For anyone who doesn’t at all keep up with baseball news, Yunel Escobar of the Toronto Blue Jays decided to get a little creative with his eye black on Saturday. The problem is that Escobar’s idea of creativity apparently involves spelling out a gay slur you might be most likely to hear at the nearest middle school.
For what it’s worth, the Blue Jay shortstop did apologize for the incident after the fact, expressing regret that his message was ‘misinterpreted’ by the gay community. He also went on to assure us all that he clearly meant nothing by it; after all, the man has friends who are gay! He then went on to say that he knows two people in very stereotypical gay careers — his hairdresser and house decorator — that are, in fact, homosexuals. Is it just me, or is Escobar’s remorse not especially convincing?
After all, if a player makes the effort to write out what translates in English as “you are a faggot” on his face before taking the field for a Major League Baseball game, it’s not easy to believe he didn’t mean anything by it. It’s also not easy to believe he thought there were other ways to interpret the message.
Sure, excuses can be made for the guy. Maybe it really was just a harmless cheeky insider prank that somehow got blown up into something much more. Maybe the phrase does have a different, less insulting meaning in Spanish culture. But we’re not talking about a rookie that just got drafted out of high school a few years ago. Escobar is 29 now and has spent six seasons at the game’s highest level. He’s been around long enough — and should be mature enough — to know better than this, even if he didn’t mean it in the offensive way it came across to many. The way I see it, Yunel is either a complete idiot or an immature asshole, and obviously neither result is very flattering for him.
Honestly, I’m guessing the latter, as he did have the sense to apologize after the fact and accept his suspension with relatively good grace. This incident is not a particularly surprising development, either. This is the same player who, two years ago, was swapped practically outright for Alex Gonzalez simply because the Braves were unwilling to keep him on their roster any longer. When a 27-year-old shortstop coming off a season in which he posted an .812 OPS gets dealt for an older, clearly worse player, you have every right to assume there’s something going on in the attitude department.
Don’t get me wrong: to an extent, I think attitude problems are overblown in professional sports. The players who sometimes develop the biggest reputations for being bad teammates are sometimes exactly the type of talent you want to stock your roster with, attitude be damned. Escobar is obviously gifted, but he isn’t consistent in the slightest. Since putting up that .812 OPS in 2009, he responded with .696 in 2010, bounced back to .782 a year ago, and has once again struggled this season in the process of dropping down to .642, a mark that would be his lowest full season total in the Majors ever.
All told, the real issue here is not whether Yunel Escobar is an innocent man victimized by his own ignorance or a seedy villain that should have been cast in American History X alongside Edward Norton. It’s whether or not a talented shortstop still very much in his prime can learn from this and focus on finishing his career as a consistently useful player rather than one who was occasionally productive in between getting shipped out of town for lesser names and writing gay slurs on his face.