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Not an issue of black and white

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  February 9, 2010 09:05 AM

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In a city where race has always been a touchy subject given its deplorable history, you may remember how Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal's 2008 column questioning the overwhelming whiteness of the Red Sox touched a nerve.

Never mind the fact that Boston's biggest star happens to be of Dominican heritage, Rosenthal was concerned with the lack of African-American players on the roster.

Well folks; the Red Sox are apparently no longer racist since acquiring Mike Cameron and Bill Hall.

So that's all it took? Oh, if only they had acquired someone like Joey Gathright months ago.

The 2008 Red Sox, by the way, consisted of the following: Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Cora among other part-timers including Devern Hansack, who was released by the club last spring, a move that probably had Rosenthal calling the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Dominican ballplayers including Ramirez, Ortiz, and Pedro Martinez, have been among the most high-profile stars in this town over the last decade, but because Crisp was the lone African-American, Rosenthal questioned prejudice. Yet, in his mea culpa today, Rosenthal points to the offseason acquisition of Dominican Adrian Beltre as one sign that he was wrong. Huh?

Last year's Racial and Gender Report Card revealed that people of color accounted for 39.6 percent of baseball rosters. Twenty-seven percent were Latino, 10.2 percent African-American, and 2.4 percent Asian. And get this, 2008 was the first season there was an increase (2 percent) in African-American players since 1995.

African-Americans aren't playing baseball? Let's blame Boston.

At the time of Rosenthal's original piece, the Red Sox had one African-American player. Now, they have two. You can see why this is cause for Rosenthal's celebration. If they had signed Jason Bay and never pursued Cameron, would the stigma still be something noteworthy?

Certainly, the image of Boston as a racist city isn't going away, but to apply that history ? and the bigoted views of the former owner who happens to have the street out front named for him - to such a ridiculous premise didn't do Rosenthal any good two years ago, and it doesn't do him any better to revisit the issue based on a couple offseason movements. Rosenthal writes in today's piece that he was stunned by the reaction of the original column. Yeah, because when you question racism people tend to just laugh it off.

From Rosenthal:

I think back often to my column from '08. I know that for many, the topic was ? and is ? discomforting. But it's important to keep talking about race, particularly in a sport that faces dwindling numbers of African-American players. It's also important to remember that players choose teams for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes racial makeup is a factor; sometimes not.

Cameron says he cannot wait to play in a town where baseball is "deeply rooted." In the end, he does not view the world in terms of black and white.

"I've never been a person like that, who viewed people in terms of color," Cameron says. "I've never looked at it from that aspect. I try to treat everyone the same ? my kids, parents, grandparents, the guy on the street.

"I believe the people in Boston will see it the same way, understand that all we do as players is put on the uniform and have a little bit of talent to play the game of baseball.

"I know the expectations are very high, and I'm looking forward to being part of our success, the team, the community and the fans."

That's a prominent African-American free agent talking. Maybe I should not have been so concerned in '08.

No, but hey, thanks for drumming it all up and reminding Boston of the shame it's been trying to escape for decades. Awesome.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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