There’s a culture clash brewing in MLB, according to USA Today, which analyzed 67 bench-clearing incidents over the past five seasons and found “the main antagonists hailed from different ethnic backgrounds in 87 percent of the cases.” The majority of the clashes, according to the study, pitted white American-born players against foreign-born Latinos.
While USA Today reporter Jorge L. Ortiz took a diplomatic approach and said various interpretations of game etiquette may have contributed to why 34 of the 67 fights pitted Latin American-born players against those from the United States, San Diego Padres pitcher Bud Norris offered a more definitive, but likely off-base, hypothesis: Latinos don’t understand “America’s game.”
“I think it’s a culture shock,” Norris told USA Today. “This is America’s game. This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over 100 years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.”
He continued: “I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.”
Norris’s argument was greeted with ire by many on Twitter.
Of the many flaws in Norris’s hypothesis, one of the easiest to point out is his misinformation about how long baseball’s existed as a cultural force in foreign countries.
The real story is that baseball has long prospered in several international locales, but specifically in Latin America, where it’s been a major force for more than 100 years.
Here’s how MLB.com writes about the history of baseball in the Dominican Republic, for example, where the majority of the league’s foreign-born players come from:
While it is thought by many that baseball was first introduced to the Dominican Republic by United States Army soldiers stationed there, it was actually its Caribbean neighbor, Cuba, which brought the sport to the shores of the country.
Although baseball was becoming very popular and widespread throughout Cuba in the early 1860s, the Ten Years War (1868-1878) forced many of Cuba’s most passionate baseball fans to flee the country. Many of these individuals found solace on the shores of the Dominican Republic, where they attempted to introduce the sport to the island’s natives in the late 1880s and early 1890s.
These efforts were very successful, and soon thereafter, organized games and tournaments were being held across the country.
And while the etiquette of the game has developed slightly differently in various countries, foreign-born players have been playing for MLB teams since the turn of the 20th century, according to Baseball-Almanac.com. This doesn’t mean that culture clashes don’t exist, but “culture shock,” which implies a total unfamiliarity with a certain set of customs, seems unlikely.
At press time, Norris has not made any further comments on his statements.