Moser: Wainwright, Heyward, and being ‘The Man’

From SABR member Zack Moser at Baseball Prospectus on January 13, 2016:

It’s been a banner offseason for the Cubs, who have improved significantly both at primary positions and at the margins, all the while keeping a tight grip on their top prospects. The biggest coup of the offseason was clearly signing three top free agents—Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey—to contracts that were reportedly less lucrative than others offered to those same players. Heyward’s contract in particular (eight years, $184 million, and with opt outs after years three and four, respectively) caused a joyous frenzy in Cubs fandom, and, conversely, some axe-grinding to the southwest, in the land of the Cardinals, who until recently employed Heyward themselves.

The most notable example of St. Louis axe-grinding came in an interview Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright did in late December with Bernie Miklasz, a St. Louis radio personality. He damned Heyward with faint praise, acknowledging first that the outfielder was a “great teammate,” and even a “great friend and a great person,” but then quickly detouring into armchair psychoanalysis, suggesting that Heyward simply didn’t want to lead in St. Louis once the current crop of veterans departed. Wainwright then called Heyward out for not having the personality to be “the man,” and ended the interview by, somewhat confusingly, calling the whole matter none of his business.

While Wainwright’s comments are definitely bitter in tone—and that’s understandable, as Heyward’s departure is a significant blow to the Cardinals—it’s the substance of the comments, and not the tone, that raise memories of an ugly history, fraught with complications of race and gender. For the entire existence of organized professional baseball (to be clear—this is no exaggeration) white players, coaches, executives, fans, and journalists have called into question the fitness of black players, including black Latinos, for leadership roles. Let’s talk about that history, first, and then bring things back to Wainwright’s comments.

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Originally published: January 13, 2016. Last Updated: January 13, 2016.