I began writing for BP Wrigleyville about 18 months ago because I had always wanted to try my hand at writing about baseball, and this opportunity was made available to me. More than that, it seemed like the Cubs, due to a number of circumstances, were the best team through which I could convey my message that baseball is a political game. It was the Cubs who assisted early American imperialism through A.G. Spalding’s World Tour, who helped craft baseball as America’s National Pastime, and who most actively confronted the problem of women in baseball.
Over the past 18 months, I have teased out these threads, revealing stories of improbable success and devastating personal failures, the promise of the American Dream and the realities within. As much as I have pointed to unique and unknown moments of Cubs history,my goal has been to demonstrate that while each event is unique because of the characters involved, each political act—every moment of racism directed toward Ernie Banks, every Cap Anson figure, every battle with the reserve clause—is part of a broader trend within American professional baseball that many have worked to bury.
I have declared my thesis repeatedly, to the delight of many who agreed with me before I began putting these thoughts into words, and to the annoyance of those who will never agree with me. If the purpose of writing is to persuade individuals with argumentation, I have likely failed far more than I have succeeded. If this is the goal, then, my writing has merely found an echo chamber, relaying the same message to those who already believe it and doing nothing for those on the other side.
I write about history because it’s necessary to study the past in order to understand the present. But sometimes writing about history provides an ‘out’ for those who find it easier to leave the past in the past. It is easy to shrug off Cap Anson as being a product of history who would be ridiculed if he existed as such in today’s game. It is easy to scoff at the banning of women from the ballpark. It is easy to be a fan of Ernie Banks while thinking little of his activism. It is slightly less easy to get away with doing so when you are participating in these events.
A belief tied to my understanding of the vast scope of politics is the notion that every single person has a responsibility to their community that must manifest itself in holding one another accountable. In that spirit, I write to make people uncomfortable. I write to show them the ugliest version of themselves, of the thing which they love. Sometimes it is difficult to peel back this veil to reveal the gory truth of baseball; other times the veil peels itself back. This week is an example of the latter.
It’s no secret that Cubs fans adore Dexter Fowler, and for good reason. He is by all accounts a good human being who participated in many of the greatest moments of current Cubs’ fans lives. It’s also no secret that Cubs fans have a burning hatred for all things Cardinals. And so when it came out this week that the problems the Cardinals are having with Fowler (and vice versa) are worse than any of us suspected, many reacted to Mozeliak’s comments calling Fowler lazy by triumphantly declaring that Fowler was treated far better by the Cubs. While this statement is undeniably true, it also misses the larger point: Dexter Fowler is not an anomaly in the league, and the fact that he has been treated as such is an indictment on the entirety of the league, including the Cubs.
Indeed, this very week, the Cubs tacitly welcomed well-documented racist, YouTuber Logan Paul, onto the field at Wrigley, where he posed with two friends, one of whom made a ‘white power’ sign with his hand. In comparison to the Cardinals’ treatment of Fowler, this was seen as a non-story, not only by many Cubs fans, but the baseball community as a whole. Almost every baseball-related site published something on Fowler, while Logan Paul’s photo was contained to a small sect of Baseball Twitter. The former was, of course, always going to be the bigger story, but the two events are connected. They are both a product of the racism alive and well in Major League Baseball today. In failing to label the latter occurrence, we allow the former to occur.
When Dexter Fowler became the first Black Cubs player to appear in a World Series game, he did so carrying with him the weight of the entire Black history with professional baseball. It is impossible for players of color to forget their roots and the experiences past players have had with the game. Mozeliak’s racist comments toward Fowler join a long list of similar comments aimed at players of color throughout the game’s history. No act of racism perpetrated by executives, players, or fans exists in a vacuum. The players on the receiving end of them are well aware of this fact, and it is time each and every white fan becomes responsible for this fact, as well.
It’s easy to forget what’s happening in your own backyard when it seems like something more interesting and dire is occurring elsewhere. This is something I’ve struggled with since I started writing about baseball. I continuously ask myself what purpose my writing serves and whether I should allow it to occupy my time when a million more pressing things are occurring across the country. I believe a lot of us feel this almost overbearing guilt in the simplicity of our lives compared to the suffering of others. Accompanying this guilt is a paralysis brought on by the apparent insignificance of our lives—when things are as bad as they are, how is it remotely possible for me to have any effect? How could I ever dictate the actions of a Major League Baseball team?
What I firmly believe, however, is that the biggest and most lasting change occurs the closest to home and with the most seemingly minor actions. We all have a responsibility to our neighbors, whether they be literal or in our chosen internet communities, to be as kind as possible and to use what little influence we have to make it known that acts of bigotry are intolerable no matter how seemingly insignificant.
It is not the first time the Cubs have erred in who they have given precedence to, and it may not be the last. But if Cubs fans want to be able to take pride and find meaning in how the organization and fans treated Dexter Fowler, it must start by holding the organization and one another accountable when one does anything but denounce bigotry. None of us are without influence or without uncomfortable truths to face, but the sooner we confront the dark sides of professional baseball and our involvement with them, the better the game will be for players like Fowler.
Lead photo courtesy Charles LeClaire—USA Today Sports