Yesterday, I wrote about unwritten rules in the context of Padres shortstop wunderkind Fernando Tatís Jr. I wasn’t the only person to weigh in, of course. Chris Russo, one of the biggest names on Major League Baseball’s flagship network, also talked about it.
In which Chris Russo calls Fernando Tatis, Jr. “a sort of NBA guy playing baseball...ya know, young, enthusiastic”— Michael Kasdan (@michaelkasdan) August 19, 2020
What the? https://t.co/tOmKUiSOJC
Just to be clear, Russo’s exact words were that Tatís was “sort of an NBA guy playing baseball,” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on its face. After all. Tatís isn’t a former NBA player; he didn’t start in basketball, and he isn’t a raw untapped talent switching sports like Michael Jordan. At age 21, Tatís leads the league in plate appearances, runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, and total bases, with a positively Troutian .310/.384/.710 triple-slash and 1.9 fWAR in just 25 games. Over his first 109 career games, he’s hit .316/.380/.618 with 33 homers and 22 steals, which is Christian Yelich territory from a shortstop. Fernando Tatís Jr. is one of the five best players in baseball, full stop, and is one of the few players who might one day challenge Mike Trout for the mantle of best player of this era.
Nor is Tatís from an NBA family. His father is an accomplished MLB hitter with 113 career home runs and is the only MLB player to ever hit two grand slams in the same inning. Tatís Jr. has been around baseball his entire life; he was raised in the game by a star player and has now become an even greater player than his father.
So what, exactly, did Russo mean? His rant didn’t just mention the NBA; it criticized Tatís Jr. for a purported lack of “decorum,” calling him a “young, enthusiastic kid.” Then he accused the shortstop of not “respecting authority.” He said that the youngster had “embarrassed [his] manager [Jayce Tingler] . . . not that I would expect Tatís to know that.” So let’s summarize: what makes Tatís an “NBA guy” in Russo’s mind is that he’s athletic, doesn’t respect authority or unwritten rules, and plays the game in way that embarrasses his manager.
The NBA, by the way, is 75% Black. Fernando Tatís, Jr. is a player of color. It’s funny how no one would ever accuse Mike Trout of being an “NBA guy,” whatever that means.
So let’s be frank: the embarrassment here isn’t Tatís Jr., one of the greatest athletes in any professional sport and one of the most dynamic talents the game has seen in decades. No, the embarrassment is Major League Baseball. Major League Baseball’s own mouthpiece - its own network - just shamed one of the sport’s brightest stars by using a bunch of racist stereotypes. NBA players aren’t lacking in decorum or respect for authority, which should go without saying. And Tatís Jr. isn’t an “NBA guy” because he happens to be so good at baseball.
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Athletic players of color are otherized even in Major League Baseball because they’re overly athletic, as though they’re human cheat codes instead of professionals who excel at their job through as much iron will and determination and hard work as sheer talent. But we are all aware of the tired trope of white players as “gritty” and players of color as “showy” or, in this case, “an NBA guy.”
Of course, anyone with even a passing familiarity with Russo knows that he knew exactly what he was saying - and meant it, too. Russo once famously said that there are no Black radio hosts good enough to guest-host his , a statement as factually inaccurate as it is shockingly racist. Then there’s Russo’s outspoken support of NBA announcer Grant Napear for saying “All Lives Matter,” saying that neither Napear or that slogan are racist. And, perhaps worst of all, Russo bizarrely ranted “Who the hell are you?” at Serena Williams, perhaps the greatest tennis player of her generation, for acting in a manner he deemed - and this should be familiar - disreespectful to authority. Of course, Major League Baseball knew all of this, and hired Russo anyway.
So at bottom, Chris Russo did for MLB Network what he has done throughout his career: use his platform to otherize people of color using odious stereotypes and outright bigotry. But it can only be assumed that the league and network agree with this drivel, at least tacitly, for none of this is in any way surprising.
Every time Major League Baseball tells its players and fans of color they aren’t wanted, Russo was a willing and eager messenger. This time, he used the mouthpiece and platform of Major League Baseball to tell one of the sport’s brightest young stars that he belongs elsewhere because of who he is and what he looks like. You’re not truly a baseball player, said Russo to Tatís, Jr., in essence. You’re the “other.” You belong elsewhere. And you belong elsewhere because of a cornucopia of racist stereotypes which should be buried in the dustbin of history along with Russo’s ignominious and overlong career.
Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.