NY Mets Critics Oppose Colorful Flavor

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[On Race Matters]


With the New York Mets sitting in first place nearly a year ago just months after coming within a base hit of the World Series, general manager Omar Minaya was lauded by Sports Illustrated for the ethnically diverse club he put together.

But with the Mets' season spiraling out of control last week, critics called the club's racial makeup into question -- blaming the team's struggles and allegedly poor chemistry on Minaya's rainbow coalition.

The issue erupted two weeks ago when closer Billy Wagner chafed at being interviewed following a maddening 1-0 loss to the Washington Nationals -- a game he didn't participate in. Meanwhile veteran first baseman Carlos Delgado -- who lined into a double play to end the game -- was long gone.

“Can somebody tell me why the closer’s being interviewed and I didn’t even play?” Wagner told reporters. “Why they’re over there not getting interviewed? I get it. They’re gone. Shocker.”

Wagner's anger stemmed from the fact that he, David Wright, Ryan Church and John Maine -- who are all white Americans -- are the only players who routinely speak to the media following games. Many of the Mets' key players are Latin American, including Jose Reyes, Delgado, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana.
Half of the players on the Mets' 40-man roster are of Latin American descent.

The first tremor along the club's racial fault line shook last year when Paul Lo Duca voiced the same concerns as Wagner's -- that not enough of the Mets' Latino players were stepping up to the plate to speak with the media following games.

“Some of these guys have to start talking,” he said. “They speak English, believe me.”

Wagner and Lo Duca's comments are poignant. Professional athletes are rarely candid with the media, so clearly this has been an issue eating at some Mets for a while. And now some members of the vaunted New York media are questioning whether Minaya's pursuit of Latin American players is a chemistry experiment gone horribly awry.

Ironically the Mets play in Queens, the most ethnically diverse county in the United States.

In his assessment of the social strata of the Mets' locker room, Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News pointed out the white players hung out with each other on one side of the locker room, while the Latino players congregated on another.

Meanwhile, New York Post columnist Larry Brooks compared the Mets' situation to the New York Rangers -- who have a diverse mix of Americans and Europeans on their roster.

"You better believe the question is asked every day around NHL front offices: Do we have too many Europeans? ... You better believe the question was asked by the Rangers when they collapsed late in 2005-06: Do we have too many Czechs?," Brooks wrote last week.

"Those posing the questions aren't necessarily bigoted. They're simply covering the bases in attempting to apply common sense to a complex equation in which two dozen men of disparate backgrounds must live and work together over eight months in order to achieve a common goal," Brooks wrote.

A legitimate point perhaps. But on the other hand, how come no one questions whether or not a struggling baseball team has too many white players? And remember, Minaya was criticized a few years ago for signing too much Latino talent.

Sports are not only about the games on the field; they also act as a barometer for the key issues of the day. And as much as we like to sweep it under the rug, the innuendos gnawing at the Mets show how obsessed our nation remains with race.


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