On Saturday night, Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader received a rousing ovation from the home crowd at Miller Park. Although Hader has been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball in 2018, the overwhelmingly positive nature of his entrance was a reflection of the events surrounding Hader four nights earlier. Had Tuesday night never happened, the response to Josh Hader entering the game would have been considerably more muted.

During the All-Star Game, in which the 24 year-old Brewers lefty made his first career All-Star appearance, Hader performed poorly, allowing four hits and three runs in one-third of an inning. But the far worse part of his night came when Twitter users began to search through Josh Hader’s Twitter account, which has since been deleted. What they found was a laundry list of, to put it lightly, offensive tweets. The results can be found pretty easily if you haven’t seen them.

It is hard to know where to draw the line with tweets such as his. Typically, my stance (an arbitrary one, and not one which I particularly wish to defend) is to look past moderately offensive tweets made by teenagers. As a general rule of thumb, teenagers are typically giant idiots who say stupid things due to some combination of a desire to be a provocateur and not caring what others think. I know that when I was a teenager, I would call things “gay” or make misogynistic jokes, and it wasn’t necessarily because I was truly homophobic or sexist but because it was the kind of thing I would hear my friends saying, and like most teenagers, I placed a higher priority on assimilation to my surroundings than on being a conscientious person.

But there are two important distinctions to be made between John Fleming: Giant Idiot Seventeen Year-Old and Josh Hader: Giant Idiot Seventeen Year-Old.

  1. The degree to which Hader’s tweets go past what we consider to be acceptable behavior cannot really be overstated. It isn’t that Josh Hader called somebody gay as an insult–the best player in baseball did this twice on Twitter while he was a professional, including once after he had made the Majors, and while I don’t like that Mike Trout did it, I’m ultimately not going to spend too much time worrying about it (then again, I do not affiliate as an LGBT person, so my opinion frankly doesn’t matter as much). Trout didn’t explicitly say, “I hate gay people”, which Hader did. Trout didn’t constantly use racial slurs, nor refer to women as “hoes”, nor threaten to murder somebody’s family. Hader did all of those.
  2. There is a difference between Josh Hader being forgiven and Josh Hader being embraced. While some have criticized Hader’s response since Tuesday, I don’t really have any specific objections to anything he did–the problem is simply that it’s impossible to rectify the problem through a couple of apologies. I don’t even mind that Hader wasn’t punished via a suspension nor a fine for his transgressions, though MLB would be within its rights to do so–my issue is that the road to public rehabilitation should be a long road. Instead, he was applauded as a direct result of some truly awful things he said.

Hader’s teammates, including Lorenzo Cain and Jesus Aguilar, have spoken out in defense of Josh Hader, and Hader has said the right things since Tuesday, but the end result of the controversy–thousands of fans in Milwaukee roaring with excitement upon his entrance into the game–implies that somehow, the positives of apologizing for one’s misdeeds (which, to be clear, is itself a good thing) outweighs the negatives of the thing for which you are apologizing for in the first place.

That the ovation for Josh Hader occurred in Milwaukee, the smallest market in Major League Baseball, didn’t help the public perception. It’s doubly helpful for scapegoating purposes for two reasons–one, that it is easier to draw parallels between ruralism and bigotry (Hader himself grew up about half an hour away from Baltimore, but urban racism tends to be conveniently ignored by those who might be scrutinized as a result), and two, there aren’t as many Brewers fans as there are of most teams, so there’s less of a disincentive to offend. St. Louis fans have surely heard this story before.

The crowd at Miller Park on Saturday night, as with the crowds at every stadium in Major League Baseball, was overwhelmingly white. Major League Baseball is an organization which prides itself on diversity–the wide variety of nationalities represented by its players, the overwhelming reverence for Jackie Robinson–but also has a far more homogeneous fan base than the National Football League or National Basketball Association. Despite the hand-wringing about how this was a Milwaukee issue are missing the point. When John Rocker was suspended for remarks he made to Sports Illustrated (as an adult), Atlanta Braves fans gave him a standing ovation when he returnedThe Ringer‘s Michael Baumann recalls that in his first game back at Citizens Bank Park since being charged with domestic abuse, Phillies pitcher Brett Myers received a standing ovation.

This is a referendum on fandom and our willingness to rally around our players due to partisan allegiances. Being a fan of a team merely because the team exists blinds us to abhorrent behavior. Josh Hader will be booed in every other stadium in which he makes an appearance this year (including St. Louis). He would also be cheered at those stadiums if he were playing for the home team (including St. Louis). Perhaps I’m overly optimistic for thinking that the booing on the road is the sincere reaction and that cheering at home is the fan one and not the other way around.

One thought on “How baseball responds to Josh Hader reflects baseball’s larger problems

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