MLK Day: Not Many Celebrating in MLB

There was a time, not long ago, when a healthy percentage of ML players were African-American, including it's greatest players. Just look at this year's HOF class. No longer. The era of the great black baseball star is basically over; Latin Americans have assumed the preeminence they once held. By my quick count, the Yanks and Sox have only two players combined on their 40-man rosters who would be listed as African-American: Derek Jeter and Dewon Day. I may have missed one or two, and I'll grant that the division lines between ethnicities is pretty thin, but this is still pretty shocking. On the Yanks, the two men who most obviously reference Jackie Robinson are both Latin:  #42, Mariano Rivera, and Robinson Cano, who was named for him. Make of it what you will.

16 comments… add one

  • C.C. Sabathia looks kinda africanish americanish? no?

    JOHNNY January 19, 2009, 11:07 am
  • This runs into issues of defining “African American,” because not all black people are of African descent and not all people of African descent are black. How do we treat, as you seem to imply YF, players from the Caribbean who would have been classified as “black” (or other, more repugnant categories) in the days of segregation (David Ortiz springs to mind, and Rivera and Cano also likely fall into this group).
    That’s kind of a side note to the overall point though that baseball needs to reach out better to black youth who are more likely to be drawn now to football and basketball. MLB has seemingly made some strides in recent years, but more can always be done — indeed, must be done. The strongest institutions are diverse institutions, and MLB ignores this problem at its own peril.

    Paul SF January 19, 2009, 11:16 am
  • Almost 10 years ago, I worked at Harlem RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner-City) one summer. Because it’s based in East Harlem, most of my students/players were from Puerto Rican or other Hispanic backgrounds, but one of the goals of the program (which receives money and support from mlb) is to attract more African-Americans to baseball. It’s been going for over 20 years. I’m not sure how much of an effect it is and will have in terms of a demographic shift in the majors. In any case, it’s a nice program and I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in coaching little league level baseball and has the time.

    Nick-YF January 19, 2009, 11:26 am
  • I’ll never understand this obsession with grouping individuals along racial lines. First, the percentage of black MLBers is very close to the percentage of the U.S. population that is black. So, what is the desirable ratio of blacks to MLB employees? Should it be higher than the ratio of blacks to the U.S. population? Better question: Why does it matter? Should we be concerned that an incredibly small percentage of NBAers are Hispanic? I’d argue that we shouldn’t. Individuals are free to choose what sports they play and watch. If MLB wants to recruit black ball players, that’s up to them. They’re a private organization. If MLB wants to restrict blacks from joining their league, that’s also up to them; I’d simply choose not to do business with such a league. My point is that we should not be so concerned with superficial characteristics like skin color.

    Cecil Travis January 19, 2009, 12:31 pm
  • If MLB wants to restrict blacks from joining their league, that’s also up to them
    Actually, it’s not. MLB is governed, like all businesses, by the EEOC. For players, it’s a meritocracy, to an extent. But not for the clubs themselves. They can’t “restrict” blacks from joining.
    And the ethnicity issue extends beyond the lines of the field, into front offices, to scouting departments, and down the ladder. We shouldn’t be so naive to think that the number of minority players on the field is the whole issue here.

    SF January 19, 2009, 1:01 pm
  • “And the ethnicity issue extends beyond the lines of the field, into front offices, to scouting departments, and down the ladder. We shouldn’t be so naive to think that the number of minority players on the field is the whole issue here.”
    what is the issue then? seriously, where is the outcry for the lack of whites in basketball? is it mlbs job to force parents in inner cities to put their children in little league?

    ric January 19, 2009, 1:25 pm
  • I think one problem with the lack of African-American interest in baseball is the focus on football/basketball. Blacks are downright dominant in those two sports, and as such less focus is put on baseball. Are Prince Fielder and CC Sabathia going to be idolized in the inner city the way Kobe Bryant and LaDainian Tomlinson are? No.
    How do you fix such a problem? MLB could spend more money on getting inner city kids interested in baseball, but there’s only so much they can do. When I played baseball in highschool our 2nd baseman was made fun of by his peers because he was black and played baseball instead of football/basketball. His brother was on the basketball and football teams, and his parents and siblings went to all of those games, but rarely came to a baseball game. MLB can certainly spend more money in some areas, but very shortly you’re going to see diminishing returns.

    Atheose - SF January 19, 2009, 1:36 pm
  • Baseball is an important part of the African-American heritage, and also a wonderful sport. I think MLB has a special obligation to develop its (flagging) relationship with that community, and the RBI program is a great example of a positive step in that direction. This doesn’t seem controversial to me. I’d rather not get into the murky issue of racial identification and preference in hiring.

    YF January 19, 2009, 1:46 pm
  • Jimmy Rollins pointed this out in ’07 when he won the MVP award. I couldn’t quote him off the top of my head, but I’m pretty sure he referred to it as credibility (cred). I don’t know how you could go about making baseball appeal to other cultures that don’t respect it. Baseball just isn’t as sexy as basketball/football is right now.
    It’s a shame too, because you’d be hard pressed to find a more athletic race of people.

    Pat January 19, 2009, 3:07 pm
  • Socio-economic and geographic considerations are the primary factor for involvement in almost every sporting pursuit. Any discussion that veers into perceptions of racially-based athleticism, is to steal YF’s word, murky at best, and more accurately, dangerous and essentially unprovable.

    attackgerbil January 19, 2009, 3:45 pm
  • It’s a shame too, because you’d be hard pressed to find a more athletic race of people.
    Jimmy the Greek says hello.

    Rob January 19, 2009, 4:33 pm
  • My first coaching job when I was 20 years old was at a inner city high school. If you have ever seen the movie Lean On Me, Joe Clark story…that was the other HS in town. Our basketball team went to the T.O.C. that season and when I walked into the AD’s office to accept the job he told me “If you win 3 games I will make you coach of the year.” Being a cocky 20 year old I laughed. In my 3 seasons there I won ONE game. We were the doormats of our league and county and not much could be done about it. Basketball and Football were the focal points and really the only sports the better athletes wanted to play. We struggled for numbers and obviously we struggled for talent. The interest is not there and part of the issue is that inner city kids cannot relate to the icons of MLB as easily as they can to the icons of the NFL and NBA. The examples of inner city kids working their way out of similar surroundings are far less than you find in the other 2 sports. It’s also a far more expensive sport to play which also plays a big part in it. I wish there was more that can be done, but the NBA and NFL are kicking baseball’s arse when it comes to “recruiting” the black athlete.
    Another example of how bad it has gotten on the HS level…At my current school we play a very large group 4 inner city school, because they struggle so badly they play double headers instead of single games. Reason being…they never get passed the mercy rule. So they finish TWO games in the time most schools struggle to finish one. It’s truly a shame.

    John - YF January 19, 2009, 5:31 pm
  • A lot of good stuff here and I hope this talk continues. I’m in the camp that doesn’t understand why racial lines are drawn so straight. We are a much more diverse population as a whole than we were even 10 years ago.
    I think a lot of it actually has to do with the progression of the athlete in the sport. With football and basketball, if you’re at the top, you can pretty much make it happen out of high school or a few years of college. That’s not the case with baseball, the top players make a lot of money in comparison to the other sports, but you almost always have to pay your dues in the minors first. That’s a lot of time and risk if you can run a super fast 40, can hit a baseball and catch a football.
    A bird in the hand.

    LocklandSF January 19, 2009, 5:50 pm
  • I think there is a cost involved. How many basketball courts are there in the inner cities, how many sprung up in the 80s and 90s? I would think many more than baseball diamonds. Also for basketball it is far less expensive to get people involved than baseball. Heck 1 or 2 people, a ball and a hoop is all that is needed in basketball. Baseball has a much higher cost. Football is the same thing, a field, a football and a group of kids is all that is needed to play.

    BillsBurgSF January 19, 2009, 10:16 pm
  • One of the main factors in the rise of Latin players and the fall of African American players beyond the appeal of football and basketball (although the NBA has been an attraction for some time now) is that MLB franchises have turned their attention to Latin countries in developing talent. The Yanks and the Sox both have develpmental teams in the DR but I don’t recall any such comparable efforts in the inner city.
    And Lockland SF, great point. I always try to spin it the opposite way for the younger people in my life. One stands a greater chance of actually supporting oneself over the long haul with baseball because of its extensive minor league system. You won’t live like A-Rod but you won’t have to work in the grocery store either – or work there full time at least.
    But the attraction of pro football on an economic level always stumped me: non-guaranteed contracts, high injury risk, salary cap, short average time in the league. What gives?

    lp January 21, 2009, 4:27 pm
  • I think a lot of it has to do with popularity, Ip. Everyone knows who Tim Duncan and Eli Manning are, but not as many people know who Sabathia and Teixeira are. Becoming an NBA or NFL player is held in such high regard in the minds of many African Americans, far moreso than in MLB.

    Atheose January 21, 2009, 5:05 pm

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