Bill Madden Wants a Fence Around the Mets

Last summer, I wrote a piece about perceptions of Jose Reyes and his hamstring injury (which turned out to be season-ending) and, in part, the racial overtones of those perceptions. In it, I blamed the portrayal of Reyes as a malingerer or malcontent on the Doughy White Guy network of sportswriters for not quite getting Latin athletes, or feeling intimidated by the large Latin presence in Major League Baseball–a reflection of many people’s similar feelings about the growing Latin population of this country as a whole.

I revised my stance slightly after reading a few tweets from Dave Lennon, Mets beat writer for Newsday. In Lennon’s opinion, no one who actually covered the team and spent time around Reyes would question his dedication. I had to concede that was probably true. It seemed most of the anti-Reyes talk came from opinion writers like Jayson Stark (whose ESPN piece set me off in the first place) and professional pot stirrers like Mike Francesa (who would’ve been sued for libel a thousand times by now if he worked in a print medium).

And then on Sunday, I read a piece (or rather, a piece of a piece) in the Daily News that made me rethink my rethinking. Because it’s clear to me that even the more traditional newspaper reporters have a problem with the growing Latin presence in baseball. Or at least know how to tap into such thinking among their readership.

madden_bill.jpgIt came to my attention thanks to a post by Andrew Vazzano at The ‘Ropolitans. The piece was about the offseason plans for a slew of baseball teams, and was written by Bill Madden. He’s sort of the News‘ Peter King type: equal parts reporter and op-ed guy. He’s been around forever, and he’s very much an old school guy. The old school that says guys should hustle, play the game the right way, and be racially pure.

I assume that last bit based on his assessment of the Mets’ hot stove action (or lack thereof):

Mets? Did somebody say the Mets? They won’t spend the money for Holliday, Bay or Lackey and apparently, they’re only interested in signing low-budget Latin players, having shown little or no interest in Byrd, Figgins, DeRosa, Wolf or even Staten Island’s Jason Marquis, while waiting for their markets to come to them. At the same time, the Phillies and Braves wasted no time in addressing their needs. Sad.

Emphasis added in case that needle-dragged-across-record moment escaped you. Unsurprisingly, later in the day, a certain word was removed from this paragraph. (Hint: It starts with “L” and ends in “atin”.) But the fact remains, his original intent was to say what you can read above.

Bill Madden can spin his words any way he wants to, but this is straight-up racist. I don’t know whether he really believes this, or just wrote it to stir the pot amongst the Archie Bunker portion of the Mets’ fanbase (which was in full force in the article’s online comments section). The fact remains, his choice of words was blatantly racist, and I can’t be convinced he was not aware of this fact. You can see a screengrab of the original page here, which includes some reader comments as well. But don’t read the comments unless you have a strong stomach or can afford to lose 20 IQ points.

Much less important than blatant racism on the sports pages: Madden is way off base here in criticizing the Mets for not making any moves yet. Because very, very few teams have made any moves of any consequence. Here are the big free agent signings so far:

  • Omar Vizquel (White Sox)
  • Chone Figgins (Mariners)
  • Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito (Braves)
  • Placido Polanco (Phillies)

That’s it. So the Mets haven’t made any big signings. That puts them in the same boat as 27 other teams. They’ve made two small signings: backup catchers Henry Blanco and Chris Coste. I’m not all that familiar with Mr. Coste’s background, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he is not of Hispanish heritage. I guess Madden is upset about 50 percent of the team’s free agent signings being too brown for his (or his audience’s) liking.

Also, it’s expected that, due to tough financial times, many teams will nontender even more players than usual once that deadline rolls around (December 12). That means the free agent pool will soon expand. Why rush to sign a player right now if waiting a bit means your options will increase?

His assertion that the Braves and Phillies have improved is highly debatable. The Phillies let go Pedro Feliz–an excellent defensive third baseman and a decent-enough bat–to sign Polanco, who is several years older than Feliz and hasn’t played third with any regularity since 2002. It’s often overlooked how much defense has contributed to the Phillies’ success over the last few seasons. Putting Polanco at third creates a defensive hole that their pitchers can’t really compensate for (other than Cliff Lee).

Meanwhile, the Braves essentially replaced two young relievers (Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez) with two hurlers pushing 40, both coming off of major surgeries within the last year. This detail is even more alarming when you consider that Atlanta has a Mets-esque track record when it comes to keeping its players healthy. Not to mention the fact that Takashi Saito, once a dominant closer, is now basically a LOOGY; righties have destroyed him the last few years, when he’s not hurt.

And then there’s the school of thought that says the Mets can’t really address their needs with the current crop of free agents and their budget. So they’d be best served to plug up holes as best they can and not lose draft picks by signing Type A free agents. I’m not sure I agree with this theory, but I recognize it as a legitimate argument.

It’s certainly a lot more legitimate than saying the Mets only sign Latin players and don’t care about baseball because they’re always dancing merengue and eating chalupas in the dugout.

Listen: The Mets deserve tons of criticism. I have very little faith that their current manager, general manager, or ownership know what they’re doing in the slightest. I don’t think this is a smart organization, and I have no evidence that it’s getting any smarter. And I’m really worried about Omar Minaya in particular, since his job is clearly on the line, because that’s the sort of situation that might spur him to make ridiculous moves that will seriously jeopardize the team’s long-term chances.

But Madden didn’t lobby any serious charges against the team. He simply accused then of being cheap and making racially motivated signings. To do so, he had to ignore a mountain of evidence to the contrary, plus equally large piles of deductive reasoning and common sense. And for what? So he could sell a few more papers, maybe get a few more page hits as idiots scrambled to drop racist garbage in the comments section?

Madden knew exactly what he was doing. So did whichever editor allowed the article to run as-is (at least initially). Neither of them might be racist, but they were perfectly willing to tap into a deep, insecure, racist vein of their readership. I can’t decide which is worse.