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.
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.
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.
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