, Krueger is probably an asshole, so I don’t want to defend the guy as a person. And calling people “brain-dead” isn’t a very nice thing to do, nor is comparing the brain of a man generally regarded as one of the best managers in baseball to a bowl of Cream of Wheat.
However, these things are not what have Felipe Alou steamed; he’s mad about the word “Caribbean” in the above statement. Alou apparently took this to be Krueger saying that all ballplayers of Caribbean descent (including both Felipe and his son Moises, who plays on the Giants) are “brain-dead”. Which may be what Krueger thinks, but what Krueger actually said seems to be more indicative that he’s sick and tired of seeing Deivi Cruz swinging at pitches over his head night after night. Of course, if Krueger was talking about Deivi Cruz or Alex Sanchez (both born in the Caribbean and both with a tendency to swing at anything thrown in their general direction), he should have called them out specifically, rather than making a more general statement. I’m ever a proponent of not generalizing about groups of people and, on those grounds, I agree with the condemnation of what Krueger said; I just don’t understand the level of vehemence being voiced by Alou and various talking heads on TV.
Now, Alou and everybody else knows that Krueger is participating in the stereotype that Caribbean (and, for that matter, Latino players generally) are a free-swinging lot (epitomized by the phrase “you don’t walk off the island,” which has been apocryphally ascribed to various players born in the Dominican Republic). As with all stereotypes, this one fails in many particular examples, but, as with many stereotypes, it’s also largely true. If you look at JC’s data, Hispanic players in 2004 had a batting average of .275 and an on-base percentage of .334, whereas non-Hispanic players had a BA of .272 and an OBP of .345. The difference between BA and OBP is almost entirely accounted for by walks, so the differential indicates pretty clearly that Hispanic players walk less (and, therefore, presumably swing more freely) than their non-Hispanic counterparts.1
Furthermore, the Giants themselves certainly aren’t very selective at the plate. According to ESPN.com statistics, they’re currently 4th in the National League in batting average while sitting 12th in OBP. They’re 15th (out of 16) in walks (though this may in part be due to the fact that Giants hitters have played the fewest games and had the fewest plate appearances of any team in the league), last in pitches per plate appearance and 15th in walks per plate appearance. All of that pretty conclusively proves that the Giants are indeed swinging at a lot of “slop”.
So, although Krueger’s comments were unnecessarily broad, he’s not entirely wrong, either. Latin players generally are more free-swinging than other players and the Giants in particular are a very free-swinging team. On the other hand, the statistics I cited above don’t distinguish between Hispanic and non-Hispanic players on the Giants. Although I’m much too lazy to break down the data on each individual player, I’ve seen arguments that, aside from Cruz and Sanchez (who are mostly bench players, anyway), most of the Hispanic players on the Giants (Alou, Alfonzo, Vizquel) are actually playing pretty well this year; in fact, the bigger problem seems to be Americans Grissom, Ellison and Snow, and even the non-Hispanic players who are playing well (Matheny, Niekro) apparently don’t walk very much (of course, the Giants’ biggest problem is that they’ve cheapskated on pretty much their entire lineup aside from Barry Bonds for years, which doesn’t work so well when Bonds hasn’t played in a single game all year).
Anyway, I’ve now utterly forgotten my point (if I ever had one to begin with), but I think it was something along the lines of the following: what Krueger said was pretty stupid and “insensitive” (whatever that term even means in this day and age of universal victimhood); on the other hand, the outrage expressed by Alou in particular and the commentariat in general seems (to me) somewhat overblown and, to be honest, a bit manufactured.