Skip to content

Today that annual diversity-in-baseball study comes out. Take it with a serious grain of salt.

Apr 10, 2013, 10:01 AM EDT

Rico Carty

Today is the day that the annual report from Richard Lapchick’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida comes out.  He’s been doing this for years, and it always gets highlighted in the media, with headlines about how the number of U.S.-born black players in baseball is declining.  Which, yes, it is.  But Lapchick’s report is also normally treated wholly uncritically, with his conclusions being parroted instead of reported, and it really grinds my gears.

It bugs me on a broad level, in that — as I’ve mentioned in this space several times — it looks at the trees but not the forest, noting that while, yes, there are fewer U.S.-born black players in baseball now than there used to, the overall diversity of baseball is up as the game becomes increasingly internationalized.

But it bugs me in a much sharper sense in that I believe the numbers Lapchick puts out are misleading.

They are misleading in that, while his current count of U.S.-born blacks in baseball seems right — he has it at 8.5% — the numbers he and others typically cite for the height of black representation in the game are usually off. He has cited as high as 27% of all players being black, and this number is often repeated as gospel, like it is in today’s USA Today story about it.

Thing is: these are apples and oranges measurements.  Back in the 70s when that 27% number came out, those numbers represented counts of all black players — or people who had sufficiently-black skin to be called “black” according to the view of those doing the counting. This included Latino players like Rico Carty, who happened to be born in the Dominican Republic. Today Carty — or, say, Aroldis Chapman or any other non-U.S.-born black player — wouldn’t be included in Lapchick’s count. Which makes sense because he’s counting only U.S.-born blacks. But he and his media surrogates freely cite the old numbers which did include Latino blacks back in the day.

Friend of mine and frequent HBT commenter Mark Armour is doing some research on this for the Society of American Baseball Research. I’ve not seen the research, but Tyler Kepner notes it in the New York Times today. Armour estimates that the actual height of U.S.-born blacks in the game came in the 1980s and peaked at 19%. See the update below for some of Mark’s additional comments on this.

No, that research does not mean that all things are wonderful. There clearly are fewer U.S.-born black players in baseball today than there were in decades past. But it’s not quite a crisis on the order of magnitude that Lapchick and others portray. And given that they’re not being particularly discerning with their numbers you have to wonder if either sloppiness or agenda-setting is taking precedence over science here.

And that’s my problem with it. Not the underlying idea — I want there to be more blacks in the game; heck, I want EVERYONE to play baseball and anything that can be done to promote it should be – but on the manner in which the problem is portrayed. A manner which seems more calculated to draw attention to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports than it does to the underlying issue.

UPDATE:  Mark Armour chimed in in the comments:

I am not exactly sure where the 27% number came from. My theory had been that the old data was from some newpaper story that counted all dark-skinned players as black, while the new data only counted US black players. However, several years ago this was explored further by the Wall Street Journal, and they determined that the old data is just … bad science. Really bad science.

The real drop in African-Americans (from 17-19% in the 1975-95 period) to half that today is significant enough without the bad data. Baseball is MORE diverse, of course, than every before.

By the way, MLB is very cooperative in the Lapchick study. In fact, they provide all of the data on opening day rosters to Lapchick every year. The writers that imply this is some sort of bigotry on the part of MLB are nuts. It is very clear that MLB is spending lots of time and money on this problem.

This is the WSJ story from 2008.

Latest Posts
  1. David Ortiz is more likely to be boned in Hall of Fame voting for being a DH than for PED stuff

    Sep 3, 2015, 10:38 AM EDT

    David Ortiz Getty Images

    Not that either of those things are valid reasons to keep a guy out of the Hall of Fame.

  2. Dodgers calling up No. 1 prospect Corey Seager for MLB debut

    Sep 3, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT

    Corey Seager Dodgers AP

    Considered by many to be the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

  3. And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

    Sep 3, 2015, 7:55 AM EDT

    Clayton Kershaw AP

    Clayton Kershaw strikes out 15 as the Dodgers sweep the Giants.

  4. Video: Justin Turner pulls off a slick slide at second base

    Sep 3, 2015, 12:12 AM EDT

    Justin Turner AP

    Justin Turner was going to be out by a mile on this ill-advised stolen base attempt in the bottom of the fourth inning Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, but he got a little creative …

  5. Kyle Schwarber undergoing MRI for right side injury

    Sep 2, 2015, 11:45 PM EDT

    Kyle Schwarber AP

    There’s expected to be an update coming Thursday.

  6. Video: Ruben Tejada hits inside-the-park home run as Mets rout the Phillies at Citi Field

    Sep 2, 2015, 10:38 PM EDT

    Ruben Tejada AP

    Ruben Tejada scored an inside-the-park home run Wednesday at Citi Field when Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown flipped over the wall down the right field line in the bottom of the second inning …

  7. Stephen Strasburg ruled out Friday with upper back issue

    Sep 2, 2015, 10:31 PM EDT

    Stephen Strasburg AP

    Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg was pulled after four rough innings Sunday against the Marlins with discomfort in his upper back, and now the injury is going to cost him his next rotation turn.

  8. Twins will not call up Jose Berrios

    Sep 2, 2015, 9:44 PM EDT

    Jose Berrios AP

    It shows very poor planning on the part of the Twins’ decision-makers, who let Berrios throw 161 1/3 innings this season between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester …

  9. Carlos Martinez to return to Cardinals’ rotation on Friday

    Sep 2, 2015, 8:59 PM EDT

    Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Getty Images

    Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez was scratched from his scheduled start Tuesday night against the Nationals with what was described as a minor back issue.

  10. Paul Goldschmidt excused from Diamondbacks to be present for the birth of his first child

    Sep 2, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT

    Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks Getty Images

    Arizona has a scheduled team off day Thursday, so Goldschmidt is only going to miss a game or two.

  11. Video: Albert Pujols cranks his 35th home run of the season, 555th home run of his career

    Sep 2, 2015, 7:22 PM EDT

    Albert Pujols AP

    Pujols is now just one of four players in the history of Major League Baseball to reach the 35-homer plateau in 10 of his first 15 major league seasons.

  12. Giants release infielder Everth Cabrera

    Sep 2, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    Everth Cabrera Everth Cabrera

    Cabrera signed a minor league deal with San Francisco in mid-July after getting released by the Orioles.

  13. Mike Rizzo thinks Matt Williams “pushed all the right buttons” last night

    Sep 2, 2015, 5:43 PM EDT

    Mike Rizzo Getty Images

    He said the job he did was “masterful.” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  14. Cardinals skip Michael Wacha from start to limit innings

    Sep 2, 2015, 5:07 PM EDT

    wacha getty Getty Images

    Left-hander Tyler Lyons will start in Wacha’s place against the Nationals.

  15. Bat Flipping in Korea: not-so-serious business

    Sep 2, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT

    Puig Bat Flip

    And, I would guess, it wont be such serious business here after a few years either.

  16. The Marlins are going to change everything except their biggest problem this offseason

    Sep 2, 2015, 11:31 AM EDT

    jeffrey loria getty Getty Images

    Of course their biggest problem is not going anyplace, as he owns the team.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. G. Stanton (2594)
  2. C. Correa (2588)
  3. H. Ramirez (2559)
  4. G. Springer (2534)
  5. B. Crawford (2347)
  1. M. Teixeira (2335)
  2. H. Pence (2262)
  3. J. Baez (2249)
  4. J. Hamilton (2197)
  5. Y. Puig (2148)