Eric Thames is ostensibly in the midst of a confidential PED testing process, which even includes the opportunity to appeal a positive test without public announcement of that fact; should a player win an appeal, they can do so without anyone else knowing. No one would know this by MLB’s behavior in the Thames case, as the league is sending its Joint Drug Agreement testing agents to meet the Brewers’ slugger while press are present in the clubhouse. Brewers fans have become enamored of Thames for his home runs, zen persona, and now his proclamation that he has enough blood and urine to handle extremely frequent tests. The first notice of Thames’s test may have appeared in Bob Nightengale’s USAToday story, as Nightengale noted that Thames was approached for testing in the Wrigley Field clubhouse. But Nightengale is hardly alone; from this point onward, additional sources have openly discussed Thames’s testing, placing the slugger in the problematic position of having to issue defiant proclamations through what should be a hidden process.
MLB has a noted front office diversity problem, as the analytics movement has become entrenched in elite universities, solidifying White pathways to executive positions. The league issues its stealth racism in the form of algorithms that blend scouting information with statistical analysis, algorithms which are off limits to those without an Ivy League pedigree, a pedigree which substantially stacks the deck in favor of elite White networks of power and professionalism. This problematic professional outlook is now doubly substantiated, as a White embodied executive rank within the league is now issuing its austerity decrees in the forms of public PED testing witchhunts against non-White stars who hail from Foreign leagues. We are supposed to find disbelief in the fact that “someone from Korea” could translate their mechanical adjustments to Major League Baseball, and we are especially to disbelieve the idea that a budding non-White star made such a transition from an outlying, Foreign place without the aid of chemicals or enhancements.
Google: “Trevor Story PED testing” and “Eric Thames PED testing.” Story, of course, being the Colorado Rockies prospect who fell from his spot as Top Rockies Prospect on the 2013 Baseball Prospectus list to Tenth entering 2016, as “already showing power in games” as a 60 Overall Future Potential (OFP) entry declined to a 45 OFP, second-division prospect: “Ideally, Story is your primary infield backup who can play three positions, deliver some pop off the bench, and be a capable fill-in when one of your starters goes down for a month.” Story famously opened the season with seven homers in his first six games, good for a 1.111 slugging percentage, en route to a 10 home run April that spurred the hype machine for the seemingly out-of-nowhere star. But there were no public PED tests for Story, no JDA agents visiting Story at his locker while the press were present (or, if there were, the press faithfully obliged Story’s privilege and left those accounts out of print), and of course there were not because White embodiment is not as problematic as non-White embodiment in the USA.
It shouldn’t be ridiculous for a 45 OFP prospect to adjust after scuffling, and find that power once again at the MLB level. No one would say that Story’s rough 2013 campaign in Modesto disqualified him from ever becoming a slugging regular. For baseball players do indeed adjust, just as Thames adjusted his mechanics and plate discipline in Korea, and is now applying those skills with ease at the MLB level. Fans should not dismiss the Thames witchhunt as circumstantial within a league of owners that cannot hire Black or Latino GMs if their lives depended on it, not even if those candidates are significantly more experienced within MLB structures than the preferred White Ivy Leaguers. The same ought to go for testing, as it should be equally plausible that the slugging prospect Story could wind through a tale of defeat-and-reclamation just as much as Thames could.
Within this context, Thames becomes some kind of disgusting trophy for the league, a complex interaction of competing forces. It is clear, clear as day, that Korean Baseball Organization players are not welcome in the MLB, or at least not welcome insofar as they can become superstars or seize the public’s imagination or terrorize established MLB players. This is a problematic image for a game that needs to capitalize on its International appeal in order to maximize its relevance and excitement; instead of pace of play, if you want baseball to improve, continue making it as easy as possible for the best International players to enter the MLB and do so without scrutiny. At the same time, Thames is an analytical victory, a player on the radar of KBO projection systems for years, and that analytical victory extends so far as David Stearns’s contract offer to Thames, which was an austerity move in lieu of tendering an arbitration offer to Chris Carter (last year’s NL Home Run leader). But this analytical victory does not welcome Thames’s visibly non-White body and openly Foreign credentials into the game’s graces of respect and admiration; the implication is that Thames could not possibly have achieved this level of success without hard work, which is the most insulting of all implications in this story.
The diversity crisis in MLB’s front offices has unfortunately devolved to playing field norms, where non-White players performing phenomenally on the field will be subject to have their workplace rights violated. And although Thames is admirably playing along, he should not need to feed the racist moniker that “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.” Just behave, just do what they say and you’ll be fine, is one of the driving institutional mechanisms of racism; this is the mantra of mediocre Whiteness tried and true, underscoring a legacy of institutional practices throughout the USA. Thames deserves every single bit of praise, and more, for his trek to the MLB, and he deserves this praise without any caveats about PED testing (or anything else for that matter). It is unconscionable that the MLB executive rank is producing a hostile workplace at the very moment the league needs to prove that they can issue substantive racial justice across all levels.