On several occasions, Jonah Keri, who is writing a book about the Rays, has suggested that our perception of certain players is influenced by race (e.g. BJ Upton). The suggestion is that we are overly critical of Upton (and other players) because he is black.

This got us wondering…What if Carl Crawford wasn’t a 5’7″ white dude like David Eckstein?

Would we still appreciate that he always hustles? Would we still notice that he never takes a play off? Would we still root for him if he was flashier and didn’t play hard everyday? Would we still praise him for spending his off-seasons working his ass off so that he could maximize his potential and improve his offensive production every year? Would we still notice that he completely transformed his defense and became one of the the best outfielders in baseball? And would we be surprised to learn that he never goes out and parties during the season?

Would we still care about any of these things?

And how would we analyze his actions on the baseball field? Would we nitpick his performance everyday the same way we do with Upton if Crawford wasn’t white? According to some, we would.

But most importantly, would Rays fans still love Crawford if he were black?

*Alternate Title: Would Rays Fans Still Be Critical Of James Shields If He Didn’t Have An Afro?

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44 Comments

  1. B Carrick says:

    Love this. It points out that most people who are critcial of people being critical based upon race, are only noticing and analyzing the criticism based upon race. It's the same phenomenon as when my wife claim's that her dogs know when it is 9pm (their evening walk time) because they come running over at 9pm. She didn't notice the other 10 times and evening they come running over, only the one that counts. Same here, certain people don't notice how critical we are of Sheilds, Kappler, and other "non-white" players do they ? We laid praise on Burrell for a year and half didn't we ? And we are oh so hard on CC when he is slumping like now, aren't we ? Just got into this blog and really love the down-to-earth elegance of it. Keep up the good work.

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  2. Don says:

    People like that writer have done more to destroy black people's image of trying to just be just "people"....
    He/she or what every.... continue the myth that "they" are different...
    Real fans could give a sh-t less...CC would be the best player if he was green....BJ would be a bust even if he was white... colors don't count!

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  3. Couldn't agree more. CC is a stud and James Shields is not. It gets old hearing people talk about race. BJ Upton is lazy and not a very good hitter. Doesn't matter if he's black or white.

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  4. Gus says:

    Would he still have the snake tattoo? If so, we'd still love him.

    Carl is Mr. Ray. BJ is in many ways a more marketable guy (CC's southern drawl and shyness makes him more difficult to throw on commercials), but his performance doesn't live up to being a good major league player (so far). The articles dropping the race card as an excuse for BJs declining production are idiotic. (No matter where you stand on BJ, there can be no disagreement that he is in decline since 2007).

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  5. GOB says:

    You're ignoring the point that Jonah Keri is making. He's not saying that fans dislike BJ because he's black, he's saying that his ethnicity affects how we perceive him, and makes it easier for us to jump to conclusions like "BJ is lazy"

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    • Mike says:

      If that were true, wouldn't fans have been more critical of Carl Crawford for missing 2 games in a row this weekend? Why are people screaming about lazy he is? from what I saw, it seemed like most people were upset at Joe Maddon.

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      • Mike says:

        No. Just the opposite. I am saying he didn't sit himself. I am implying that if the fanbase was racist, they would have accused CC of sitting himself out. And that is not happened.

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  6. Rob says:

    You all don't think that SOME people are at least INFLUENCED? At all? Are / were Shields, Burrell, Kapler, et al ever labeled LAZY? It's not so much the criticism, per se, but the type. So some people see calling a black player lazy = stereotype racism.

    Of course, I'm not buying into the idea enough to say that a book is justified by it, but total denial seems naive because we can't speak for what's in other people's hearts and minds. Neither can Keri and for that he should be criticized...IMO. Does that make me a hypocrite?

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    • Mike says:

      I dont think anybody is denying that SOME people are this way. But what irritates me and some other people that I have talked to is that some people seem to just automatically label one a closet-racist or a subconcious racist if they are critical of BJ at all.

      I'd say, compare BJ and Burrell. Both players were/are hated by Rays fans. But I think most Rays fans had long wanted Burrell gone from the team. I actually havent heard that many people saying the Rays should dump/trade BJ. Wouldnt it be the other way around if race was the prevailing issue?

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    • Joe D. says:

      Kapler is not lazy, he's always hustling, producing and hustling are two different things, I've often criticized Burrell for showing up out of shape, not accepting his assignment when the Rays designated him, he quit on the Rays, that's worse than anything Upton ever had done. I'd call what Upton done mental lapses more than laziness, I just think that he had a short attention span.

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  7. d-money says:

    Funny you bring this up just yesterday I was wondering if I would like Gabe Kapler or Pat Burrell or Lance Cormier more if they were white.

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  8. Sublime says:

    As a Professor who teaches at course entitled Multicultural America, (in the social work discipline), to think that RACE doesn't play a role in our perception and views in looking at life, sports, ect. is extremely naive and disappointing.

    As Americans our knee jerk reaction is to not look at it, deny its very existence or demonize the person who brings the subject up.

    Kudos to Jonah for bring up the subject and instead of merely Denying that it exist, have some intellectual discourse about the subject so that all may learn.

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    • J says:

      you are certainly more versed in this subject than most of us, but let me play Devil's Advocate for a second. I follow Jonah Keri on Twitter, and one thing that annoys me is let's say Upton strikes out in a game. He will immediately make some comment about fans getting on his case because he is black, EVEN BEFORE anybody has actually gotten on Upton's case. That to me is insulting. He just assumes that people will criticize. And now, nobody can criticize because they think they are going to be labeled a racist for doing so.

      Keri's may be just in his points. But I think he is too quick to generalize. And i also think he picked the wrong poster-boy in Upton. The problem is, Upton HAS done stuff very worthy of drawing the ire of the fans.

      And I also think it is extremely unfair to Tampa Bay sports fans that have long shown an enormous amount of love towards african-american athletes, whether it be Doug Williams or Warren Sapp or Ronde Barber or Warrick Dunn or Carl Crawford. If Keri wants to make a broader point about society in general, that is fine. But there are better examples than BJ Upton and Tampa Bay fans.

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      • Joe D. says:

        Lee Roy Selmon

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      • Jonah Keri is getting to the point where I loathe everything he says. I was looking forward to getting his book on the Rays until I started reading what the man writes. Now it will be a tough sell. Could any writer be more pretentious? He thinks he god's gift to baseball writing.

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        • Dell D. says:

          I see it did not take you long to acclimate to the climate of this site, Jordi. I think Jonah's resume speaks for itself and your opinion of him would be in the extreme minority.

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        • calmer than you are says:

          From the Keri article linked above:

          "...Cox et al grew fed up with a guy who lollygagged and had the added disadvantage of being hard to communicate with. (That’s right, I’m ending a sentence with a preposition. Bring the scorn!)"

          Dear Lord. I know this writing is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but it just reeks of assholery. And it's representative of the circle-jerk of faux intellectualism that passes for analysis amongst certain baseball circles these days.

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    • Michael says:

      Well, hold everything. The pointy-headed academic has spoken so there's no need for any further discussion: you're all a bunch of racists. The guy who grades term papers and lectures others for a living says so.

      Nevermind the fact that one way or the otherm Upton's performance since 2007 has been disappointing to say the least. Or that the very sportswriter who labelled the Tampa Bay area as racist himself earlier stated in a tweet the he himself had given up on B.J. Upton as a player. Or that the premise of that writer's piece that was linked to suggests that the Braves were motivated by race -- when they traded one Latin shortstop for another! Or that maybe Upton gets a reputation for being lazy since he's been benched for not hustling more than any other player in the history of the franchise. Or that this area has embraced numerous other black and Hispanic athletes over the years.

      None of that matters, you bunch of bigots!

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    • Gus says:

      Hey professor, the Mendoza line knows no color.

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  9. Sarah says:

    Cork, I think your sarcasm missed the mark here, and does an injustice to Keri's subtle reasoning, which is certainly not trying to say that anyone who criticizes Upton must be a racist. Honestly, I think you are more perceptive than this and I'm surprised by your post.

    I'm with Sublime here: race (or gender for that matter) play a role in how we perceive others. That's just unavoidable. It doesn't mean that white fans are all racists, or that we dislike all black players or give a free ride to all white players. An extreme case in point may be that bizarre New York blogger who, a while back, wondered whether Carl Crawford is too "street" for the Yankees. Those of us who watch Carl daily were puzzled by this complete mischaracterization, but this blogger, from afar, made assumptions about Crawford based on his race (and I guess his very fetching tattoo).

    Anyone who says that their assumptions about a BJ Upton, or for that matter, the guy mowing the lawn; the woman working in the next office, etc are NEVER influenced by deeply rooted assumptions about race is living in an alternate universe.

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    • Boxauthor says:

      So you really think that ALL people to some degree judge others based on gender or race? Seriously? You think it's impossible for someone to look at someone else and just see another person?

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      • Sarah says:

        As a researcher by trade, I'm reluctant to speak authoritatively about ALL people in ALL situations. And of course I'm not talking about how we perceive those we know well -- your spouse, your brother in law, your best friend, your co-workers are people you see as "another person."

        But how do we form judgments about strangers? We have to fill in a lot of gaps because we don't know them as individuals, and in order to fill in those gaps we use obvious cues like race and gender (or other physical traits -- handicaps or good looks, for example). Most people have some (conscious or unconscious) preconceptions based on race, gender, or other physical attributes that shapes these judgments. Social science research certainly confirms this, but it also seems to me to be a common sense observation.

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        • JR says:

          Like you said about the blogger from NY he doesnt see CC all the time to make that assumption, BUT we see Bj everyday EXCEPT for when he is being benched for not hustling...

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        • Boxauthor says:

          It seems to me, in terms of those we don't know, the situation would dictate more our opinion than race or gender. If you're driving through a bad part of town, you'll make a lot of assumptions about those hanging out in the street regardless of color. The same can be said if you're driving by a church that has just gotten out and you see people walking to their cars. In either situation, I wouldn't look at a person's race or gender and think to myself that they don't belong in those environments. While these perceptions may lead to wrong conclusions I think they're a lot more apt to influence a person's opinion than race or gender. Although both the examples above may go to your point of appearance. Well-dressed people tend to lend themselves to better opinions. I just don't think race is the big thing anymore. People you don't know are just people you don't know . . . .

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  10. If Bossman hit the ball the way his *numbers* suggest he should, we wouldn't be having this conversation. :)

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  11. Don says:

    Ok, I'm not a "researcher by trade" or a "professor"....
    I'm a "person" who has made a good living on the streets... "workin"
    For anyone to sugesst a like or dislike for an entertainer (baseball player)
    is based on his/her skin color is a person is not a "fan" but someone who wants to continue a myth...us vs. them...bullshit....

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  12. Boxauthor says:

    Once again, you're reading the posts on this site. No one forced you, you know . . . .

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  13. Don says:

    Once again your "name" tells it all....
    The Prof. is calling a moron a moron....whats your point!
    Although "drama queen" wouldn't be bad....

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  14. stunna says:

    Maybe I'm missing something, but last time I checked, Crawford IS black. The title of this piece suggests that he is NOT black, correct? Same goes for the question "What if Carl Crawford WASN'T a 5’7″ white dude like David Eckstein?" Uhh what do you mean "what if"??? He ISN'T a 5'7'' white dude.

    Is it opposites day or something, or maybe my reading comprehension has taken a hit?

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  15. Jonah Keri says:

    Thanks for the link, interesting discussion.

    Briefly.

    1) The post that I wrote is admittedly subtle, controversial, and absolutely open to debate and rebuttal. That's largely why I wrote it. To start a discussion.

    2) B.J. Upton can be a frustrating player. Totally agree.

    3) B.J. Upton probably wasn't as good as he looked in '07, if some of luck/context-driven rate stats (HR/FB rate, BABIP etc.) are any indication.

    4) In no way should someone's track record matter when discussing the merits of a post. Whether or not you think I've done good work in the past (and not a day goes by that I'm not dwarfed by a million brilliant writers in this business), if you think this particular post is full of crap, then you have every right to think it's full of crap.

    Again, thanks for engaging in the debate. Happy to discuss this or any topic on Twitter or through other channels. Very much hope to meet all of you in the spring for the book tour.

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    • 2% Beliefyouareatampabayfan says:

      Book Tour, a new concept for those of us with preconceived ideas from the south. Locally, we burn books in my town or use them for chair legs.

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    • Gus says:

      Yankee go home.

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    • Blake says:

      A video or recording of an open dialogue between Keri and the Professor would be intriguing. However, do we really think the Prof will put himself out there like that? My guess is that he'll continue to throw stones from afar rather than take on Keri directly.

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  16. Jim says:

    What does his resume have to do with whether or not he is pretentious? I've read his tweets. He is always right. Everybody else is always wrong. Jordi nailed it.

    Let's not forget, the Rays are not happy that he is writing his book and last I read, they weren't cooperating.

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  17. John says:

    He is black...

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  18. Ro says:

    I didn't read this post until it was just mentioned on Twitter. I remember being slightly confused when I heard the title but figured it was sarcasm.

    As a baseball fan who is blind, I had no idea BJ Upton was black. I think I found out about two or three months ago when I heard him speak. The name just sounded white to me. I don't really care. Point is, I complained about him even when I thought he was white. But I complain about every guy at some time or other, even Longoria. I love Carl Crawford and love his southern drawl and innocense. I could give a shit what color any of them are.

    Just wanted to point out that, not knowing Upton was black for the longest time, I bitched about him just as much as I do now. But I still think he's a great center fielder except when he's asleep. ;)

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