Monday, May 7, 2012

3 comments It's Time for the Annual "Why Aren't There More African-Americans in Baseball" Discussion

It's true there is a noticeable lack of African-Americans in Major League Baseball. When I say "in" I mean on the field an in front offices. Every year someone writes a column wondering why this is, as if MLB has some silver bullet that can immediately fix this issue. Sure, baseball can do more to encourage young African-American boys to play the game of baseball, but there still has to be interest in the sport. MLB already has a minority vendor program and RBI, which is called "Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities." Perhaps they should do more. There are two separate issues here that would theoretically converge at some point. So perhaps these issues aren't so separate. African-American representation in MLB front offices and African-American representation on the baseball field are these two issues. I think one can help lead to another. The reason I personally think African-American representation on the baseball field is low is for a couple of reasons:

1. Baseball is boring. It's not the most alluring and exciting of sports to play for many kids. This doesn't go for just African-Americans, but for young children of all races. If you enjoy sports, then baseball will probably be your 3rd favorite sport behind basketball and baseball.

2. I think baseball and young African-Americans are striking out with each other. Baseball needs better, more effective ways to engage the African-American community in the sport. Maybe then, more African-Americans would enjoy the sport. If we really want to increase the number of African-American players then African-American kids also need to find a way to get engaged in the game.

William Rhoden covers this exact topic very well in this article.

Honestly, baseball can do more to gain African-American interest in the sport, but there also has to be a shared interest. I think baseball accepts the players who show an interest in the sport. As far as I'm concerned they aren't turning kids away from the sport. Baseball is an incredibly diverse sport because of the throngs of Latino/Hispanic players who have come along and played in the majors. They have grown up playing baseball and without any specific programs in the United States to increase Latino/Hispanic representation in the majors, Latino/Hispanic has increased. Not every white person seems to love this development, but it happens regardless.

So I do have a hard time believing African-American players are being pushed away from the game if they really wanted to play it? Well MLB can make more of an effort, but if the interest isn't there, it just isn't there. David Steele sort of disagrees. Fresh off shining Anthony Davis' Pro Basketball Hall of Fame plaque, Steele dredges up every slight African-American players have suffered over the years and wants us to believe seven-year-old boys are not playing baseball because of this.

This year, it’s USA Today bringing the news: Black players make up a tick over 8 percent of major league rosters this season—and the anecdotes that illustrate this are staggering.

The percentage of white NBA players was around 12% this year. No, this isn't relevant when discussing the number of African-American players on major league rosters, but it shows baseball isn't the only sport where a population that makes up a large part of the overall United States population is underrepresented. This is the fallback idiotic retort from people who comment negatively on articles like David Steele, but it also doesn't make it any less true as a fact.

They don’t tell us why.

This is because we don't know why. I don't feel comfortable saying the lack of African-American representation in baseball is because the sport requires gear, equipment, and organized league fees that inner city children can't readily afford. That's basically saying that all African-American people who want to like baseball are poor, which is not true. So the reason has to be more than just "It is expensive to buy a bat, glove, and organize a team."

It also has to be more than just saying, "Baseball hasn't accepted or done enough to get African-American youth into baseball." If youth of all ages, sizes, colors and shapes are interested in a sport, then they will have a chance to play this sport. I don't think 8 or 9 year old boys are lamenting MLB's lack of leadership in hiring minorities to the front office. Sure, they don't see people who look like themselves on television, so that could have something to do with it. I think there is a fundamental lack of interest in baseball from a young age that causes African-American kids to not pursue the sport.

Then again, that has been asked constantly over the past decade, as the numbers have slid, and there has been no quantifiable reason, just a bunch of educated-sounding guesses, none of which has done anything to reverse the decline.

Better questions are needed.

And guess who is the person who has these "better questions?" That's right, David Steele.

Do blacks in this country just not like baseball anymore?

No, they still do. Baseball just isn't a "cool" sport to play. Again, this goes for kids of all races. It is slow, there isn't a lot of action and basketball and football are more fun to play with your friends. It takes a group of friends to play a game of baseball, while a kid can shoot hoops with a friend or alone.

If so, did they stop liking it first, or did baseball stop liking them?

Baseball hasn't stopped liking anyone. Baseball likes everyone. It is in the best financial and competitive interests of baseball to like everyone. The best hitter in baseball today is an African-American. The best hitter in the 90's was African-American. An African-American manager has led his team to two straight World Series appearances.

There is growing evidence that African-Americans, who for decades loved the game above and beyond all the others, don’t think it has been all that hospitable to them lately.

Right, but would a young child know this? I guess that's my big question in response to this point. Usually a child chooses to play a sport (or two) at a young age. Did Russell Wilson choose to play in the NFL rather than MLB because he thinks MLB wasn't hospitable to him? You would have to ask him, but I do know he would probably have a better chance of making more money faster in the NFL than in the minor league systems of MLB.

So while I can understand the distaste older African-Americans may have for MLB, I'm not sure this can sufficiently explain why younger children aren't interested in the sport by saying the sport hasn't been hospitable enough.

Not so much commissioner Bud Selig, who created the vision for the annual Jackie Robinson celebration, has pushed hard for minority hiring in managerial and front-office positions and has supported projects like the RBI program and the urban baseball academies.

No, it’s the rest of the fabric of the game that rubs many the wrong way.

So now that David Steele has said Bud Selig isn't part of the problem, he will begin to complain African-American candidates aren't getting enough managerial/front office jobs. I'm pretty sure this has something to do with Bud Selig and steps he could do to change this as the commissioner.

It has been 38 years since Hank Aaron navigated the death threats and hate mail to break Babe Ruth’s home run record. Aaron is still with us to keep that ugly side of history from being buried.

What irritates me about David Steele is that he is being dishonest here. Hank Aaron navigated death threats and hate mail when breaking Ruth's home run record. Roger Maris, who was very white, also navigated death threats, hate mail, and his hair started falling out when breaking Ruth's single season home run record. In fact, up until near his death Maris was pretty bitter about how the whole subject was handled by Major League Baseball and the fans. So it isn't just Hank Aaron that had issues of hating him for breaking a Babe Ruth record. Fans of Babe Ruth are pretty relentless.

It is also ironic that David Steele ignores Barry Bonds (who is also African-American) has broken Hank Aaron's home run record and he didn't seem to face near the death threats and hate mail that Aaron faced.

More recent, baseball followers have seen a handful of minority managers and general managers get into and stay in the game—executives such as Bob Watson and Kenny Williams win World Series—and still see scores of them get passed over, shunted aside, overlooked and ignored for many of the same old faces.

Please give examples. Without examples this just sounds like general complaining. What minority candidates have gotten passed over, shunted aside or overlooked? I'm not denying the validity of David Steele's claim, but he states "scores" of minority (apparently Latino/Hispanic players aren't minorities) have been ignored for the same old faces. David Steele gives one example. That's it. This is a typical exaggeration in order for the exaggeration to prove the point Steele wants to prove, rather than doing research to prove this point.

Simply put, Steele could be right, but writing "scores" minorities have gotten pushed aside and then listing one person as an example is pretty damn weak.

In the USA Today story, former pitcher Dave Stewart—who gave up trying to be a general manager after he believed he was misled about what dues he was required to pay, while others who paid no such dues were moved in above him—called it all “a joke.”

I read the article and Stewart (who is now an agent), who either doesn't want to burn any bridges or just doesn't feel like elaborating, doesn't say what dues he was required to pay or why it was all a joke. Again, I'm not saying Stewart doesn't have a point, but if he doesn't elaborate more than to complain Jerry Manuel didn't get another managing job how is the public going to be expected to understand the problem? Stewart was an Assistant General Manager and he was never hired for a General Manager job. I'm sure he's not the first Assistant GM to not get promoted.

Stewart told the paper. “But Bud is not in position to make it happen. Bud works for the owners. He can’t make them do something they don’t want to do. And right now, they don’t want to hire blacks as decision-makers.”

People notice this.

So young kids are saying, "I don't like how MLB owners don't hire African-American decision-makers so I have no interest in baseball," or are African-American kids not being encouraged to play baseball because of the lack of minority hiring? Don't get me wrong, one thing leads to another...eventually. I think African-American kids don't play baseball because they don't see other African-Americans playing the game more than because they don't like the hiring practices of MLB teams. I find it hard to believe baseball has more inhospitable than other sports when it comes to accepting African-American players.

They also notice how, during Barry Bonds’ controversial run at Aaron’s record, so much attention was paid to passing Ruth—to the point of referring to it as “Ruth’s record.” Frank Robinson noticed a few years ago.

It's just how fans are. Fans in baseball LOVE the history of the game. How many times has Babe Ruth's single-season home run record been passed? It is still referred to as "Ruth's single-season record" by some people because they don't count Maris/McGwire/Sosa/Bonds as legitimate owners of the record. Even a long home run is called a "Ruthian" shot. It's just something about Babe Ruth.

Also noticed was how the reaction to, or coverage of, Bonds’ steroid entanglement was greater, more bitter and more hate-filled during his playing days than during the active years of Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens combined.

Some of this had to do with Bonds' antagonistic attitude towards the press. You can't deny this.

As Bonds was being vilified from coast to coast, McGwire was still being compared to Paul Bunyan, and Clemens to John Wayne.

I'd love to see a cited article where Mark McGwire is compared to Paul Bunyan and Clemens to John Wayne. Here's all I could find...

The mentions of Mark McGwire being like Paul Bunyan overwhelmingly are tied in with his use of steroids. So the use of "Paul Bunyan" isn't exactly a positive use.

Eric Neel made three mentions to Roger Clemens as John Wayne back when Page 2 looked like it does in that link. Safe to say it was before the steroid allegations came out. Lance Berkman calls him John Wayne in a 2012 article, but the quote is from 2005 and Berkman was Clemens' teammate at the time, so I'm assuming he was being complimentary for that reason. Buster Olney also referred to Clemens that way in a 1999 column.

Otherwise, baseball fans tend to think of McGwire, Clemens and Bonds in the same way. Maybe the media was on Bonds' ass more, but I think that's just because of his overall attitude towards them.

People remember how Ken Griffey Jr., later heralded as one of the few home run heroes believed to be “pure,” was blasted early in his career for the sin of wearing his cap backwards during batting practice.

How about this asshole kid Bryce Harper who is being blasted for how he wears the black under his eyes, how he wears his hat, how he acts on the field and which professional teams he cheers for? He's 19 years old and he has gotten killed by a lot of people for his behavior. Harper is white. So baseball players and fans tend to not like young guys who come in and are cocky. I'm not sure the Griffey Jr., backwards cap issue was a race issue more than it was an issue of how baseball isn't exactly accepting of young players who do things differently.

They remember Larry Doby, who integrated the American League, was working for an NBA team, instead of in baseball, later in his life.

No, they don't. Very few people remember this. Just like people don't remember Doby was the second African-American manager in the history of MLB. I really doubt African-American parents are discouraging their children from playing baseball because Larry Doby ended his career working for an NBA team.

David Steele can list every perceived slight against African-American players over the last 50 years, but I have a hard time believing the number of African-American players is declining for these reasons. I just think it has to deal with a lack of interest in the sport. Why the lack of interest? Probably for the same reason baseball isn't America's past time anymore. The sport is perceived as slow and not action-oriented. The best athletes and their interest in sports leans more to football or basketball. It isn't like MLB treats Latino/Hispanic players incredibly well, yet the number of Hispanic/Latino players is ever-increasing.

Individually and spread out over decades, it’s just a random pattern of happenings.

But if you combine them all together and make them seem like they all happened within the last decade, then you can avoid more obvious answers and instead lean towards an answer that blames someone else for the lack of African-American interest in baseball. Because the NBA and the NFL have NEVER in any way slighted the African-American community in any fashion. Despite the fact the NBA has instituted a dress code and tried to "white-up" the game in some ways, African-American kids still love playing basketball. Despite the fact the NFL has its own difficulties hiring minority front office and head coaches, this hasn't stopped African-American kids from wanting to play football. See, the same problems with minority hiring and unbalanced media reactions to African-American athletes are prevalent in other sports, but the problem of African-American youth involvement with the sport isn't present.

They also were bursting with ideas on how to reverse that—but added that no one in baseball had ever asked their opinion on it.

“They should,” outfielder Corey Patterson told The Baltimore Sun at the time. “They could bring a lot of us into it, just to talk about ways to promote it.”

By all indications—despite its often-pronounced concern over the issue—baseball has yet to reach out to active players in that way.

I would agree. Any ideas on how to reverse this issue needs to start with how to increase interest in the sport. Otherwise, the idea will fail if it is based on everything baseball has done wrong in the past.

It’s all making baseball less diverse, at the exact same time its overall diversity is peaking. Even though blacks are scarce, baseball is hardly headed back to the all-white days before Robinson. Foreign-born players make up 28.4 percent of the rosters. Most of them are Latino; many others are from Asian nations.

Those two groups have also cracked the managerial barrier, and Latino-run front offices have won a World Series now, too (the Phillies, under Ruben Amaro, Jr.).

Oh, so now David Steele is using a misleading comparison to make it seem like baseball gives every minority EXCEPT for African-Americans a few shot to manage or be in the front office. He's exaggerating Asian and Latino inroads in the front office of MLB teams. There has been one Asian-American manager in the history of the sport and he has since been relieved of his duties. Also, an African-American-run front office has won the World Series (the White Sox, under Kenny Williams) and made two straight World Series (Ron Washington). Front office positions and managerial positions usually start with ex-players and with the number of African-American players declining, it's going to be harder to find African-Americans to fill these positions.

Yet one segment of America, whose inclusion once altered not just the history of the game but of the entire country, is backing away from baseball more every year.

Or vice versa.

I won't say baseball can't do more, but baseball isn't backing away from any group of people. They can do more to attract African-American youth, but they aren't preventing African-Americans from showing interest in the game.

Maybe once baseball figures out whether it’s the chicken or the egg, it can turn those numbers around.

Thanks for the (lack of) ideas. Maybe baseball can work on a time machine to change the past and have Larry Doby end his career in MLB instead of the NBA and that will turn everything around.


HH said...

The percentage of white NBA players was around 12% this year.

You provided a bit of an answer here, btw. A lot of very good black athletes are playing other sports (NFL is what, 70% black?). Now, it's an issue for baseball that they're losing great athletes to other sports. However, as long as black athletes get opportunities in any sport of their choosing, I don't think we need to make this a federal case. Baseball, as a profit making entity, should try to get wrestle the best athletes from other sports if they so choose, but this isn't a real comment on race or racism in society.

There's a few other factors that affect baseball and African Americans specifically, relative to other sports. In the US, African Americans live predominantly across the southeast, and in the inner cities of the Northern and Midwestern cities. The southeast is football country, so many black athletes end up in football rather than baseball. In the inner cities, putting up and maintaining a baseball field is expensive and space-consuming. Basketball courts are not. Baseball receives very few (relative to population) players of any race from inner cities because the conditions aren't there for kids to grow up playing.

Bengoodfella said...

HH, I never even thought about the demographics of it. I never thought that most black athletes growing up in the Southeast are probably drawn to football. I don't know if that is stereotyping or anything like that, but it does make sense. It's true basketball courts are much easier to set up and you can play basketball much easier on your own or with one friend.

I don't see it as a huge of an issue as David Steele does. It seems like baseball has tried to increase the AA population and just isn't having success. Simply put, other sports get their attention and time. I don't particularly think it is something baseball is doing wrong. They could increase visibility and try to reach out more if they wanted to, but if I had to play one sport I don't know if it would be baseball.

I wonder if the pendulum will swing the other way now that football is having concussion issues. Meaning will parents push their kids to baseball/basketball as a result? I guess we'll see in 10 or 15 years.

Kenneth Gilmore said...

This was a poorly written article and quite offensive to black people.The author of this article comes across as pompous and arrogant. His intentions were to minimize ,downplay or underscore any legitimate concern that blacks may face concerning the sport of baseball. He wants to imply that only documemented circumstances can be considered evindentiary of equal treatment in baseball.My response is that their are two forms of communicating verbal and non verbal and clearly non verbal signals have impeded the progress of blacks in baseball.