A scene from the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse at Oakland’s Coliseum last week neatly captured the blending of cultures that’s so prevalent in baseball.
As Shin-Soo Choo highlights flashed on a TV screen, a group of seven Latin players sitting around a table – some born in the U.S., others abroad – howled in delight while the Korean outfielder yelled “take that’’ in Spanish at the sight of every line drive.
Baseball teams regularly bring together people from diverse backgrounds striving for a common cause, which in the best of circumstances results in the quintessential melting pot. But when the dynamic changes and the bonding element is replaced by the fire of competition, a different kind of brew arises and sometimes boils over.
A USA TODAY Sports study of 67 bench-clearing incidents in Major League Baseball over the past five seasons found the main antagonists hailed from different ethnic backgrounds in 87% of the cases.
Just more than half of them – 34 – pitted white Americans against foreign-born Latinos. Another four featured white Americans and U.S.-born Latinos.
The figures are startling in a sport where white Americans compose about 60-65% of the population. Based on Opening-day figures, most of the rest is made up of players born outside the U.S. (26.5%) – the vast majority from Latin countries – African Americans (8%) and an undetermined number of Latinos born on U.S. soil.
The season that will conclude Sunday has taken the squabbles to an even higher level, with all 16 bench-clearing instances pitting adversaries of different ethnicity. The Kansas City Royals were involved in four such episodes in the season’s first three weeks, and Dominican-born pitcher Yordano Ventura was a participant in three of them, against Mike Trout, Brett Lawrie (Canadian) and Adam Eaton.