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The percentage of U.S.-born blacks in baseball drops again

Apr 21, 2011, 1:00 PM EDT

Jackie Robinson sliding

In what has become an annual tradition — usually on Jackie Robinson Day, but a few days later this year — the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports has counted the beans and announced that, once again, the percentage of black ballplayers is lower than it has been in years:

The percentage of black players dropped to 8.5 percent on opening day this year, down from 10 percent at the start of last season and its lowest level since 2007. The percentage of Latino players dropped from 28.4 percent to 27 percent – baseball’s lowest since 1999’s 26 percent.

However, unlike in previous years, the Institute acknowledges in its public statement that the categorization of players by nationality can be misleading when it comes to trying to figure out the true nature of the game’s diversity:

“This has been a concern of Major League Baseball and leaders in the African-American community,” Lapchick said. “However, the 38.3 percent of players who are people of color also make the playing fields look more like America with its large Latino population.”

I want everyone to play baseball and I would love nothing more in this regard than to see more U.S.-born blacks in the game. In the past, however, I think a lot of people, including players, fans and watchdog organizations like this one have discounted the fact that baseball’s diversity is pretty striking.

Just because someone is from Latin America doesn’t mean that they’re not also black. Likewise, even if there were more U.S.-born blacks playing, it doesn’t automatically mean that the game would be more diverse in significant ways.  Race is important. But so too is class and other things.  Pardon the hacky phrasing, but diversity is a rich tapestry.

Beyond the head count, the Institute gives sports leagues letter grades on its diversity efforts. Baseball does well here, receiving an A for racial diversity in hiring and a B-minus for gender. That latter grade is down from a B last year, but the overall grade remained a B-plus. The Institute describes baseball’s grades as representing “a long-term consistent and dramatic increase in the role of people of color and women regarding who runs the game.”

So they got that going for them. Which is nice.

  1. thefoz26 - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    The number of US born whites in the NBA is probably going down too each year, but I never see any stories or the same amount of hand-wringing about that

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:20 PM

      I know it’s hard, but if you read the article, it takes coaches, managers, front-office employees, owners, etc. into account (hence gender being graded in what are all-mens’ sports). I’m guessing US born whites do okay (percentage-wise) in the NBA considering these variables, although I haven’t looked. Bottom line is this: no one cares about white people or the NBA, mmmkay?

      • ThatGuy - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:28 PM

        Hm… I read the article and what I see is the first 6 of the 7 paragraphs talking exclusively about players, and black players declining. Than in Craigs last paragraph mentions GMs/Front office types and how they got a passing grade.

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:48 PM

        I’m not sure which article you’re referring to, but Craig’s linked MSNBC article mentions “Major League Baseball’s central office”, “managers”, “coaches”, and “Chief Executives”. The overall grades incorporate all of these folks, in addition to players.

      • ThatGuy - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:33 PM

        Right, but the blog posting is almost exclusivly about the players. I would imagine that is what he is commenting on.

    • sometimesphylan - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:24 PM


      • Andrew - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:39 PM

        Sorry gramps, but television executives don’t think it’s a great idea to name a new network WET.

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:49 PM

        I’d totally watch WET TV.

    • shawon0meter - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:25 PM

      I think the reason for that is white kids are still giving basketball a shot and eventually many just cannot hang while black kids interest in even trying baseball is constantly declining.

    • Joe - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:29 PM

      As a straight, white, college educated male, I often wonder why nobody sticks up for me. Why doesn’t the media highlight the hardships and strife that I overcome on a daily basis? If only I made a shitload of money I could take heart that somebody is talking about the oppressive taxes that I have to take shelter against. But alas, I don’t even have massive wealth going against me.

    • marshmallowsnake - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:30 PM

      The exact comment I was about to post…you beat me to it. I think reports like this are useless…people gravitate to the sports that are popular within the area they grew up in etc.They play those sports, become good at them, and some make it to the professional leagues.

    • mox19380 - Apr 22, 2011 at 11:17 AM

      look who conducted the study…”University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports”… it’s not like this Calcaterra or MSN grandstanding it’s a simple study done by people who look at diversity in sports. I bet in a less publicized research they look at the diversity in basketball, football, hockey, ping pong and other sports as well.

      • marshmallowsnake - Apr 22, 2011 at 12:38 PM

        True. I agree…and I realize that there are actually studies done on things like this. I just do not see them as being beneficial. Yeah, they tell numbers are dropping etc. If they really want a report as to why the numbers of black people in baseball (players) is dropping, then they should study the cities that take part in R.B.I to see what the kids that play in those leagues end up doing.

        Most inner city kids do not play baseball because there are not many inner city ball fields. They are many inner city basketball courts and any empty lot can be a football field (and yes, they can play baseball in empty lots too…but no one does – we used to as kids, and it was a blast!). Other sports are easier to play when you do not have the best resources to play the games. (in my opinion)

  2. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    I’m not opposed to the addition of sexy cheerleaders in the ballparks because, you know, I’m firmly committed to diversity. Mind you, the cheerleaders need not be “sexy”, but who am I to stand in the way of the MLB teams’ hiring practices, if this were to be enacted?

    • Chris Fiorentino's Rash - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:21 PM

      Have you been to a Marlin’s game with their “Mermaids”
      They are busted up Dolphins Cheerleader rejects and the smell is a mix of cheap perfume and well.. mermaids..

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:30 PM

        You don’t know me, thus you probably didn’t realize that that’s my favorite scent. I guess I’m moving to FL. Chicago’s weather blows, so it’s extra enticing.

  3. shaggytoodle - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:21 PM

    Tori Hunter isnt going to like it, when he hears this.

  4. wurst2first - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Pfft, this wouldn’t be an issue if the ageist powers that be hadn’t forced Rickey out. Rickey has five good years left, minimum.

  5. BC - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    I think a lot of the earlier high-percentages of blacks in baseball were due to 1) the influx from the Negro Leagues in the 50s, 2) the Civil Rights movements in the 60s, and 3) the relative lack of scouting or recruitment in the Dominican and other Latino countries. For instance, you go to the Dominican now and you can’t swing your elbows without hitting a scout.

  6. Jeff J. Snider - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    Once upon a time (April 13, 2007), there was this article, written by Chris Isidore, which included this sentence:

    “Some teams, such as the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros, have no black players on their rosters.”

    The Astros had Carlos Lee. The Braves had Edgar Renteria, Andruw Jones, Julio Franco, Brayan Pena, Manny Acosta, and Rafael Soriano.

    There was similar outrage about the Mets a few years ago (can’t find a link right now), complaining that they had no black players while their team was headlined by Jose Reyes, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran.

    I think the biggest cause of confusion in all of this is the term “African American,” because Africa and America both refer to nationality, not race. Defining a race with terms that do not reflect race is a confusing thing. My sister-in-law is from South Africa and recently became an American citizen. She is both white and the very definition of African American. My best friend is black, but he is from Brazil. So he’s not African American. Will his race change when he becomes an American citizen? What about his daughters? They ARE American citizens, so are they a different race than their daddy?

    It’s a ridiculous distinction that chooses one narrow definition of “diversity” and ignores everything else. I live in Utah, where there are lots of two things: Mormons and white people. So no, there is not much religious or racial diversity in Utah. But because so many Mormon men (and women) go on missions, you will find in Utah a higher percentage than any other state of people who have lived in foreign countries, or who speak multiple languages, etc.

    I’m probably not allowed to have a strong opinion on this, as a white man. But I do anyway, because I think you do a disservice to minority groups as a whole when you deliberately make them smaller (and therefore MORE of a minority) by excluding certain people on a technicality.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:52 PM

      Church. Preach. Tabernacle.

    • manute - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      Well said.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:00 PM

      As if on cue, here’s’s headline: “Percentage of black MLB players declines again”. I’m not sure if race is overly defined or undefined at this point.

      • Jeff J. Snider - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:08 PM

        Yeah, at some point the ends of the spectrum meet to form a circle, don’t they…

        Someone else mentioned Jeter, which just makes things more complicated. How do you account for mixed-race people? My black friend I mentioned, I didn’t mention that his wife is white. So is his mother. So he is actually half black. Then they had a daugther, so she was 1/4 black (so is she a different race than both her mother AND her father?). Then they adopted another baby girl, whose birth parents were both black. So if you’re keeping score, that gives them four people in the household, none of whom are the “same race.” We have a 100% black, a 50% black, a 25% black, and a 0% black.

        I was actually disappointed when they successfully had another baby of their own, because they now have, for the first time, two family members of the same race.

        I recognize that there are intricacies that I, as a white man, can’t fully understand or appreciate. But it seems like … well, like something could be done differently.

  7. largebill - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    Put me down in the “who cares” category. I could give a crap less if the team I follow has 25 white guys, 25 hispanic guys, 25 black guys, 25 Asian guys or any combination 25 people. I do care if they throw strikes, swing at good pitches, make hard contact, field their position well, etc. I am not going to lose any sleep over whether the roster composition perfectly matches national demographics.

    As far as the front office goes my only concern is results. The Indians among other teams have tried going with “geniuses” with Ivy league degrees as GM with less than stellar results. I would much prefer a GM with an extensive and varied baseball background. The skin pigmentation matters not at all in choosing a GM. Experience and judgment should be primary qualities considered.

  8. ThatGuy - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    Hope they don’t do one of these for hockey…

  9. Jonny 5 - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:43 PM

    “This has been a concern of Major League Baseball and leaders in the African-American community,”

    Okayyyyy, so riddle me this MLB and Leaders in the African-American community. Why is it that there are two types of ball fields inside of city limits, Major league parks, and unusable ones? How can kids in the city take up baseball when there is no baseball to take up? Leaders, clean up those old vacant lots, Leaders start programs for kids after school. Ya know instead of just wrinkling your foreheads and pointing at the result of not being what you claim to be, “leaders”.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      Church. Preach. Tabernacle. [see video above]

      • Jonny 5 - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:00 PM

        Those two? Together? Wow!
        Clambake” may not even be an adequate term for what transpired before and/or during and/or after that gig.

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:02 PM

        Amazingly, I remembered I saw this yesterday (for the first time) so that I could post here. If you do recall (I don’t), yesterday was St. Chronic’s Day.

      • Jonny 5 - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:08 PM

        I was ripped and forgot it was St Chronic day. Damn, I guess I’ll have to celebrate today. If I don’t forget anyway..

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:25 PM

        St. Chronic. The holy Saint of all things leafy, cheefy, green, purple, blue, red, and white. Saint of the clouds, the stones, pie, and yes, even cake. St. Chronic hates two things: stems and seeds. Church. Preach. Tabernacle. (get used to this phrase, perhaps I’ll just use CPT from now on…although that sounds like Compton. Dilemmas dilemmas)

    • heyblueyoustink - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:11 PM

      One thing you have to give the NBA and NFL…….you see their outreach efforts, whether charitable or nefarious in seeking profit, bill boarded all over the place……

      I know teams make an effort, but where do you see anything about MLB as a whole putting any kind of foot forward on this?

      • Jonny 5 - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:34 PM

        I don’t know about who gives the most, I only know that most cities don’t have much as far as recreation ,and almost no baseball related programs when they do. So how do you suppose the kids are to take up baseball? Recreation programs and their success are driven by the parents and local leaders, that’s who needs to do the most if they are as “concerned” as they claim to be. When you go to suburban areas and see a town with 10 teams for each age group, then see they are also very racially diverse, it hits you. Kids like to play baseball and it doesn’t matter what color they are. So the issue is they are declined the opportunity to do so in many cases.

  10. manute - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    I wonder how they count Jeter and other biracial players…

    This is all nonsense. As long as the opportunity is there for everyone, let the demographics fall where they may. If more top-notch African-American athletes choose hoops over hardball, so be it. I’ll still follow both sports. And there’s something unseemly about categorizing people this way in 2011.

    Again, tell me if Jeter is black or white. Then tell me how that matters.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 1:56 PM

      Jeter is one race: pixie. Haven’t you seen the sparkly dust shooting from him whenever he does that jump throw over to first? Perhaps you noticed the glimmer of his fairy wings fluttering as he runs to first?

      • Jonny 5 - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:05 PM

        Now on my ride home I shall listen to “fairies wear boots”.

  11. gwylie1 - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    Why does this matter? If US born blacks don’t want to play baseball, they don’t want to play baseball. It should not be our mission to raise the percentages.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:27 PM

      I will only respond by reiterating what J5 said above. Why not build some more nice ballparks in urban areas? They’re nice looking and provide a place to play the game! Baseball parks eveywhere! Everywhere ballparks! No where, no parks!

  12. Windu - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    The 2010 census says that the US population is 12.6% African American. While 8.5% is low, its not that low considering the overall % of African American’s in the US.

    • ThatGuy - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:43 PM

      Wouldn’t it be high actually? As not all players are American born, and 8.5 % of the total players are African American, you can bet that the total percentage of American players that are African American is higher than the 12.5% of African Americans in America. Anyone know what percent of all players are American born

  13. cur68 - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:38 PM

    i usually stay out of these things, but what the hell; it was St.Kronic yesterday. I’m still feeling the residual mellow. Once again, excuse me for sticking my toe in your national discourse. Now I say this to all those keeping score on what the demographics of baseball are;

    Who the H – E doublehockysticks cares how many of what race plays baseball anymore? The cream rises to the top, the best play, if you don’t wanna play and you have talent, you can do something else. I wish they’d stop counting the damn beans like there’s some virtue in “appearances” and just let those who can play ball in peace if they want to. Or not if they don’t want to.

    That is all.

  14. Jonny 5 - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    It looks like NYC gets a good grade actually

  15. ThatGuy - Apr 21, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    So according to this Yahoo article( the percentage of American born players in the Major Leagues is 72.3 %, with 846 players on opening day rosters/DL that works out to 611 players.

    8.5% of major leaguers opening day were African-American, again out of 846 players that is 72 players.

    So 72 players out of 611 American born players are African American, breaks down to 12%. Which as stated earlier int he comments is a little less than what the percentage of African American players in America.

    So really what this article is saying, is that the percentage of black players in the league is on par with the percentage of black people in America, give our take a few players. Outstanding insight in that report if you ask me.

  16. bleedgreen - Apr 21, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    How about cities don’t have the money to fund little league anymore. A basketball court requires very little upkeep, as its paved and everything is metal. A baseball diamond, however, requires lawn mowing, bags, grooming the infield, etc. Little league costs money as you need to be outside to play, and the inner city schools and parks increasingly don’t have the space or funds to have a baseball field. No place to play = no players.

  17. notdumb - Apr 21, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    hmm could it be the natural attributes of black people make them more suited for basketball and football and the natural attributes of white people make them more suited for baseball and hockey nahh its the evil white man not doing enough to make black people play a sport they dont like

  18. notdumb - Apr 21, 2011 at 5:49 PM

    and how many indians and american born latin players are there in any sport

  19. thebigwhitecat - Apr 25, 2011 at 1:22 AM

    Maybe the White Sox can recall Lastings Milledge and bump this percentage up a bit.

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