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 EST

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. White Sox sign Gordon Beckham, designate Dayan Viciedo for assignment

    Jan 28, 2015, 2:44 PM EST

    gordon beckham getty Getty Images

    Gordon Beckham played the first five-and-a-half years of his career for the White Sox before being traded to the Angels in August.

  2. Great Moments in Media Arrogance: Marshawn Lynch edition

    Jan 28, 2015, 2:25 PM EST

    Marshawn Lynch AP

    No, Johnny Sportswriter. Marshawn Lynch does not owe his job to you quoting him in your local newspaper.

  3. Mariners sign John Baker

    Jan 28, 2015, 12:16 PM EST

    John Baker marlins AP

    Baker was once a solid starting catcher for the Marlins, but he’s been mostly injured for the past five seasons.

  4. Joe Blanton is coming out of retirement

    Jan 28, 2015, 11:45 AM EST

    Joe Blanton AP

    Blanton called it quits in April after getting released by the Angels and struggling at Triple-A for the A’s.

  5. Remember when Cal Ripken’s mom was kidnapped? Yeah, it’s still unsolved.

    Jan 28, 2015, 11:03 AM EST

    violet ripken

    Dave McKenna of Deadspin looks into the investigation and why it has gone seemingly nowhere.

  6. Ichiro Suzuki’s deal with the Marlins is worth $2 million

    Jan 28, 2015, 10:15 AM EST

    New York Yankees' Suzuki runs and watches the ball after he hit a walk-off home run to beat the Texas Rangers in their MLB American League game in New York Reuters

    At age 41 he’ll be joining the Marlins in a backup role, playing behind starting outfielders Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich.

  7. Yoan Moncada’s situation could clear up soon and he could sign in a couple of weeks

    Jan 28, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    cuba hat

    Complications with new regulations may soon be ironed out.

  8. Pablo Sandoval made a half court basket while sitting on his butt

    Jan 28, 2015, 6:32 AM EST

    Pablo Sandoval AP

    Why yes, it is the darkest week of the offseason. Why do you ask?

  9. Rob Manfred not concerned about uneven DH rule

    Jan 27, 2015, 9:41 PM EST

    mlb logo large

    If you expected new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to either expand the DH rule to the National League or eliminate it altogether, you can probably stop now.

  10. Orioles acquire outfielder Travis Snider from Pirates

    Jan 27, 2015, 8:28 PM EST

    travis snider pirates getty Getty Images

    Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles have completed a trade for Pirates outfielder Travis Snider. Pittsburgh’s return is a player to be named later and 21-year-old pitching prospect Stephen Tarpley.

  11. Phillies still talking to the Brewers and Blue Jays about a Jonathan Papelbon trade

    Jan 27, 2015, 7:44 PM EST

    jonathan papelbon getty Getty Images

    Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Saturday that the Brewers’ negotiations for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon were “definitely on life support, at best,” but it sounds like there has been some rekindling of that fire early this week.

  12. Rangers acquire right-hander Anthony Ranaudo from Red Sox for left-hander Robbie Ross

    Jan 27, 2015, 6:39 PM EST

    rangers logo

    The Rangers and Red Sox have swapped 25-year-old pitchers.

  13. Orioles “closing in on” trade for Pirates’ Travis Snider

    Jan 27, 2015, 6:19 PM EST

    travis snider getty Getty Images

    The Orioles have failed in their pursuit of several free agent outfielders this offseason, so they might now be turning to the trade market to fill the need.

  14. Giants, Brandon Crawford avoid arbitration with one-year deal

    Jan 27, 2015, 4:40 PM EST

    Desmond Jennings Brandon Crawford AP

    Crawford requested $3.95 million and the Giants countered at $2.4 million.

  15. Five minor leaguers suspended for drugs

    Jan 27, 2015, 4:13 PM EST

    say no to drugs

    They’re coming in bunches lately.

  16. GM says Rockies are “highly, highly unlikely” to trade Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonzalez

    Jan 27, 2015, 3:55 PM EST

    troy tulowitzki rockies getty Getty Images

    Tulowitzki is owed $114 million for the next six seasons and Gonzalez is owed $53 million for the next three seasons.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. J. Papelbon (5427)
  2. J. Shields (4990)
  3. R. Vogelsong (4771)
  4. I. Suzuki (4033)
  5. J. Gomes (3304)
  1. Y. Moncada (3168)
  2. J. Hoffman (3116)
  3. G. Soto (2909)
  4. J. Montero (2851)
  5. D. Fowler (2811)