Albert Pujols agreed to a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Thursday following almost a year’s worth of speculation about where the coveted free agent would end up in 2012. The headline-dominating announcement came much to the disappointment of St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins fans who had hoped to see their clubs sign the three-time MVP.
Shortly after that news broke, FoxSports.com senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal posted on Twitter, “High-ranking #Marlins official says team is not and will not be on Prince. Prince can't drive Latin market like Pujols could have. #MLB.”
As the tweet spread through the Twitterverse, a backlash began. Baseball fans and social media users accused the team of racism and discrimination for its reported unwillingness to consider the former Brewers first baseman, who is black.
The fact is – whether or not the team is mulling making Fielder a huge offer – the Marlins’ off-season signings and attempted acquisitions certainly contradict any allegations of racial or ethnic bias.
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Yes, Marlins made a more than $200 million bid to land Pujols, the biggest name in free agency. But they also were willing to offer up to nine figures for left-hander C.J. Wilson, who ultimately ended up with the Angels as well.
Of the 41 players currently listed on the active roster posted on the team’s website, 26.8 percent (11 players) are Latino descent. The percentage of Latino players in Major League Baseball on Opening Day 2011 was 27 percent. In a sport so heavy on statistical analysis, this number alone refutes what became an oft-repeated assertion following Rosenthal’s tweet: that Miami only wants Latin players.
There’s no question the Marlins are trying to re-establish their identity in 2012: new name, new stadium, new manager, new look. A new face of the franchise, especially a bilingual Latino superstar in a major Hispanic market, would be a tremendous asset.
Miami-Dade County is 65 percent Hispanic. That’s more than four times the national average (16 percent) and three times larger than the county’s next largest population demographic (18.9 percent of the Miami-Dade population is black). From a purely business standpoint, how could a team in that market not to be looking for a player to appeal to a community clearly vital to its success?
Baseball history is full of stars who resonated with fan bases not just because of incredible talent, but because they also attracted key demographics.
Joe DiMaggio was an icon among New York City’s Italian community. Fernando Valenzuela’s resounding popularity among Los Angeles’ Latinos was on full display each time the pitcher took the mound. Joe Mauer’s Twin Cities’ roots are part of his appeal to the Minnesota Twins’ faithful.
The feel-good story of this year’s Fall Classic – one that even at times managed to eclipse Pujols’ impending free agency – was Cardinals' third baseman David Freese, a St. Louis native turned hometown World Series hero. That’s marketing gold.
Would the Marlins like a player who can attract a large Hispanic following? It’s only logical. Will the club only go after players of Latino heritage in an effort to do that? That would defy logic.
At the end of the day, there’s one thing that resonates with fans of any sport more than a single player ever could – winning. It’s the reason why Miami has been among the league’s big spenders this off-season. Whether or not the Marlins go after Fielder (or any other player on the market), putting together a club that will have success on the field is ultimately the team’s foremost priority.
The Miami Marlins, perhaps more than any other club, understand the value of driving the Latin market. But the team also understands the value of driving in runs.
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz