MLB Now Dealing With Another Image Crisis

The Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout got into a dispute last week with the Commissioner of Major League Baseball over whether he’s doing enough to promote himself and the game. Trout said no, the Comissioner said yes, and the Angels backed up Trout.

It’s been seemingly one problem after another this season with MLB when it comes to issues of promotion and image. Just last week, when the focus should have been on the All-Star Game, instead there was a back and forth between the Commissioner’s office and the Los Angeles Angels over whether outfielder Mike Trout, hailed as the consensus best all-round player in the sport, was being negligent in helping MLB promote the game and by extension his stardom.

The Commissioner said yes, he said no, as did his team. Then there’s also the issue of competitive imbalance, with three teams in the American League (Boston, New York and Houston) headed for 100-win seasons while multiple others look destined for 100-loss years. The AL is facing the possibility one of their 100-win teams could get knocked out in the wild card round, something that would certainly cause an enormous stir should it be the Yankees, preventing another possibly epic Red Sox/Yankees playoff meeting.

However all those issues were overshadowed by something far uglier and potentially more damaging to the game’s image. In the midst of an excellent first half that secured him a berth on the National League All-Star team, Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader suddenly saw the questions shift from why was he having such a solid first half to what was he thinking as a 17-year-old when he released a series of racist and/or homophobic tweets on his Twitter account.

While they were six and seven years old, their vile nature was so repugnant they raised a host of eyebrows. From the inclusion of racist language to one that seemed to endorse membership in the Klan and another that had extremely foul descriptions of Gays, Hader’s tweets looked like they came straight out of a hardcore White Nationalist playbook. Hader quickly apologized for the tweets, but that alone wasn’t enough to placate the outrage they triggered, nor was it sufficient to forestall discipline by MLB management.

The Commissioner’s office announced last week Hader would have to participate in diversity and inclusion initiatives plus sensitivity training. Hader, now 24, also said those tweets didn’t reflect either his current values or the player he is today. Hader added baseball had helped him overcome thoughtless and despicable behavior, and he now rejected the language of bigotry.

Hader’s case was greatly aided by teammates Lorenzo Cain (Black) and Jesus Aguilar (Latino from Venezuela) who publicly backed him and spoke during a 90-minute press conference held by the Brewers last Friday before a game with the Dodgers.

“It’s amazing,” Hader told USA Today. “It tells me that they have my back and that we are a true family.” He was cheered Saturday by a crowd of over 36,000 in Milwaukee, and thus far it seems MLB may have been able to put this one behind them. Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell said Hader was emotional and remorseful, and Hader added “I just want them (teammates) to know that I’m sorry for what I did back in the day and the mistakes that I made. “They (the tweets) were never my beliefs. I was young. I was saying stuff out of just ignorance and that’s just not what I meant.”

Hader sounds very sincere, and the case can be made that it’s unfair to hold someone responsible for things they said in their youth, even if 17 isn’t exactly like 13 or 10. But it’s one more example of MLB finding themselves in a messy image situation and having to navigate their way out. The fact that African-American participation in the sport remains at low levels (right at eight percent this season, which actually is an improvement) doesn’t help matters either, nor the fact there is ONE (1) Black American manager in either league, the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts.

But at least in this case MLB acted quickly and decisively, and Josh Hader seems truly repentant, not just someone trying to wiggle off the hook. Hopefully no other examples of bigoted ignorance from players will surface during the rest of the 2018 baseball season.

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