Friday, June 3, 2011

Where have all the black catchers gone?


Last of the black catchers

Last week, the San Francisco Giants' wunderkind catcher and the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey, got his leg all kinds of fucked up in a collision at home plate with Marlins rookie Scott Cousins. Posey will be out for the season with a fucked up leg, which has sparked a debate in baseball circles about home plate collisions. Namely, should they be outlawed and, if so, how do you go about outlawing them? "The home plate collision is as old as the game itself," the traditionalists argue, "we cannot alter the very fabric of our hallowed national pastime." On the other side, are those who maintain that player safety is paramount. "Player safety is paramount," they say.

Personally, I tend to side with the "player safety" camp, but others have raised an important question. Home plate collisions have been happening for decades--more than a century, even--with catchers sustaining severe injuries relatively infrequently, so why are we just now beginning to have a serious discussion about outlawing the home plate collision? If Buster Posey wasn't young, handsome, and extremely valuable to his team, would we even be having this debate? If it was, say, Rod Barajas who got lit up at the plate, would anyone have even noticed what happened?

Let's take this one step further. (For, what kind of racial provocateur would I be if I didn't take things one step further?) If Buster Posey was black, would we be having this debate about home plate collisions? Well, yeah. Most likely, if Buster Posey was still young, handsome, and extremely valuable to his team, and the only thing that was different about him was that he was black, we probably would still be having this debate. BUT, the problem is this would never happen because there are no black catchers (and by this I mean there are no African American catchers).

Russell Martin of the New York Yankees has an Afro-Canadian father, but under my rigid and admittedly arbitrary system of classification, he cannot be counted. In fact, if my research is to be trusted, the last African-American catcher to play at the Major League level was Charles Johnson. Johnson last appeared in a Major League game in June of 2005 -- nearly six years ago. Where have they all gone?

It is not news that African American participation in baseball has dwindled in recent years. But one would think that at least some of the comparatively few African American players to reach the big leagues in the last six years would be black. Perhaps this speaks to a concerted effort at lower levels of play to shepherd black players away from the catcher position and towards other parts of the diamond. Perhaps a similar set of racial mystifications that surround the quarterback position -- concerning the qualities that are believed to be required to succeed at the position and the people who are believed to possess those qualities -- also surround the catcher position. After all, the catcher is called "the coach on the field". Or maybe it's just the luck of the draw.

Whatever the case, I'll be here waiting patiently for the arrival of the next Charles Johnson.

1 comment:

  1. and btw:::::: as a white fan, i can say w/ all honesty & confidence CHARLES JOHNSON was AWESOME. A Phenom. He racked up ****4-Golden-gloves**** & was instrumental in winning a World Series w/ his team. Oh---and he was such a good guy /trusty catcher to help pitchers that he caught TWO No-Hitters as a catcher in his tenure. That is rock solid gr8ness.

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