Opinion: Bob Brenly’s remark about Marcus Stroman shows diversity problem in MLB broadcast booths

Baseball for decades has had problems diversifying its game, but what a racial incident involving a play-by-play broadcaster demonstrated is the lack of color in the game isn't relegated solely to the field.

Arizona Diamondbacks announcer Bob Brenly mocked the headwear of New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman during a game this week. Stroman would later say on Twitter that Brenly's remarks had "racist undertones" and then retweeted several people who called the remarks outright racist.

Early in the game, Bally Sports Arizona play-by-play partner Steve Berthiaume was analyzing Stroman's split changeup. As the camera closed in on Stroman, Brenly said: "Pretty sure that’s the same durag that Tom Seaver used to wear when he pitched for the Mets."

This type of racism, just thrown out into the universe with the same casualness of putting a load of laundry into the washer, is sometimes among the most dangerous. It's the low-caliber racism that tends to normalize bigotry, the way taste buds eventually adapt to the disgustingness of diet soda.

Brenly apologized but the damage was already done.

Stroman was an All-Star in 2019. (Photo: Rick Scuteri, AP)

​While this incident is problematic, it's also indicative of a larger issue, and that's the extreme whiteness of the play-by-play booth.

Brenly likely feels he can say these types of things because there are few people of color around Brenly to hold him accountable.

Also, more importantly, the entire play-by-play ecosystem in baseball is among the least diverse in all of broadcasting. Of the 30 primary local play-by-play broadcasters, only two are people of color, both Black: Dave Sims of the Mariners and Robert Ford of the Astros. There are also no women who serve in those primary play-by-play roles.

"Baseball has a problem with diversity across the entire sport and in broadcasting as well," Sims told USA TODAY Sports. "We need to change all of it. Having a diverse broadcasting crew can bring the game to a more diverse group of people."

This is a problem with every sport but it's particularly thorny in baseball because the sport has tried emphatically to increase the number of people in the sport, but has failed miserably.

At the very least what a broadcaster shouldn't do is damage. Now Stroman has to deal with bigotry simply because he was existing.

This is something Luis Rojas, manager of the Mets, seems to understand. What he says are some of the most accurate comments you'll read not just about the importance of having a non-monolithic broadcast booth, but also the formidable impact of race.

“I’m aware, I was aware (Tuesday) of the comment. Disappointed immediately," Rojas told the media on Wednesday. "I think when you’re on a platform in this game, when you have a chance to inform and educate throughout the game or after the game as an analyst, you have so many opportunities to keep the audience active, and fill [the airwaves] with baseball knowledge, and that’s not the case here. …

“Just very inappropriate. I was very disappointed when I heard it. If it was like a joke or something, I didn’t get it. That was my initial reaction to it. I think it’s completely inappropriate Talk about baseball all you want."

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“Stro has the immediate support of everyone," Rojas said. "We’re preparing to play a ballgame. I don’t think this is something that is not being talked actively. We want to win this series. Everybody has Stro’s back.’’

Rojas says he's discussed with Stroman about dealing with racism growing up, but still will never know how it really feels.

“I don’t know what Marcus has gone through, you come to an understanding what they lived through is real," Rojas added. "A lot of things that happened in society really affected Marcus, and other people. I had conversations with Marcus and I understand some of the things that can upset him that has happened, and I can understand why he is upset from last night. We have to keep looking forward and stay positive, and contain some of the damage that you might think can get to you.’’

As baseball continues to look inward and attempt to find ways to make the game more attractive to a larger group of people, it shouldn't forget one part itself, an important part, a part that many people hear and see…

And that's the broadcast booth.

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