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The tricky business of counting racial backgrounds of MLB players
2008-10-10 11:21
by Bob Timmermann

Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal has an interesting post about how difficult it can be to count up the racial makeup of MLB players.

In the past decade, though, dozens of articles have lamented the declining proportion of black players, from 27% of all major leaguers in the mid-1970s to 8.2% last season, even as the percentage of Americans who are of African descent has inched up in recent decades.

For all its currency, that decline appears to be way off. In recent years, two baseball researchers, working independently, have found that blacks probably never made up more than 20% of major leaguers.


Baseball researchers still use a crude method to assign a single race to each player -- by gazing at baseball cards, flipping through media guides and judging whether surnames are Latino.

2008-10-10 12:11:48
1.   bobsbrother
And for those that follow the link, the person mentioned is not me.
2008-10-10 12:41:56
2.   Chyll Will
Maybe if so many individuals and institutions did not freely and/or conveniently interchange race with ethnicity, the numbers would be less ethereal across all forums. You may be able to make a case for less indigenous African Americans as an ethnicity in MLB, but I doubt less Blacks as a whole. One of the problems is the still-existing negative stigma attached to being defined as "Black" in this and perhaps more-so in other countries. Gen. Raphael Trujillo for one made strong efforts to erase or obfuscate objects, artifacts or appearances of African descent in his country (D.R.) and the effects still exist to this day.

That is not to demonize such cultures on this subject, but to point out the obvious stumbling blocks in relating the true percentages of diversity based on race in MLB today.

2008-10-10 13:23:57
3.   Cliff Corcoran
There's no doubt that diversity in baseball is higher today than it's ever been. We not only have both white and blacks born in the continental United States, but Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Venezuelans, Mexicans, Panamanians, Cubans, Colombians, Arubans, Curacoans, Nicaraguans, Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Australians, and those exotic Canadians.

The issue isn't "diversity" on the field. The issue is the declining presence of African Americans specifically, and the emphasis is there in large part because of the significance baseball has had in the civil rights movement in this country.

The problem is that once you start trying to define "African American" on a player-to-player basis, you're going to run into trouble (Does Derek Jeter count? Did Jamaican-born Chili Davis count?) not only because the line blurs, but because drawing a line between the races (or nationalities for that matter, consider Alex Rodriguez's flip-flopping between being "American" or "Dominican" prior to the last World Baseball Classic) for the purpose of such counts is something of a racist act in and of itself.

Certainly there are a number of African American players in the game who are dedicated to organizations such as RBI because they want kids from their neighborhoods to have the same opportunities (or better) and love for the game that they had. But counting "black" players doesn't seem like the right way to measure their success.

2008-10-10 13:45:36
4.   rmr
My god. Look at how the percentage of whites has fallen since 1946.
2008-10-10 15:19:26
5.   Chyll Will
3 I agree, don't see where we don't. Intent is the issue. I recall a discussion of this nature coming up two seasons ago, in which I commented that the accessibility to the higher echelons of competition were hindered in many ways to African Americans in general, chiefly by economic opportunity. Now it's nearly impossible for me to accurately gauge personal interest from my basement, but might I add to this that I'll bet just by taking a gander at prevailing media images that there's not a whole lot of encouragement to play the game beyond casual recreation, something RBI is addressing directly.

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