SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles president Larry Lucchino yesterday reprimanded team official Fred Uhlman Sr. for remarks about Mexican players that the club deemed racially insensitive.
A quote attributed to Uhlman in a USA Today story stated that Mexicans lack speed and that it is "a genetic-type thing." Uhlman, a special assistant to general manager Roland Hemond, has specialized in scouting Latin American players. He apologized for the remarks, which he said were not interpreted as he intended.
"A lot of Mexicans have bad foot speed," Uhlman was quoted as saying. "It's a genetic-type thing. They have a different body type. Most all have good hands and good rhythm. That's why they dance so well. Rhythm is important in baseball, it means agility."
The genetic and rhythm references stirred memories of former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Al Campanis' suggestion that blacks may "lack the necessities" for decision-making positions. Campanis was fired days after making his remarks on ABC-TV's "Nightline."
Neither Lucchino nor Frank Robinson, the club's assistant general manager who has been outspoken on behalf of minorities, classified Uhlman's statements in the same category with those made by Campanis. But both said that Uhlman had used poor language in answering questions.
"It's not that strong [as the Campanis case]," said Robinson, "but it's in the same terms. Any time you throw a blanket over a race of people, it's not right.
"I know what Fred said came out different than what he meant," said Robinson. "He was comparing teams, but it didn't come out that way and it's not right because you are condemning an entire race of people.
"You just have to be very sensitive about what you say today when asked questions like that. People are very aware -- and they're very sensitive."
Lucchino, Robinson, Hemond and Doug Melvin, the club's assistant GM in charge of player personnel, all participated in a phone conversation with Uhlman yesterday afternoon. Afterward, Lucchino stated the Orioles' position.
"First of all, let me start by saying any kind of racial or ethnic stereotyping is offensive and wrong," said Lucchino. "We regret any comments made along those lines. They don't reflect the attitude of the organization.
"Also, I don't think they reflect the attitude of Fred Uhlman Sr. But we understand that racial and ethnic stereotyping is damaging and can lead to discrimination."
Uhlman's remarks were made during the recently completed Caribbean Series.
"If Fred had limited his comments to the one team that was playing, comparing it to others [in the series], he would have been OK," said Lucchino. "But he went a step too far and crossed over the line."
Lucchino said Uhlman's job wasn't at stake, but that he felt it imperative that the matter be addressed. "I thought we had to have a talk with Fred and remind him of our fair employment practices," said Lucchino.
"He is aware of how we feel. The language he chose suggests racial grouping, and that is very dangerous."
Reached by phone at his office in Baltimore, Uhlman was stunned by the reaction to the story. "I didn't mean in any way for it to come out like that," Uhlman said before leaving on a scouting trip to Florida.
"If I offended anybody, I certainly would want to apologize. When I said those things I was talking about the leagues I cover. I haven't seen their A or rookie leagues; I'm not an expert on Mexican baseball.
"I have a lot of friends down there and I've helped them set up working agreements. I wouldn't offend them. I don't think what I said was taken in the context I meant."
Asked about his phone conversation with Lucchino, Uhlman replied: "He knows I'm not that type person."
Lucchino agreed with that assessment. "The irony is that he's been a strong proponent of more extensive ties in Mexico, and Latin America in general," said Lucchino. "In all the meetings that we've had, I've never heard him say anything even close to being discriminatory.
"But he chose the wrong words, and I think he learned a lesson. But that doesn't reflect the pattern of his career."