Yesterday, in the midst of a barrage of stories covering the Cardinals’ signing of Dexter Fowler, probably the most significant move the franchise makes during this off-season, ESPN’s Cardinals reporter Mark Saxon made an interesting observation. Well, I thought it was interesting. Others disagreed.
Saxon noted that the Cardinals may have been willing to overpay for Fowler (this part is debatable itself) because the organization isn’t “deaf to need of having a star African-American player in this market.” The franchise, which counts four African-American players among its all-time Wins Above Replacement top ten (Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Curt Flood, Lou Brock), has had a noticeable lack of African-American star power for some time, with the notable exception of one year of Jason Heyward.
The lack of notable African-American Cardinals players over the last several years largely mirrors trends in Major League Baseball—roughly 8% of players on 2016 Opening Day rosters were black; that number was 19% in 1986. Isolating the Cardinals as specifically causing a widespread lack of diversity is shortsighted and seems to exist in order to blindly scapegoat the Cardinals rather than admit that something uncomfortable that should be discussed is happening.
Any implication from Saxon (I don’t think it was intentional, though I can understand how some might construe it that way) that the Fowler signing was in any way an act of tokenism is flagrantly ridiculous—teams might sign Ty Wigginton because they like the idea of his intangible qualities, but they do not hand out $80 million-plus for good will. Fowler is a very good player who may or may not be worth the contract he signed, but he was signed with the idea that he will be.
But the presence of Dexter Fowler, a player as likable as he is talented, can have positive ripple effects which go beyond his on-field performance. The St. Louis Cardinals are the most popular sports team in a city with a black population which constitutes a plurality, and in a metropolitan area with over 500,000 African-Americans.
And St. Louis has a long and storied history of producing MLB talent. When Bernard Gilkey was ten years old, his hometown Cardinals included Garry Templeton, Jerry Mumphrey, and Tony Scott. When Ryan Howard was ten years old, the Cardinals had Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, and Lee Smith (not to mention the aforementioned Bernard Gilkey). Perhaps the next great St. Louis baseball player will be inspired to play the game by seeing Dexter Fowler and realizing that he (or she) will be welcomed with open arms to baseball.
Just a thought. I very well may be overthinking this, and that this is just a baseball player signing a contract. And there’s plenty that has been said from that angle, as well. Here are the many Dexter Fowler posts that you could find on Viva El Birdos on Friday.
- I wrote about Dexter Fowler and how he was going to sign with the Cardinals for a very obvious reason—because they offered him the most money. It seems obvious, but most players operate this way, and it’s worth remembering that just because it’s a fairly uninteresting narrative does not mean it is not true.
- Craig Edwards looked at other possible moves in the wake of the Fowler signing, such as Justin Turner, Edwin Encarnacion, and/or Mark Trumbo.
- The red baron took what initially seemed like a counter-intuitive stance, that signing Dexter Fowler (who will be 31 on Opening Day 2017) was an investment in the future, arguing that the Cardinals spared their future by and large by not offering an enormous trade package for a player such as Adam Eaton.
- Ben Godar examined Dexter Fowler’s newfound defensive acumen and reasoned that by playing deeper in the outfield, Fowler’s recent statistical turn from terrible defender to decent defender may be more than small sample size noise.
- Lil scooter kept things very visceral—showing a series of video clips to get you in the mood to watch Dexter Fowler patrolling center field next season and going forward.
- Josey Curtis recapped the wild day of Dexter Fowler introduction and farewells on social media, particularly noting Adam Wainwright’s welcoming of Fowler into the fold and the Cubs’ very polite goodbye to the man who led off Game 7 of the 2016 World Series with a home run which ultimately was the difference in their quest to end a 108 year World Series drought.
Anyway, there will assuredly be more Dexter Fowler analysis in the future. Hopefully this was a good warm-up act.