I begged for the Twins to sign Orlando Hudson two offseasons ago. This past winter, when they actually did sign Hudson, I was ecstatic. I repeatedly called Hudson the team's biggest offseason acquisition and lauded his ability to upgrade this team at the second base position and at the second spot in the batting order.
Thus far, Hudson has been a disappointment to me. Not just because he's failed to produce much on the field and has fizzled out in several key spots already, but also because of some recent comments he made off the field. In an interview with Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, Hudson implied that the main reason players like Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield have failed to find work this season is the color of their skin.
It's an outlandish accusation. Sheffield does indeed have a Hall of Fame caliber resume, but he's 41 with a reputation for pushing people the wrong way, and it doesn't take a tenured scout to see that his bat speed has dropped significantly in recent years. Dye, meanwhile, has turned down offers from multiple clubs this offseason. If he were willing to sign a deal that approximated the one Jim Thome got from the Twins, Dye would have been signed by December. (In fact, he probably could have gotten twice as much as Thome, as Dye reportedly turned down a $3 million offer because he didn't want to settle for a fourth outfielder role.) The reason clubs haven't signed black players like Dye and Sheffield -- not to mention white players like Jarrod Washburn and Joe Crede -- is because they don't want to be stuck overpaying aging players with diminishing skills when those players expect to be getting paid for production they're probably no longer capable of.
Of course, Hudson isn't the first guy with Minnesota ties to become vocal on this subject. Torii Hunter has lamented the dearth of African-American players in the game many times in the past, and made some waves earlier this spring when he told USA Today that dark-skinned Latin players are "impostors" who ostensibly give the false illusion that Major League Baseball's lack of black players is not a problem.
As Greg Doyel pointed out in his excellent article on the topic for CBS Sports today, the percentage of African-American players in the majors is nearly identical to the percentage of African-Americans in the overall U.S. population. Doyel also points -- as many others have -- to the expense of playing baseball as a reason that the sport isn't as popular as it could be among youngsters in the inner-city and urban communities. To his credit, Hunter has backed up his passionate words by putting a lot of his own money into helping create more opportunities for inner-city kids to get on the diamond; certainly that's a lot more helpful than making the type of bizarre accusational statements he -- and now Hudson -- have made.
Today, organizations and fans across baseball are celebrating the amazing accomplishments of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier some 60 years ago. It's certainly an appropriate time to discuss the racial issues which undeniably affect all aspects of society, including baseball. Yet, contrary to what my good friend Twins Geek says, comments like Hudson's and Hunter's don't help advance productive discussion. Claiming that major-league front offices across baseball have some sort of collective bias against American-born black players or that the dark-skinned Latin players who are helping increase the game's diversity are frauds only serves to rile folks up and perpetuate racial tensions.
I think that Hudson and Hunter, along with others who have come forth with similar sentiments, have their hearts in the right place. They look around them and see what they perceive as a small and ever-dwindling percentage of black players in the game, and they want to stem the tide. That's something I can absolutely get behind. But there are better and less contentious ways of addressing this important issue that won't cause the same type of defensiveness and divisiveness. Personally, I think that's what Jackie would have wanted. But maybe that's just me.