O-Dog barking up the wrong tree
I love the O-Dog, Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson. He is a personal favorite. But his suggestion that racism plays a role in the free-agent market simply is not supported by fact.
Age discrimination is more of an issue for free agents than racial discrimination, and other variables also enter the equation: players’ salary desires; teams’ increased emphasis on defense; and, yes, maybe collusion too.
Hudson hinted at racism in free agency in an interview with Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. No question racism exists in baseball, just as it does in other parts of society. As a white reporter, I cannot begin to speak to the experience of Hudson or any other African-American. But O-Dog is barking up the wrong tree.
Start with African-Americans at the top of the free-agent market. Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia didn’t fare too badly after the 2008 season, landing a seven-year, $161 million contract, the largest ever for a pitcher.
True, CC is that rarest of commodities, a No. 1 starter, as well as a highly respected figure within baseball. Yet outfielder Milton Bradley, perhaps the game’s most despised player, signed a three-year, $30 million free-agent deal with the Cubs that same offseason — a deal that proved excessive, to say the least.
Mariners second baseman Chone Figgins, despite his lack of power, received the fourth-largest free-agent contract last offseason, four years, $36 million. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Rays outfielder Carl Crawford will be the leading African-American free agents next offseason. Rest assured, they will get paid.
In fact, the O-Dog had a chance to get paid, too, before he even became a free agent. But he turned down a four-year, $29 million deal from the Diamondbacks before the 2008 season, an offer first reported by the Arizona Republic and later confirmed by major-league sources.
Hudson gambled that he would do better on the free-agent market — and he might have, too, if not for a broken left wrist that required surgery in August 2008. Instead, he bounced to the Dodgers and now the Twins on one-year deals, both times lingering on the market until late in the offseason.
Hudson, though, was not talking about himself in the Yahoo! Sports interview, at least not directly. He was talking about older players at the bottom of the market – specifically outfielder Jermaine Dye, who remains unemployed.
I agree with Hudson that Dye should be on a major-league roster. Yet, it’s not as if Dye has lacked opportunities. According to major-league sources and published reports, he has turned down at least three offers, from the Cubs, Brewers and Nationals.
Dye, in a telephone interview, told me in February that the Cubs proposed a one-year, $3 million contract before signing outfielder Xavier Nady for one year, $3.3 million. Dye’s offers from the Brewers and Nats came more recently. The financial terms are not known.
“You see guys like Jermaine Dye without a job. Guy with (27 home runs and 81 RBIs) and can’t get a job. Pretty much sums it up right there, no?” Hudson told Yahoo! “You’ve got some guys who miss a year and who can come back and get $5 million-$6 million and a guy like Jermaine Dye can’t get a job. A guy like Gary Sheffield, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, can’t get a job.
“We both know what it is,” Hudson told Passan. “You’ll get it right. You’ll figure it out. I’m not gonna say it because then I’ll be in (trouble).”
Too simple, O-Dog. Too simple.
Dye, 36, is not as attractive a free agent as Hudson portrayed, due to his age, his poor second-half performance last season and his declining defense in right field.
Yet, Dye did not want to accept a sharply reduced salary from some teams, sources say. Sheffield, meanwhile, did not want to accept a part-time role.
Ray Durham, Kenny Lofton, Frank Thomas are other recent examples of older African-American players who left the game prematurely rather than settle for offers they deemed inferior.
But guess what? The same phenomenon is occurring with older white players, too.
Brewers outfielder Jim Edmonds and Indians infielder Mark Grudzielanek both sat out the 2009 season when they did not receive suitable offers — and returned in 2010 only after agreeing to minor-league deals.
Edmonds’ base salary is $850,000. Grudzielanek’s is $600,000. Like Dye, both had earned big money when they were younger. They wanted to resume playing, that’s all.
Ditto for Twins designated hitter Jim Thome, who spent most of last season as Dye’s teammate with the White Sox.
Thome is a Hall of Fame candidate. His .847 OPS last season was 54 points higher than Dye’s. Yet, he agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract and part-time role rather than retire.
Dye is three years younger than Edmonds, Grudzielanek and Thome. His career achievements should earn him a greater benefit of the doubt. Garrett Atkins, a white corner infielder, is six years younger than Dye, but had a far worse season in 2009. Yet, the Orioles signed him for $4.5 million.
If that decision had been part of a racial pattern, it would be more troubling. But no such pattern is evident, and other aberrations contradict Hudson’s suggestion of racism.
Hudson talked about players who missed a year and came back to earn $5 million to $6 million. Well, that description pretty much fits center fielder Coco Crisp, an African-American, who appeared in only 49 games last season before undergoing shoulder surgery. Crisp signed a one-year, $5.25 million free-agent deal with the A’s, who valued his defense.
On the other hand, infielder Russell Branyan, a white slugger, hit 31 home runs last season, four more than Dye, yet settled for a one-year, $2 million free-agent deal from the Indians. Teams shied away from Branyan due to a lingering back issue.
I would never argue that baseball is colorblind. Scrappy utility infielders, many of whom are white, routinely are over-valued. White players with tempers often are perceived as intense. African-American players with tempers often are perceived as hotheads. And we can talk about other examples, too.
As I’ve written before, those conversations are important and necessary for a sport that needs not only more African-American players, but also more African-American fans. Alas, Hudson’s misguided remarks will do more harm than good, serving only to inflame the closed-minded.
Crying wolf does not advance the discussion.