Where EAST meets the Northwest
Kenta Maeda. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Yu Darvish. (AP Photo/Tim Bradbury, Pool)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #22 (November 20, 2017), page 7.
Asian highs and lows on the World Series mound
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
This year’s Major League Baseball (MLB) World Series was one of the best
ever, featuring some great as well as terrible performances by Asian pitchers
Kenta Maeda and Yu Darvish. But a racist incident directed at Darvish shows how
far Asian MLB players have come — and how far they still have to go.
Both Darvish and Maeda came to MLB after successful careers in Japan’s Nippon
Professional Baseball (NPB). One of the most hyped Japanese pitchers ever,
Darvish began his MLB career in 2012 with the Texas Rangers, who paid nearly
$110 million to sign him to a six-year deal.
Living up to the hype, Darvish led the league in strikeouts in his second
season and has averaged more than a strikeout per inning while steadily driving
his walk rate down. He has earned four All-Star appearances in five MLB seasons,
missing 2015 due to Tommy John surgery.
Older than Darvish and already suffering from elbow problems, Maeda was
signed in 2016 by Los Angeles to an eight-year contract worth at least $25
million. After a solid 2016, Maeda struggled to start this season, was demoted
to the bullpen, and later returned to the rotation and completed another strong
Darvish joined Maeda on the Dodgers at the trade deadline when the Rangers,
out of contention, swapped him to Los Angeles. The Asian pitching duo proved
essential to the Dodgers’ early-round playoff successes, as Darvish won his two
starts, surrendering one run in each, and Maeda pitched five scoreless, hitless
innings over five games.
In the World Series, the Dodgers faced an excellent Houston Astros team that
included Yuli Gurriel, a Cuba-born player who played for the NPB’s Yokohama Bay
Stars in 2014. Two years later, Gurriel defected to the U.S. and signed with the
Astros. After working his way up in the minors, Gurriel spent 2017 as Houston’s
first baseman before creating the feel-bad story of this year’s World Series.
Darvish started Game 3 of the World Series after the teams split the first
two games. After a scoreless first inning, Darvish allowed a leadoff home run to
Gurriel in the second. Gurriel rounded the bases and returned to the dugout,
where he was caught on camera pulling his eyes into a slant and apparently
saying "chinito," a derogatory Spanish term for Asians.
Though he did not see the gesture, Darvish surrendered three more runs and
was replaced before the end of the inning. Houston went on to win, 5-3, giving
Darvish the loss, and after the game, discussion swirlled around Gurriel’s
When asked about the gesture, Gurriel apologized, explaining that "chinito"
was a common Cuban term he hadn’t intended in an offensive way. He said he used
the gesture and the term to joke that Darvish had given him an easy pitch to hit
because he thought Gurriel was Japanese.
For his part, Darvish was gracious and forgiving, saying the gesture was
"disrespectful to people around the world," but added "Nobody’s perfect … We’ll
learn from it and we have to go forward." Gurriel offered to apologize to
Darvish personally, but Darvish said it wasn’t necessary.
The league chose to suspend Gurriel for five games at the start of next
season, explaining that the player’s union would likely have appealed any
suspension that kept Gurriel out of the World Series. The resulting arbitration
hearing would have created even more off-field drama, and the arbitrator could
have postponed Gurriel’s suspension until next season anyway. And since players
do not accrue salary during the postseason, suspending him next season ensures
he will suffer a pay cut.
And since players are not paid for appearing in World Series games,
suspending him next season ensures he will suffer a pay cut.
The series continued with Gurriel still playing. The Dodgers scored five runs
in the ninth to win Game 4, and the Astros won a slugfest in Game 5, 13-12. Then
Los Angeles came back from an early deficit to win Game 6, 3-1, setting up a
winner-take-all Game 7 in an already dramatic series.
As he had been in the playoffs, Maeda was brilliant throughout the series,
throwing almost six scoreless innings across four games. But he did not appear
in Game 7, which was started by Darvish, seeking redemption.
But Darvish struggled with his control, again failing to escape the second
inning after giving up five runs to the Astros. While the off-field drama might
have unsettled Darvish, a more likely explanation lies in the baseballs.
Many pitchers complained that the official World Series baseballs were too
slick, making it harder to control breaking pitches like Darvish’s slider. So,
more pitches caught too much of the plate, and more of those pitches were hit
hard. The statistics bear this out, as the eight home runs in Game 2 and the 24
total home runs in the series are both World Series records.
But instead of a record-breaking series, what will remain in the memory of
Asian sports fans is Gurriel’s racist conduct towards Darvish and its
consequences — or lack thereof.
On the one hand, we can take heart from the outrage against Gurriel. No
significant sportswriter tried to defend him, dismiss the outrage, or argue
against a suspension. His behavior was acknowledged and condemned as obvious
racism, and Gurriel himself was instantly contrite.
On the other hand, Gurriel’s punishment is relatively minor and did not
affect his World Series performance. When he initially made the gesture, none of
his teammates apparently called him out on it. Moreover, his behavior is a clear
indication that racism still exists in baseball.
Baseball, like other American major-league sports, has a long history of
racist policies, players, and practices that it has only relatively recently
begun to address. Baseball was segregated for 60 years, and the last team to
integrate, the Boston Red Sox, did so less than 60 years ago.
Five years after that, Masanori Murakami became the first Japan-born MLB
player. But only in the last 16 years have Asian players joined MLB in
significant numbers. Clearly, far more progress needs to be made. We can only
hope that the low point of this year’s World Series draws greater attention to
racism in sports and that this kind of behavior no longer finds a place in our
Read the current issue of The Asian Reporter in its entirety!
Go to <www.asianreporter.com/completepaper.htm>!