During his time in Toronto, David Price quickly endeared himself to Blue Jays fans. Matching bathrobes for everyone. Delicious Popcorn. A 2.22 FIP and nearly 3 WAR over the course of the playoff race and the highest strike-out rate of his career. David Price struck out almost 30% of the batters he faced, good for a 10.5 K/9. He lead the pitching staff in WAR despite pitching just over 74 innings. David Price was loved in Toronto because he fulfilled a role. He fulfilled a stereotype – goofy, lovable left-hander – and was rewarded with adoration.
David Price is too smart to reduce himself to just a stereotype, though. Price attended Vanderbilt on an academic scholarship and while attendance at a top-20 national university isn’t a perfect measure of intelligence alone, it certainly sets a baseline. His interviews and media interactions only further the point. Price discusses everything from his place in history, to sabermetrics, to race relations competently. He even discusses his October “struggles” with perspective and candour, two qualities that hint at his intelligence. Unfortunately, as he plays a sport called baseball, those two qualities are also interpreted as weakness.
Introspective black man doesn’t fit the narrative carved out by the media or the fans. Issuing a blanket statement that baseball has a racism problem probably isn’t fair despite overt evidence to the contrary. Baseball does, however, have an old white man problem. After seeing the average viewership age jump from 52 years old in 2000 all the way up to 57 years old in 2016, baseball fans are now closer to the average age of Nascar fans (58-yo) than they are to NFL Fans (50), NHL fans (49) or NBA fans (42). Over half of all baseball fans are over 55 years old and over 70% of them are men. As expected, 83% of all baseball fans are white.
Baseball doesn’t have a racism problem in the very same way that Donald Trump’s campaign didn’t have a racism problem.
Baseball’s racism problem isn’t overt, though. It comes with all of the intricacies you’d expect of a racial issue. Boston fans will pledge their allegiance to David Ortiz without second thought and use it dismiss any allegations of racism. “I don’t see skin colour, I only see post-season performance,” may very well have merit, but David Ortiz also perfectly fulfilled the stereotype of fat and jolly black man. He was easy for the media, and in turn the fans, to compartmentalise. When Papi came out and criticised Trump after 20-years in the game, brains were broken and compartments were shattered. One host believed in Ortiz’s right to criticise Trump despite disagreeing with him, saying that David Ortiz had “earned it,” while the other host believed that Ortiz should simply stick to sports.
The hidden racism of the game isn’t limited to Boston or even the United States. One of Toronto’s favourite role players was Munenori Kawasaki and the veneration the fanbase threw at him was because he was almost literally a caricature of a Japanese person.
Fan bases across North America seem to overlook skin colour, so long as the athlete greets the media with deference. Once an athlete of colour fails to fit into a predefined box, that’s when things get ugly. That’s what brings us back to David Price.
Price, as you know, was rewarded with the largest contract ever given to a pitcher in 2015. After last year’s rough start and this year’s injury concerns, you can easily imagine that the weight of such a contract.
This frustration flashed over when Eckersley criticised not Price, but rather Eduardo Rodriguez, in an apparent continuing trend of negativity. Price called out Eckersley for his failure to actually be around the players he was criticising: “If you’re going to say what he said, come around, show your face.” This followed his profanity laden quip on the team flight, “Here he is—the greatest pitcher who ever lived! This game is easy for him! — Get the fuck out of here!”
Given that Price’s retort was met with applause, it’s hard to argue against this as a form of leadership. That is not how the Red Sox faithful have viewed it however. Almost unanimously, Red Sox fans have supported Eckersley. Much like the faithful supported CSNNE when Price was fed up with a trivial line of questioning and lashed out.
It appears as though both the media and the fans, would like Price to play the role of professional athlete without questioning it and David Price, to his credit, has called bullshit when he sees it. Last year’s playoff tweets and interviews were viewed as outlandish, but his answers are the exact answers you’d expect from someone with perspective and intelligence:
Kusnierek: “How do you combat sort of the frustration that comes with each time everyone brings up the fact that [you’re] still winless in the postseason?”
Price: “Uhh, I’ve got two wins in the playoffs, just not as a starter. But I know good things are coming to me in October baseball. And I know that. I didn’t have good things happen today, and the Indians are playing well. Kluber threw the ball extremely well today. They had good things happen. That’s part of it.”
Buckley: “David, you’re also 0-8 in the postseason as a starter? What do you do to combat that moving forward? What’s the common thread in those starts?”
Price: “Uhh, move forward. Eliminate that one big pitch. Still, the pitch that Chisenhall hit out — that’s a good pitch. I mean, he put a good swing on it, and that’s part of it. I’ve got to be able to move forward, and I feel like I’ve done that.”
Two separate reporters wanted, “I just gotta go out there and give it 100% for my teammates,” but were treated with an actual answer to their repetitive questions. When a reporter asks a question about what a player can do to improve, he’s inherently insinuating that there’s something that the player knows he can improve upon but for one reason or another, just hasn’t done that. Were they expecting Price to say that he needed quit the chicken, waffles, and beer?
After a year and a half of the same questions, David Price is fed up. If Price were a less intelligent guy, he’d just turn his brain off and spit out the sports cliches but he’s not, and he can’t. Thus, reporters and fans alike view his thoughtful answers and outspoken personality as hostile because there’s no tidy compartment for David Price. If this were basketball, there’d be a compartment for Price, but it’s not. It’s baseball. And baseball does not have a race problem.