And I’m not sure MLB will like it very much. Basically, the Tigers slugger expressed to GQ magazine (sadly, not online, so we cannot put it in context, and I’m not coughing up money for GQ, frankly) that he believes that there are fewer African-American athletes in the League these days because, all things being equal in terms of talent between a black player and a Latino player, the Latino player is easier to control.
“I called it years ago. What I called is that you’re going to see more black faces, but there ain’t no English going to be coming out. … [It's about] being able to tell [Latin players] what to do — being able to control them,” he told the magazine.
“Where I’m from, you can’t control us. You might get a guy to do it that way for a while because he wants to benefit, but in the end, he is going to go back to being who he is. And that’s a person that you’re going to talk to with respect, you’re going to talk to like a man.
“These are the things my race demands. So, if you’re equally good as this Latin player, guess who’s going to get sent home? I know a lot of players that are home now can outplay a lot of these guys.”
Touchy, touchy quote on the surface. The problem is, we’re not going to be able to judge what the real intent is unless someone buys the issue, and I’m not going to be that guy. So Sheffield could be talking about taking orders from a manager, but I think it also has to do with paying players what they’re worth — the language barrier and the development of academies for baseball in Spanish-speaking countries have developed a pipeline of cheap talent that isn’t paid as much from the start sometimes. However, as Tom Fornelli at the FanHouse notes, someone might want to ask Placido Polanco, Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen — if they feel that they’re easier to control.
Sheffield may not be completely wrong, though — a language barrier and difficulty will inevitably result in a relationship where the player is more likely to do as they’re told on the field. However, don’t managers generally look for guys that take direction well? That’s called being easily coachable, from what I remember, and managers and front office guys are generally looking for top-flight talent that will listen to them and do what they believe is best for team.
If he means something more along the lines of being willing to put up with abuse, that I’m not so sure about. And it begs the question — why are these guys he knows sitting at home if they can outplay the Latin players on the field? Context is everything. I suspect he might be referring to the “respect” in terms of a contract — certainly, GMs can get Latin players cheaper at the start of their careers.
Really, the basic reason why there aren’t as many black athletes in baseball is easy: the NBA and NFL dominate African-American culture nowadays, as far as sports go. So, as the opportunities to play in those leagues have expanded (and their stars have gained cachet in the community), then the athletes going into MLB have decreased.
The rest of the bits are fairly interesting — especially on Bonds and the steroid era.