A clip from Tuesday night's Kansas City Royals-Cleveland Indians game has gone viral because it features a man spilling his beer and dropping his cell phone in a wild pursuit of a foul ball.
But upon closer inspection the minute-long video is notable for another reason.
The clip shows Cleveland catcher Brett Hayes hitting a pitch far but foul down the third base line. The FSN Kansas City announcers, Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler, had the following exchange while watching the play:
“What did Monty call that last night?”
“Chinese home run?”
While it's unclear who "Monty" is, Stephen Douglas of The Big Lead speculates that it may be Royals Live co-host Jeff Montgomery.
The exchange is quick and overshadowed by the fan's attempt to secure the foul ball, but Lefebvre and Hudler must be called out for their use of a racist phrase, even if they're only quoting Monty.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term "Chinese home run," it is defined in The Dickson Baseball Dictionary as:
"A derogatory term for a home run hit over the portion of the outfield fence closest to home plate, often one that lands just inside (or hits) the foul pole in a ballpark with small dimensions. The most famous locale for Chinese homers was the Polo Grounds, which had 280- and 258-foot foul lines."
The phrase entered the popular lexicon about a hundred years ago, when cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan started using it in the 1910s and 1920s. According to the Dickson Dictionary, the term is probably tied to the Chinese Exclusion Act and the rationale behind it. The law itself restricted the immigration of Chinese laborers, who were thought to be taking the jobs of Americans. Dorgan used the term "Chinese" to mean "cheap" or "insubstantial."
The Dickson Dictionary notes that Dorgan likely didn't mean the association to be "especially disparaging," and he himself adopted two children from China, but over the years it has developed a negative connotation.
The phrase became problematized in 1954, after Dusty Rhodes hit a game-winning, three-run home run at the Polo Grounds (below) that won the first game of the World Series for the New York Giants. Several news reports described the hit as a "Chinese home run," leading to an uproar in New York's Chinese-American community.
Bill Madden described this incident in his book, “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever":
"In what may have been the first public outcry for 'political correctness,' Shavey Lee, the unofficial 'mayor' of New York's Chinatown, presented a petition to Giants' secretary Eddie Brannick, objecting to the term and demanding cessation of its use. 'It isn't the fault of the Chinese if you have 258-foot fences,' Lee wrote. 'Why should we be blamed all the time? What makes a cheesy home run a 'Chinese' home run?'"
Going back more than three decades, broadcasters have been criticized for using the term. Rob Neyer of SB Nation writes that in 1981 A's broadcaster Bill King was scolded by local Asian-Americans for describing a long ball as "not a Chinese home run."
Lefebvre and Hudler likely weren't familiar with the term's unflattering history and didn't mean to offend, but hopefully they'll know better next time.