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Arts and Entertainment

Taunts At Yu Were Nothing New: The Dodgers Have Long Been The Target Of Anti-Asian Racism

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By Gustavo Arellano

Despite the Astros beating the Dodgers 13-12 in Game 5 of the World Series, #Chinitogate continues. Around the country and across journalism beats—from the sports pages to social-justice websites, ethnic media to NPR—pundits either decried or defended Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel mouthing “chinito” (an anti-Asian Latin American slur that translates as “little Chinaman”) while making a slant-eyed gesture after he hit a home run in Game 3 against Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish.

But lost in the debate is that this anti-Asian bullshit is nothing new for the Blue Crew.

The Dodgers have long been pioneers in employing Asians and Asian-Americans among Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs. Pitcher Hideo Nomo was the first-ever Japanese player to play in an All-Star Game and win Rookie of the Year. The team also was the first to hire a South Korean (pitcher Chan Ho Park) and Taiwanese (pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo) player. In the dugout, current Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts is baseball’s second-ever Asian-American manager; in the executive box, Kim Ng (currently Senior Vice-President for Baseball Operations for MLB) was the first-ever Asian-American vice president in the big leagues when she held the role from 2001 to 2011.

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And for all of this, Asian Dodgers have suffered acts of racism almost as stupid as Yuli Gurriel’s pendejadas.

Nomo was first. On Sept. 12, 1995, legendary Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray appeared on manager Jim Riggleman’s WGN radio show. The host asked Caray about Nomo, who was scheduled to pitch against the Cubs that night. “Well, my eyes are slanty enough, how 'bout yours?” he cracked. (Nomo pitched eight innings that night, allowing just one run and striking out eight as the Dodgers won, 7-1).

The Japanese-American Citizens League sent a letter to WGN, pointing out Caray had said “Jap” on the air years before. The Windy City radio giant at first seemed contrite, and issued an on-air apology two days after the incident. “I'm sure Harry didn't mean anything by it because everybody knows Harry's not a malicious person,” program director Tisa LaSorte told the Chicago Tribune. “But it's the kind of thing that makes people uncomfortable.”

But Caray’s supporters quickly took over the narrative. “I think, in general, all of us are way too sensitive about things like this,” Riggleman told the Tribune. “We have players from all over the world, and they ride each other all the time with ethnic references. Unfortunately, outside of the athletes, it's taken so seriously.”

"I hate to see this,” added Caray’s then-radio broadcast partner, Hall of Famer Cubs third baseman Ron Santo. “He's the least-prejudiced person I've known in my entire life. Everything's fun with Harry."

“Harry Caray is Harry Caray,” said WGN General Manager Dan Fabian. “If you watch the guy make it up the ramp or watch him walk down the street, there's something special.”

Caray, for his part, refused to apologize, adding he had described Nomo as “one of the best pitchers I've ever seen” in the same controversial broadcast.

“People don't have a color to me. I don't care whether they're pink or white or black or what they are,” he told the Tribune. “If a guy's got slanty eyes, he's got slanty eyes, what the hell's wrong with it?”

Four years later, it was Park’s turn to face anti-Asian remarks.

During a June 5, 1999 game between the then-Anaheim Angels and Dodgers in Anaheim, Park laid down a sacrifice bunt on Angels pitcher Tim Belcher, who wrapped his arms around Park for the out. Video shows Park then elbowed Belcher in the chest, at which point the Halos pitcher pointed him toward the Dodgers dugout. They exchanged more words, before Park suddenly forearmed his rival in the face and launched a roundhouse kick to the ribs as the benches cleared.

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“He tagged me hard and it hurt,” Park told reporters after the game, which the Dodgers won 7-4. “I said, 'What's up with that?' He said, 'Get the [fuck] out of here.' What was I going to do?"

Belcher stayed quiet until a day later, when Park—who received a 7-game suspension for the incident—told the Los Angeles Times, “Hopefully Belcher did not do it because I'm Korean,” adding he had no proof that Belcher was racist, “but I always feel” that American baseball players were bigoted. Reporter Steve Springer wrote, “Korean newsmen who have covered Park's career say that when the pitcher was still in the minor leagues and unable to speak English, he sometimes felt that players picked on him because of his minority status.”

Park’s accusation set off Belcher. “He knows taekwondo, so what?” he told reporters. “I like to hunt. I didn't take a shotgun.” Belcher finished by saying, “Maybe it's a cultural thing, but if he can be taught the language, he can be taught the appropriate behavior.”

Meanwhile, teammate Gary DiSarcina told the Times, “From the looks of it, he's not the most intelligent person when it comes to playing the game”—this, coming from a player who was on then on the disabled list because he had broken his arm after walking into the swing of a coach in spring training.

But the stupidest anti-Asian incident that a Dodger has experienced remains what happened to Ng. In the fall of 2003, at the annual general manager’s meeting, Ng was at a Phoenix hotel bar when she was approached by Bill Singer, a former Dodgers pitcher and scout only five days into his new job as a special assistant to the New York Mets general manager. In front of other baseball executives, he asked her twice, “What are you doing here?” and “Where are you from?” When Ng—who was born in Indiana—said her parents were Chinese, Singer responded in mock Chinese before responding “What country in China?”

The Mets fired Singer a week later. The Boston Globe reported that he claimed that the Atkins diet “combined with too much alcohol, caused a chemical imbalance that led him to speak gibberish.”

And the worst part? The Mets hired Singer, according to the New York Times, “as an expert on baseball in Asia.”

Gustavo Arellano is the former editor OC Weekly and the nationally syndicated “Ask a Mexican" column, and the author of “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America".