The Control Issue: Why Sheffield Was Correct

By Tony McClean
Updated: June 10, 2007
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — It’s always interesting to me when I hear my fellow members of the media try to make an example of someone who speaks his mind.

When they (the media) don’t like the person making the comments or, most importantly, they don’t like or don’t agree with what they’ve said, the media’s reaction can leave a lot to be desired.

The backlash of Gary Sheffield’s comments in a GQ Magazine article last week are a perfect example of that. The Detroit Tiger slugger said that Major League Baseball has more Latin players than African-Americans because Latins are easier to control.

“It’s about being able to tell (Latin players) what to do. Being able to control them,” Sheffield said, GQ reported. “Where I’m from, you can’t control us (Black players).”

Needless to say, the phone lines of sports talk radio shows and sports sections around the country went into their predictable shock and outrage. Some columnists went so far as to call Sheffield, the “new Imus”.

Funny, I don’t remember Sheffield using derogatory slurs or having a cowardly assistant in the background while making his statements. Maybe I missed something along the way.

Or as I alluded to earlier, maybe it was just mainstream media’s way of trying to discount Sheff’s statements by painting him as the village idiot. However, in their zeal they missed a little something.

Like the fact that there’s a helluva lot of truth to what Sheff said. Especially in regards to the key word on his statements — control. While media folks tried to make it a racial issue, they failed to harp on the undeniable essence of his statements.


All you have to do is look at the long history of baseball and its less than responsible dealings with minority players — especially Latinos — and you realize that Sheffield was 100% correct on his assessment of the situation. And most importantly, the sport’s history backs him up.

When Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson away from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, he didn’t give any compensation to the club (financial or otherwise) for lifting him off of their roster.

In fact, many of the the Negro League teams that lost players to the majors weren’t originally compensated. It wasn’t until Newark Eagles owner Effa Manley stepped in and demanded it that the major league teams did afford some sort of compensation to the Negro League clubs that they raided.

You may ask, how does this tie into with baseball’s history of dealings with Latino ballplayers. Well, we offer this little caveat.

When Sammy Sosa signed with the Texas Rangers as a 16-year old free agent in 1985, he was given the same signing bonus (roughly about $3,000) as Robinson was given when he signed with the Dodgers some 40 years earlier.

Ironically, the scout that signed Sosa was Omar Minaya, the current GM of the Mets.

But think of that. A four decade old history of getting talent on the cheap. And if you really think that isn’t some form of control, then you really haven’t been paying attention.

“It’s no accident that economics are heavily involved in this current system of baseball,” said Dr. Adrian Burgos Jr., the author of “Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos, and The Color Line”.

“The global turn to Latin America and beyond is a calculated move in how to spend less on prospects while trying to offset how much you would pay your established stars.”

Just earlier this year, my BASN colleague Diane M. Grassi addressed these same issues involving MLB and their “fields of dreams” overseas. “Owners have invested in multi-million dollar academies and facilities primarily in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela”, said Grassi.

But do not mistake such overtures as part of a tour of goodwill ambassadors, as MLB, which still remains the only professional sports organization in the U.S. with an anti-trust exemption, does nothing anymore without its eye on the proverbial money ball.”

It is baseball on the cheap, overlooking America’s homegrown kids. It obviously has no compunction nor feels any obligation to develop an American program, investment or facility built, for example, for every offshore program, investment or facility built.”

Again, all of these statements comeback to what Sheffield said about control. When you have a say over how these Latin players are looked at and how they’re paid, it’s all about control.

Sadly, some media pundits like Roy S. Johnson have tried to pass off Sheffield like he was “Conspiracy Brother” from the movie “Undercover Brother”. I’m not sure if he’s trying to become the slimmer version of Jason Whitlock, but Johnson like everyone else missed the boat — again.

It sort of reminds me of the whole steroid controversy. When Jose Canseco first started making comments about steroids in the game of baseball, mainstream media made a mockery of his comments. Again much like Sheffield, Canseco’s statements were fodder for columnists and late night talk show hosts.

Needless to say now, but these same media folks will try and tell you “We didn’t know how much it was a part of the game”. They will tell that the late Ken Caminiti’s comments to Sports Illustrated or that “Game of Shadows” really opened their eyes.

However, if they had closed their mouths and opened their minds when Canseco was speaking, they wouldn’t be so damn self righteous in their “too little, too late” columns on steroids now.

This is not to make Canseco out to be Father Flanagan, but he was dead on about the issue when it wasn’t a popular cause. Then again, the media couldn’t control what Jose said.

What a coincidence! There’s that word again.