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. Red Sox activate Allen Craig from the disabled list

    Aug 21, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    allen craig getty Getty Images

    He hit a combined .312 with an .863 OPS in 328 games for the Cardinals from 2011 to 2013, but Craig’s production has plummeted to a .237 batting average and .639 OPS in 98 total games this season.

  2. David Price threw a one-hitter against the Rays. And lost.

    Aug 21, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 3.56.49 PM Getty Images

    One unearned run was all he allowed against his old mates. Tough way to lose.

  3. Brandon McCarthy tosses a four-hit shutout as the Yankees top the Astros

    Aug 21, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT

    Brandon McCarthy AP

    Work fast. Throw strikes. If anyone has come up with a better way to win games, I haven’t heard of it yet.

  4. Chris Rock catches a foul ball at Yankee Stadium, gives it to a kid

    Aug 21, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT

    Video camera

    That’s kind of the whole story, but there’s nothing else going on right now.

  5. Masahiro Tanaka to throw against live hitters Saturday

    Aug 21, 2014, 2:24 PM EDT

    Masahiro Tanaka AP

    Masahiro Tanaka’s attempt to avoid Tommy John elbow surgery with the rest-and-rehab approach has gone well enough that the Yankees right-hander will face live hitters for the first time Saturday.

  6. Cano, Puig, Pujols to participate in an All-Star series in Japan in November

    Aug 21, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT

    Japan Flag

    It’s better than no baseball in November, right?

  7. Rangers pull back Neal Cotts off waivers, won’t trade him

    Aug 21, 2014, 1:43 PM EDT

    Tampa Bay Rays v Texas Rangers Getty Images

    Texas not trading impending free agent reliever Neal Cotts before the July 31 deadline was surprising and now they’re going to hang onto the left-hander for the rest of the season.

  8. HBT Daily: Can’t stop the Nats

    Aug 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    HBT Daily Logo

    A nine game winning streak and a bunch of walkoff wins. Do they have a weakness right now?

  9. When will Ryan Zimmerman return to Nationals? “Sometime in September”

    Aug 21, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT

    Ryan Zimmerman AP AP

    There’s only a week or so remaining in the minor-league season, so if Zimmerman wants to go on a rehab assignment before coming off the disabled list he’s running out of time.

  10. The Cubs defend their grounds crew

    Aug 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Wrigley Tarp Getty Images

    The Cubs have their grounds crew’s back.

  11. Yankees plan to shift David Phelps from the rotation to the bullpen

    Aug 21, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT

    New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Getty Images

    Phelps started 17 games with a 4.28 ERA before being shut down with elbow problems three weeks ago.

  12. Cubs place struggling Edwin Jackson on the disabled list

    Aug 21, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT

    Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals Getty Images

    After signing a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs last offseason Edwin Jackson struggled last season and has now been a mess this year, giving him a combined 14-32 record and 5.47 ERA in 57 starts for Chicago.

  13. Miguel Cabrera aggravated an ankle injury last night

    Aug 21, 2014, 11:32 AM EDT

    miguel cabrera getty Getty Images

    He’ll rub some dirt on it and play through, but the Tigers really don’t need this.

  14. Nationals’ nine-game winning streak is “absolutely epic”

    Aug 21, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT

    Bryce Harper AP

    The events taking place each evening on South Capitol Street are beginning to defy explanation.

  15. Kris Bryant reclaims minors leads with 41st homer

    Aug 21, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT

    kris bryant getty Getty Images

    According to MLB.com the last minor leaguer with more than 41 homers in a season was Dallas McPherson of the Marlins with 42 at Triple-A in 2008.

  16. Salvador Perez to have an MRI on his knee

    Aug 21, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    salvador perez light blue getty Getty Images

    He was hurt Monday. Played Tuesday. Out yesterday. Now it’s MRI time.

  17. Justin Verlander has avoided the disabled list and expects to start Saturday

    Aug 21, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

    Division Series - Detroit Tigers v Oakland Athletics - Game Two Getty Images

    Dating back to mid-May he has a 5.85 ERA in 17 starts, including an ERA higher than 4.50 in May, June, July, and August.

  18. ESPN Dallas guy says Yu Darvish should pitch through elbow pain

    Aug 21, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT

    yu darvish getty Getty Images

    When you put a football analyst on the baseball beat, you’re gonna have a bad time.

  19. A pitch clock in Major League Baseball? No thanks.

    Aug 21, 2014, 9:08 AM EDT

    Play Clock

    It feels like baseball is interested in continuing its bad habit of solving minor problems in the most disruptive and gimmicky way possible.

  20. Video: Brewers broadcast booth sends fan a beer after he loses his in a foul ball scrum

    Aug 21, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT

    Replacement Beer

    Doing good deeds is not part of a TV broadcaster’s job, but people are friendlier in the Midwest.

Featured video

Who's to blame for Cubs tarp fiasco?
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. R. Castillo (3296)
  2. M. Cuddyer (2988)
  3. K. Bryant (2438)
  4. A. Garcia (2382)
  5. W. Myers (2236)
  1. J. Werth (2216)
  2. A. McCutchen (2157)
  3. Y. Molina (2130)
  4. T. Frazier (1918)
  5. M. Fiers (1914)