Hochman: Fowler signing could be good for St. Louis beyond baseball – STLtoday.com

We are St. Louis, a city that’s defined by unity: Everyone shares an unwavering love for the local baseball team and the magic that baseball can provide us.

We are St. Louis, a city that’s divided by racial tensions, by the complicated compartmentalization of who’s “good” and who’s “bad.”

It is thus timely that the Cardinals’ newest star — a face of the franchise — is African-American. One ballplayer won’t change the world, so let’s not get too mushy here, but bringing in a star black player sends a little message, even if it wasn’t intended. Dexter Fowler is a great guy and a strong role model and a welcome addition.

“I feel like being African-American, you get to reach both sides,” said the center fielder, who signed a five-year contract with St. Louis. “I feel like it’s exciting for my wife and I — my wife is Middle Eastern, so we have an interracial kid, obviously.

“You’ve got to bring everyone together. I think that’s important.”

Why is Fowler’s race even a story? For many, it’s not. Cardinals are Cardinals, and race shouldn’t be part of a sports story. But there are numerous St. Louis families excited about Fowler, not just because he’s an awesome leadoff hitter.

Geno Clay has two sons, ages 1 and 7, and “I’m trying to get them into baseball, but (the older son) doesn’t seem too interested, because he doesn’t see too many people who look like him playing it,” said Clay, who is African-American. “That’s one of the good things I said about Dexter coming here, because we’re always going to the games. …

“A lot of African-American kids growing up, all they know is football and basketball. It’s good to see some African-Americans step up into baseball. And I’m trying to get (my sons) away from the hard-contact sport of football, with all the concussion stuff. …

“I was excited when we got Fowler. I was hating him a few months ago — but now I love him! I was happy that we got an African-American back because we lost Jason Heyward last year.”

The Fowler signing says a couple of things. For one, it shows that the Cards still have the ability to lure a top free agent. After losing out on Heyward and David Price last winter, some of the Cardinals mystique had evaporated. And while Heyward, who was initially traded to St. Louis, didn’t sign long-term, Fowler did — so Fowler will be part of the St. Louis community for a half-decade at least.

Heyward was splendid in his lone year here, but the Cards haven’t had a long-term African-American key player for a while. And the last time the Cardinals had an All-Star who was African-American was 1997.

Of course, many of the franchise’s living legends are African-American. Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith — Hall of Famers. Curt Flood has the ninth-best wins above replacement (42) in Cardinals history; Ray Lankford is 17th in Cardinals history (37). Willie McGee won an MVP. And players such as Brian Jordan, Ron Gant, Terry Pendleton, Lonnie Smith and Bill White had key roles on successful clubs in St. Louis.

And as we head into 2017, the Cards are multicultural. The presumed eight position players are an African-American, three Caucasians, a Cuban, a Dominican, a Puerto Rican and a native Hawaiian, whose great-grandparents were Chinese.

It’s very cool, but let’s not get carried away here that eight men playing baseball will make St. Louis a utopia. Albert Pujols was a living legend — beloved — but it’s hard to suggest he radically swayed local views on Latinos.

And when Muhammad Ali passed away this year, the outpouring from Americans was really just incredible. But did it change the way Americans see Muslims? It’s unlikely there will be a drastic change, and recent surveys from the Pew Research Center show that Muslims are not viewed warmly by a hefty percentage of Americans.

So with Fowler coming to St. Louis, it won’t alter the fabric of our society or anything grand like that. But, simply, it’s a cool thing: The city will unite over an African-American ballplayer for the first time in a while.

It’s something. It can’t hurt. It’s about time.

And one can expect Fowler to became a fan favorite here, similar to his impact in Chicago. He’s a driven ballplayer and a fun-loving persona, as seen in last Friday’s public introduction in town. He gets on base and gets around the bases. He leads the league in smiles. And when he says, “Nice to meet you,” he may actually, honestly, find it nice to meet you.

And on Saturday, he tweeted a picture of his young daughter. She was sitting upon a toy car, wearing an oversized cap. Fowler wrote: “I caught my daughter carrying her car downstairs with my new Cardinals hat saying ‘I’m going to St Louis.’”

It was precious.

Dexter Fowler is a St. Louisan now.


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