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Home » Around Baseball & OpinionsMay 2005 » Grave Situation

Grave Situation

Danny Graves was designated for assignment on May 23, 2005, a day after he had made an obscene gesture to a fan that yelled, “Go back to Vietnam, you slant-eyed [epithet].” Graves was born in Saigon to a white American father and Vietnamese mother. The “Baby-Faced Assassin,” as he was known (a nickname I have issues with), was the first player born in Vietnam to make the major leagues. The fan was seated in the high-priced seats near the dugout. Being able to afford such seats doesn’t buy one class, intelligence, or tolerance to people of different ethnic backgrounds.

Despite Graves being the Cincinnati Reds’ career saves leader, a two-time All Star (2000 and 2004), and winning the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 2002, he was unceremoniously cut shortly after the incident. It was an unsurprising move from a team that boasts Marge Schott as part of its illustrious history. Playing in a Rust Belt city as a person of color, particularly of a minority group that is considered perpetually foreign is a challenge, more so when your ERA is 7.36.

In baseball terms, the move can be justified. But I think the Reds organization was remiss in not strongly condemning the fan who verbally assaulted Graves. The Reds could have done what the Red Sox did to the fans that interferred with the ball in play at Fenway Park. Some measure of punishment in terms of being ejected or having his ticket privileges revoked is in order. I also wonder why this incident was not covered more extensively by the media. I was on the road when this happened, so perhaps I missed it, but usually debate is sparked by such happenings. I have seen nothing in response on ESPN, not even a segment on “Outside the Lines.”

Given Keith Foulke’s recent difficulties and ERA of 6.65, if Graves comes cheaply, he might be worth trying out for a spell. With the Red Sox fans’ history with pitchers of Asian descent, however, I doubt that Graves would find Boston an appealing option. And it’s a sad thing if players don’t want to come to Boston because of the team or its fans’ reputation, since the Henry ownership team has tried to overcome its past problems with integration.

(On a different tangent, my problem with Graves’s nickname is that it alludes to the myth of the Asian male as somehow less manly than white American males. “Baby-faced” infantalizes him, while the “assassin” part of the name reinforces the “shifty” stereotype that plagues Americans of Asian descent. Furthermore, “assassin” is rife with cultural resentment because of its origins as the appellation of a clandestine group of Muslims in the 11th century who fought against Christians during the Crusades.)


It really is a travesty that the racial overtones of Graves' release haven't gotten nearly as much play as the 'gesture' he offered up. I find it interesting, whenever there is a confrontation between a fan and a plaer like this, that fan culpability takes a back seat to the playe reaction. Players are supposed to be stoic and cheek-turning, but in situations like this, I don't fault Graves in the slightest for his reaction. It aso leads me to wonder if Johnny Damon - of Thai/Anglo descent - has ever had similar problems.

This is the first time I've heard anyone say what the fan yelled, and I read 3 different articles on Graves being DFA'd. Damnit. That's bad reporting. Now my reaction is to respect Graves' restraint.

I think it's absolutely horrible that Graves was DFA'd for responding to a racial epithet and would have liked to have known tis from the mainstream media. As a person from a strong ethnic background who has seen my own mother treated disrespectfully by ignorant people, I abhor racisim or ethnic slurring of any type. I do however think there may be other explanations for the nickname "baby faced assassin." I recall that Johnny Most the departed radio broadcaster for the Boston Celtics used to refer to Rick Robey a player who used to play for the Celtics but was traded to the Phoenix Suns as "Rick Robey, the baby faced assassin, who now plays for the Phoenix Suns." Indeed if one does a google search using the term "baby faced assasin" on gets this result. Note that folks of all races have been referred to as "baby faced assasins" due to their boyish looks. While I will not argue with the etymology of assassin, I wonder if there was not as much of a sinister intent in the nickname. Closers of all races have been given various monikers and labelled as snipers, crazies, killers or spawns from hell. For instance here in San Diego, "Hells Bells" by AC/DC is played to signal Trevor Hoffman coming into the game. Former closer Rod Beck was referred to as "Shooter."

I may have over-analyzed the nickname. I couldn't help myself; in my past life I was a double major in English and Political Science.

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