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Updated: April 14th, 2010 9:09pm
Hudson's racial argument is both right and wrong

Hudson's racial argument is both right and wrong

© AP 2010
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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
Maybe it's no coincidence that Orlando Hudson raises racial questions about baseball free agency with Jackie Robinson Day taking place across Major League Baseball on Thursday.

Hudson spoke to reporters before Wednesday's game against the Boston Red Sox, expanding on his controversial comments to Yahoo! Sports from earlier this week.

Here's what Hudson told Yahoo! Sports on Monday:

"You see guys like Jermaine Dye without a job. Guy with [27 home runs and 81 RBIs] and can't get a job. Pretty much sums it up right there, no? You've got some guys who miss a year who can come back and get $5, $6 million, and a guy like Jermaine Dye can't get a job. A guy like Gary Sheffield, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, can't get a job. ...

"We both know what it is. You'll get it right. You'll figure it out. I'm not gonna say it because then I'll be in [trouble]."

On Wednesday, Hudson expanded on a subject that is touchy to many.

"Y'all see it first hand," Hudson said. "You can write about everything else, but nobody can write about guys who put up good numbers and where are they now?

"You know [Dye] goes out and plays his hardest every day. He goes out and does his thing, plays the game the right way. He put up numbers for years, not just with the White Sox, but with the Braves, the Royals, Oakland. And now it's like, wow, no Jermaine Dye. It makes you wonder a little bit what's going on.

"I don't know what it is. I can't answer it. Y'all got more access to GMs in baseball than I do."

Of course, the obvious counterpoint to Hudson's comments about Dye and Sheffield is that starting pitcher Jarrod Washburn -- who is obviously white, and led the American League in ERA for much of the first half of last season -- remains unsigned as well.

"Washburn is a good pitcher too, man," Hudson said. "He eats up innings, knows how to pitch, knows how to get guys out. I'm not just saying that it's racism for black guys out there, [that] they can't get [a job], I'm not saying it like that. Not at all. I'm just saying it's a declining number of African Americans. You've got a guy like Jermaine Dye who's sitting at home, who had a great season last year. How can he not get a job? That's what I'm saying."

Hudson seems to be making two very separate points with his comments:

1.) There aren't enough African Americans in Major League Baseball.

Hudson's first point is valid, at least from a ratio standpoint, and we've heard the argument from Torii Hunter multiple times over the last few years. African Americans make up 13.5% of the U.S. population, but only 8-10% of the MLB population.

By contrast, African Americans make up 70% of the NFL and 75% of the NBA.

"We (African Americans) play the game, but [kids] watch ESPN, they watch TV, and there ain't nothing but a handful of us in the big leagues," Hudson said. "[They think] it's the NBA and the NFL where they've got a better shot."

In reality, baseball's racial composition is a more accurate depiction of the racial composition of America. The NBA and NFL ratios are skewed. This isn't necessarily "right" or "wrong." It just... is.

"I guess they just have to play and try. They say back home (to kids), ‘It's a white man's game you're playing. It's all a bunch of white guys, you should go play in the NBA or NFL.' Turn on the TV, you see Lebron [James] every day, [Kevin] Garnett and those guys...

"That's why it's good to see guys like big [Jason] Heyward from Atlanta doing his thing, coming up big in a predominantly black city, being African American himself. A guy like that could change things."

And with Jackie Robinson Day taking place on Thursday, the topic of racial composition is actually quite relevant.

"The game still has a lot of progress to make," Hudson said. "I'm pretty sure [Robinson] would turn over in his grave to see the lack of African Americans playing ball.

"It's sad to see the declining number of African Americans playing ball. That's probably the biggest reason why [kids stop playing ball] -- you don't see very many African Americans in the big leagues. It kind of turns away the young African Americans."

Valid points.

2.) African American players like Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield have trouble finding jobs because of their skin color.

I can't guarantee racism doesn't exist among major league front offices, because, quite frankly, I don't have personal relationships with very many general managers.

But I can guarantee that Jermaine Dye's job status revolves more around his declining skillsets and potential age limitations than his skin color.

Hudson said Wednesday, "You'd think that somebody who put up numbers like that wouldn't have a problem finding a job," in regards to Jermaine Dye. The numbers Hudson refers to are Dye's 27 HRs and 81 RBIs.

But here's the problem -- most Major League Baseball front offices aren't putting much stock into the 27 HRs and 81 RBIs. It's not 1996 anymore. Teams have better and more advanced ways of analyzing players and predicting future performance, and they are putting more emphasis on defense now than ever before.

If you only look at HRs, then yes, Dye appears to still have a ton of offensive value. He's hit 44, 28, 34 and 27 since 2006. But when looking at an aging 36-year-old corner outfielder, baseball execs are more concerned about A.) the fact that he was one of the worst hitters in baseball during the second half of last season, B.) his incredible lack of outfield range (according to scouts, ultimate zone rating, and Bill James' +/- rating), and C.) his below-average throwing arm.

Talking about Dye's 27 HRs without mentioning his glaring deficiencies is like talking about Al Jefferson's double-doubles without bringing up his matador-esque defense.

With all due respect to Hudson, who brings up some worthwhile points about racial awareness, here's the truth:

Dye, regardless of skin color, is one of only a handful of players who are so bad defensively that they are actually more valuable as a designated hitter. Because of his age, defensive deficiencies, and 2nd-half offensive decline, Dye is worth between $1 and $2 million as a 4th-outfielder and/or DH-type player.

Dye has reportedly rejected offers anywhere from $1 million to $3 million over the last few months. If he would drop his asking price and swallow his pride, much like Jim Thome did with the Twins, Dye could suit up for somebody this week.

"I think it's a combination of price, number one, and two, he talked about when teams were sniffing around [that] he didn't want to be a DH," said one American League baseball executive. "I think it's more a matter of fit than anything.

"A lot of teams already spent their money, and now when you get into the season, teams are looking for pitching."

In other words, Dye's unemployment has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with a misperception of his own value.

The same logic can be applied to Sheffield, as well as Washburn, who turned down $5 million to pitch in a Twins uniform earlier this offseason.

In fact, Dye and Washburn had mirrored seasons in 2009, with both producing solid numbers for four months until fading drastically down the stretch. If either of them had flipped those months around -- struggling in April/May and thriving down the stretch -- they would probably be employed by now.

Again, regardless of skin color.

Not to mention, who was the MLB executive who ultimately decided to cut Dye loose after last season? African American GM Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox.

I can certainly listen to and agree with Hudson's first point. But not the second.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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