Having grown up in a mostly white, better-than-middle-but-not-quite-upper-middle class town in South Jersey, I never learned about white privilege. Part of the freshman orientation at my small Quaker-influenced liberal arts college was a presentation on white privilege. Having never previously thought about the world through this conceptual lens, I was resistant to the idea. To accept the prevalence and force of white privilege, I thought, was to simultaneously devalue my own accomplishments, which, as an 18 year old, included nothing of any import, but felt real nonetheless.
As I met people who grew up with different experiences and especially as I became interested in education, it became obvious that white privilege was a real societal force with tangible consequences. Even controlling for class or family income, white students benefitted--and students of color suffered--from assumptions their teachers made about them. As a student-teacher in a pretty diverse public high school, I heard teachers consistently refer to white students as diligent, hard-working, and academically-motivated while characterizing black and Latino students as lazy, disinterested in school, and hard to motivate. In an individual instance, such preconceptions might be the difference between getting an extension on homework and getting a zero. Compounded on a societal level, the unevaluated, unquestioned attachment of certain descriptors to a person based on his or her race can significantly alter the opportunities available to members of society based on their race.
Baseball is not immune from prejudice. The walls of a stadium do not shut out ideas and societal bias. Those two sentences shouldn't be news to anyone reading this. About 2.5 years ago now, The Atlantic published an analysis of racial bias on MLB broadcasts based on the descriptors announcers attached to players of different racial groups. The results confirmed the assumption most in the comparatively progressive community of internetting baseball fans had at the outset: announcers are more likely to praise white players for their character and effort than their black and Latino counterparts.
When it comes to the Phillies, the public perception of Cody Asche might be the best example we have of white privilege. Despite what might be charitably be considered a mediocre prospect pedigree, multiple articles have been penned comparing him to one of the greatest players of the last 10 years, Chase Utley. Why does he receive these comparisons? It's certainly not because of his play; he can't hold a candle to Utley in an aspect of the game. He doesn't hit as well; he isn't a great fielder for his position; he hasn't rated well as a baserunner. Moreover, no sane person projects Asche to ever approach Utley's ability in any facet of the game.
So, I'll ask again, why does Asche get compared to Utley and held in relatively high regard by the casual fan despite lacking even league-average ability? The answer, more or less, is white privilege. Sure, his batting stance is remarkably similar to Chase Utley--I've had to double-take a couple times already while watching Grapefruit League play--but the primarily similarity is the color of his skin and all the descriptions that come with that: gritty, professional, hard-worker, hustler, blue-collar. This might be why we didn't hear much about how the Phillies received some of the worst production from the third base position in baseball last year or how that figures to be the case again. Instead, we hear that third base is Asche's spot to lose and, even so, determined professional that he is, he is working to learn to play the outfield. We rarely talk about his actual contributions on the field.
None of this is to suggest that Asche is a useless player or undeserving of a major league roster spot. He seems like a good bet to provide production in the murky waters between replacement level and league-average for a number of years. Consensus among projection systems is that he will do that next year. PECOTA, ZiPS, and Steamer all have him, more or less, at .25x/.30x/.40x with negative defensive value. All that adds up to a player worth 1 or 2 wins over a full season.
Now, don't get me wrong: those numbers will play. And, the Phillies being what they figure to be in 2015, i.e., a not-good baseball team, Asche's daily insertion into the lineup will be far from the biggest problem the team will face.
The Phillies will have a problem if Asche is playing third base every day in the summer and fall, but not because of his own doing. That would mean that either Maikel Franco a) got injured, b) struggled massively early on in AAA, or c) couldn't handle 3B defensively. Asche at third base would be more symptomatic than problematic. Ideally, in 2015, Asche will start at third everyday until sometime in June. After that, he will cede his territory to Franco and move into a non-premium-position utility role.
So get it into your head if it's not there already: Cody Asche is not, and will not be, Chase Utley. There exist no possible worlds in which Cody Asche is the main cog in the Phillies success machine. His value to the team is his versatility and his ability to provide roster depth. The sooner he moves into that sort of role, the sooner the potential makings of the next great Phillies team can become visible.
Sports, more than other areas of life, are a meritocracy. Players who don't perform lose playing time to those who do regardless of racial bias (for the most part). Fans operate differently. It doesn't take a lengthy listen to sports talk radio to detect strong undercurrents--sometimes it's more than that--of racism. Don't let bias fool you: Cody Asche will be a backup quality player in 2015.