In a Tuesday tilt against the Mets, Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips disappointed his team and his manager when he failed to bust his butt out of the batters box on what he presumed was his second home run of the game. After taking a John Maine pitch deep, Phillips lowered his head and began his tater trot; unfortunately, the ball stayed in the park and he ended up with just a double.
Craig Calcaterra's headline on the incident? "Brandon Phillps' lack of hustle costs him a triple". Also according to Craig, his "lack of hustle" cost the Reds the game, since the team lost by just one run and the hitter after Phillips came through with a long sac fly. Funny, I feel like the few feet that Phillips' hit fell short cost the Reds the game, not Phillips' apparent lack of hustle.
That story led me to posit this: when we read about players who display a "lack of hustle", chances are that player is a minority. This is just a hypothesis, though, and I need some hard evidence to back it up.
Here, then, is an incomplete list of black or Latino players whose names show up in game stories, op-ed columns, and assorted player quotes when one searches Google for the phrase "lack of hustle" and the word "baseball" (takes deep breath):
Elijah Dukes, Julio Lugo, B.J. Upton, Jose Reyes, Alfonso Soriano, Robinson Cano, Jimmy Rollins, Benito Santiago, Willy Taveras, Matt Kemp, Milton Bradley, Derek Bell, Albert Belle, Fernando Martinez, Alex Rios, David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada, Edwin Encarnacion, Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, and Andruw Jones.
That's a whopping twenty-one different minority players, most of recent vintage, and all were called out for an apparent "lack of hustle". I could go on, but B.J. Upton's name showed up so many times I began to feel bad for him.
So, how many white players showed up in the search results? One. That's it, just one. David Wright, and the item was on a silly fantasy news website, hardly a bastion of hard-hitting journalism. This was not a case of cherry-picking results to prove my point; no, I searched long and hard to find exceptions! Twenty-one black or Latino players were called out for "lack of hustle" by a writer and/or manager, versus just one white player. This is not a coincidence.
Are we to believe that David Wright is the only white player in the majors who had problems hustling? Has Adam Dunn never lollygagged? Did Cal Ripken run out every single infield grounder? Doubtful. Yet we never hear of managers or columnists calling out white guys for "lack of hustle".
Still, there is no reason to call out any single writer for leaning too hard on this simple, cliched phraseology. Nor is there any evidence that points to any single writer being a closet racist. Still, the evidence is vast: whenever the phrase "lack of hustle" is used, chances are the player is black or Latino. This is disturbing!
Besides, how are we to quantifiably measure "hustle", a quality that is merely subjective? To an old-timer, watching Brandon Phillips admire what he thought was a home run is "lack of hustle". To another, it was a mental lapse and lack of judgment. Phillips may not have busted his ass out of the box after the hit but he sure clobbered the heck out of that baseball. To say that the Reds lost the game because Phillips didn't properly "hustle" seems like a stretch, at best.
Brandon Phillips is human, and when he erred, he showed it. I was not inside Brandon's head when he smashed that baseball, but does anyone really think he thought, "Darn, I'm tired! Let me just trot a bit here so as not to exert too much energy!" No, he didn't run it out; perhaps it was half hubris and half misjudgment. But to attack his character with that horrid phrase smacks of prejudice.
"Hustle" is just as bad a measure of a player's character as it is a measure of his skill-set. If we, as baseball fans, constantly resurrect the ghost of Pete Rose, aka Charlie Hustle, every time the topic of hustle comes up, we are automatically discrediting the concept. Sure, Pete Rose was said to display hustle with his 'grit' and 'gumption' and 'moxie', but he also took a giant shit on the sanctity of the game, admitted it, and was banned from baseball for life. Perhaps he "hustled" when he played the game, but Pete Rose also "hustled" when he was rushing to place bets on his own damn team.
I say we do away with evaluating players based on something so unmeasurable and irrelevant as "hustle". Instead, let us look at ability, and character, and something we don't see on the playing field during game day: work ethic. Let us shed forever the phrase "lack of hustle" when talking about any player, regardless of race. It's pointless.