Moser: Munenori Kawasaki and the history of racial mascots

From SABR member Zack Moser at Baseball Prospectus on March 14, 2016:

At the end of last week, Cubs fans experienced their first taste of the exuberance of Munenori Kawasaki. A Spring Training invitee, Kawasaki displayed his singing chops with a rendition of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.” You know, that song from Armageddon. While his song choice was no doubt troubling in and of itself—“Mama Kin” is, without a doubt, a far better Aerosmith song, and is in fact totally free from Ben Affleck associations—what followed the performance was what transformed Kawasaki’s performance from an orchestrated early Spring Training mood-lightener into another chapter—albeit a small one—in the history of racialized “mascots.”

Before we dive into that, let’s briefly review what happened. The Cubs, who’ve become known for having one of the more relaxed camps in the game, indulged in some Spring Training levity, donning headbands featuring the phrase “Just Win” in Japanese, and went about their team warmups to the sound of some pop hits. That’s when the day truly veered into the queasy: “Kung Fu Fighting” and “Gangnam Style” blared from speakers as the Cubs did their kinetic warmups. If you think about it even for a little bit of time, that doesn’t really make any sense, unless you’re willing to group all Asian cultures together in one big “foreign” pot, thereafter to serve as a theme.

Maddon acknowledged the infringement upon political correctness that the sequence of events posed, in a preemptive strike against the thinkpieces that would surely flurry soon after. “Political correctness has been at an all-time high over the last couple of decades,” Jesse Spector quoted Maddon as saying, “We’re not trying to hurt anybody, it was all in fun.” Other teammates and coaches summed up the situation by commenting on Kawasaki’s outstanding character and echoing their manager’s sentiments. Kris Bryant said that Kawasaki is “hilarious,” praised the new Cub’s desire to learn, and called the song routine “one of [Bryant’s] favorite skits that [he’s] ever seen here.”

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Originally published: March 14, 2016. Last Updated: March 14, 2016.