Class, Race, Weather, and Getting Ahead in Major League Baseball

African-Americans from the South like Domonic Brown may be finding it harder to reach the Majors (via Angela N.).

African-Americans from the South like Domonic Brown may be finding it harder to reach the Majors (via Angela N.).

Opportunity has been a hot topic lately in economics, and it is important in major league naseball, as well. The rest of the world has been able to escape poverty at rates unobserved in human history, and foreigners have been able to play in the majors at record rates.

However, in terms of both economic mobility and baseball, it has been difficult for many native-born Americans to get ahead. In this article, I will discuss some of the changes that have transpired regarding where baseball players are born along with the economic implications.

Decline in the Share of Black Players

The most notable topic related to mobility that has appeared in baseball research is the concerning decline of African-Americans in baseball over the years. Mark Armour and Dan Levitt recently wrote about the rise and decline of the share of African-Americans in major league baseball from Jackie Robinson’s emergence on the scene until 2012. They show the percentage of baseball players who are African-Americans peaking at 18.7 percent in 1981, only to fall all the way to 7.2 percent in 2012.

Armour and Levitt highlight that some of this trend comes from the fact that African-Americans are disproportionately position players (especially outfielders), and the growing share of pitchers on major league rosters has contributed to this decline. However, this does not begin to explain the decline by more than half, nor does the share of Latinos and Asians.

As their data show, even though the fraction of Latinos and Asians has grown by 17.8 percent (from 11.0 percent to 28.8 percent) during this time, the decline in whites has gone only from 70.1 percent to 63.9 percent (a 6.2 percentage point decline), while the share of African-Americans has fallen by 9.5 percentage points.

J.C. Bradbury made some important contributions to the discussion on this topic, as well. He also noted the decline of African-Americans in the data and the limited explanatory power of the increased share of Latinos. However, Bradbury also firmly debunked the myth that African-Americans are simply participating more in football and basketball instead by showing that the percentage of African-Americans in the NFL and NBA has remained roughly constant even as their share has been drastically reduced in major league baseball.

Bradbury also showed that although average wealth of African-Americans is behind that of whites in the United States, the gradual upward trend is similar for both races and has not diverged; so wealth disparity would not appear to explain the decline in the share of blacks in the majors. However, there is one wrinkle that Bradbury did not discuss that I will explain in this article: what if income matters more than it used to and the gap between blacks and whites is not larger but instead is more relevant?

Economic Mobility in the United States

I will not study the share of African-Americans directly in this article—I am still working on the data. However, this piece will discuss the importance of opportunity in making the major leagues and how it has evolved over time. In one of the most important studies on economic mobility, Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Emmanuel Saez, and Nicholas Turner looked at economic mobility by area across the country and found some important trends. They provide a tool to study differences by region in economic mobility that David Leonhardt wrote about along with providing this map at the New York Times in July:

 

Income1

 

Areas in red have the worst income mobility, and areas in blue are those with the highest income mobility. What is extremely striking is the massive splotch of red you see in the South. This will relate to some of my findings later in this article, but it is important to note that this finding is not about race, per se.

As Leonhardt explains, “Regions with larger black populations had lower upward-mobility rates. But the researchers’ analysis suggested that this was not primarily because of their race. Both white and black residents of Atlanta have low upward mobility, for instance.” In other words, while low economic mobility in the United States is disproportionately affecting blacks, it is not just because of their race but because of crucial disadvantages they have more frequently than whites.

In fact, the researchers found a very distinct trend in the data that has been discussed extensively. This is that, “All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods.”

In other words, what makes mobility so low in the South and other regions is the geographic segregation of rich and poor, making it harder for the poor to have access to the same opportunities that the rich have. This is central to my argument about what has happened to African-Americans in the majors. As I will show, the most likely culprit is change in the opportunity to succeed.

Whether the Weather?

Another characteristic of the South other than urban sprawl is that (Polar Vortex not withstanding) it is warm. Even in the winter, the South often has weather that enables people to play baseball. That matters because training for baseball has increasingly become a year-round activity; players in the South (and the Southwest) have been able to hone their skills throughout the winter in a way that players in colder climates have not been able to.

Everyone knows this has been one of the reasons that baseball has thrived in Latin America, but I will show that this is also of increasing importance in the U.S. As the opportunity to improve throughout the calendar year presents itself, there is no reason to think that it would necessarily affect everyone equally. In fact, the data suggest that when the climate is warmer, local income matters more. This is especially true in recent years.

In today’s article, I will look at Wins Above Replacement (WAR) per birth at a regional, state, and county level for players born in the United States. What my results will suggest is that while warmer weather states produce more ballplayers, higher income counties produce more players and that these trends have increased over time. These results hold up under a variety of specifications, indicating that this is not a statistical quirk but, rather a trend that may explain why African-Americans make up a smaller share of major league players today.

Data

Baseball data came from Jeff Zimmerman, who helped me with a data file of career WAR along with date and city of birth for all players in major league history. I refined this to concentrate only on players born between 1940 and 1989, since this was most readily adapted to other data sources.

For weather data, I used average temperatures by state and month from 1971 to 2000 from naaa.gov. While this does not quite capture changes in temperatures over time, nor does it capture the variance in average temperatures by state (an obvious limit in particular for California), it at least gives a reasonable proxy for the opportunity to play baseball in the winter in a state. I will actually end up using only December, January and February average temperatures by state, which were far more relevant than average year-round temperatures.

To get county-level income, I used median household income data from the Census’ Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates from 2011. Obviously, income inequality exists within counties, too, so simply ascribing the median household income in a county does not quite explain an individual’s actual opportunity. Furthermore, this does not quite capture the incomes of these individual counties from 1989 or earlier, but it at least provides a reasonable proxy. As you will see, the results are statistically significant even with this noisy measure.

The next thing I needed was data on births per county, which I got from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. This provided population by age group in every county from 1940 to 1989, and I used only data on the number of people who were under one year old in each county and summed across the decade. (I figured it was about time the National Cancer Institute’s data was used for something important like baseball!)

The last thing I needed was ZIP code data linking up counties to cities, since Zimmerman’s data file had player’s city of birth, not the county. Fortunately, I was able to get this from the ZIP Code Database. This was good enough to match up the county with the player for 97 percent of players born after 1940, which should eliminate any issues with missing data.

WAR per Birth, by Region and State

Let’s start with a simple grouping of census regions as defined here. The table below shows the ratio of the percentage of career WAR from U.S.-born players in a given decade from a given region, relative to the percentage of births in the U.S. in that region from the decade (which will be a central statistic that I use throughout this article). An important caveat should be noted. To avoid outliers driving the analysis, I capped all individual WAR at 20.0 (i.e. I treated a player with 120.1 WAR and a player with 20.1 WAR as both having 20.0 WAR career).

WAR/births by decade, region
Region 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s
Northeast 0.61 0.50 0.73 0.52 0.23
Midwest 0.96 0.85 0.66 0.75 0.47
South 1.00 0.93 1.06 1.13 1.46
West 2.11 2.51 1.94 1.85 1.79

What immediately jumps out is that the Northeast and Midwest have always produced fewer players (as measured in WAR to account for differences between players) than would be expected based on their population sizes. For most regions, the proportion of players has declined, but the fraction of players born in the South relative to the actual birth rate in the South has actually grown, especially during the 1980s.

When considering the table above, it is even more amazing that the fraction of African-American players has decreased. Given that the percentage of African-Americans born is nearly twice the rate in the South as any other region, there should be an increasing share of African-Americans if all else were equal.

By my estimates, if there were no unique factors that affected African-American and white players other than the geographic region in which they were born, the share of African-Americans should have grown from about 11 percent to about 16 percent during this time period. In reality, it declined from about 19 percent to about 7 percent. Even as the South was producing more players, the share of black players was declining.

Of course, using general Census regions has benefits and limits. The benefit is that the sample size is large enough in a given decade that numbers can be trusted as meaningful.  For instance, we clearly see that there is no way that the West doesn’t produce more players than its population suggests. However, it also clusters together states with differing player production rates, too.

So, for the sake of completeness, and accepting the small sample size limitations, here are five maps (one for each decade) that show the trend over time in WAR/Birth Ratio (again, WAR is capped at 20.0 per person) at a state level. The red states are the ones that produce the most baseball players, and the blue states are the ones that produce the fewest. Orange states produce the second-most WAR and purple the second-least, with green being average. Watch the red and orange move south over time and the blue and purple move north.

Income2 Income3 Income4 Income5 Income6

Remember that the sample sizes can be very small for individual states, which really can throw off the individual state numbers in a given decade, so focus on the general trend especially in larger states. And the trend is that by the 1980s, there is almost no overlap between red and orange areas (higher WAR/birth ratios) and blue and purple areas (lower WAR/birth ratios). Although this trend was present beforehand, it is striking how much the map evolves over time.

Warm Winters and WAR

States with warmer winters produce more WAR per birth than states with colder winters, and this trend has strengthened over time. Consider the following table of the 10 most populous states in the nation, sorted by the average temperature in the December, January and February.

WAR/births by decade in 10 most populous states
State Avg. Temp, Dec-Feb 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s
Florida 59.36 2.22 1.54 2.93 1.71 2.41
Texas 47.73 1.05 1.00 1.25 0.82 1.52
Georgia 47.68 0.23 0.97 1.30 1.68 1.98
California 46.21 2.75 3.59 2.54 2.58 1.86
North Carolina 41.94 0.88 0.18 0.58 1.05 1.51
Ohio 29.34 1.47 0.66 1.02 0.59 0.59
Pennsylvania 28.26 0.67 0.84 0.73 0.43 0.16
Illinois 28.13 0.72 1.01 0.66 0.89 0.53
New York 23.28 0.62 0.46 0.74 0.69 0.18
Michigan 21.60 1.17 0.91 0.65 0.54 0.18

What should jump out is that even though the warmer winter states had higher WAR/birth ratios even in the 1940s, there were still states like Ohio and Michigan with colder winters that produced more ballplayers per birth than average, and states like Georgia and North Carolina that produced fewer than expected players.

However, by the 1980s, all five of the largest states with high average temperatures produced more WAR than would be expected based on the number of births, and all five of the largest states with low average temperatures produced fewer WAR than would be expected based on the number births. In fact, move Texas down three spots and Illinois up one spot and the mapping of temperature to WAR/birth in the 1980s is straight-up monotonically increasing (i.e. for any two states you would pick, the warmer state would have more WAR per birth).

County Income and the Production of Baseball Players

Income is important in the production of baseball players, too. As I highlighted at the beginning of this article, the primary goal here is to study the effect of income over time. The following table shows the correlation of county income with WAR/birth ratio of that county in each decade and overall.

Correlation of birth county income with WAR/birth ratio, by decade
Correlation Time Period of Median Household Income and… WAR/Birth Ratio p-stat
1940s (N=2,974) .032 .081
1950s (N=2,983) .069 <.001
1960s (N=3,097) .008 .656
1970s (N=3,071) -.006 .740
1980s (N=3,101) .079 <.001
Overall (N=15,526) 0.027 <.001

As mentioned above, county income is an not exact measure, and county income itself is not from the same time periods, which explains why the correlations are on the low side, but with a sample size of about three-thousand counties, the results are statistically significant for the 1950s and 1980s, as well as overall, and are highest in the 1980s. Furthermore, since most counties produce zero ballplayers in a given decade, there is a lot of noise in the estimates, even capping WAR at 20.0 per player. However, once I factor in temperatures, it becomes clearer that income has become more important over time.

The following few tables will show regression analyses, in which I control for correlated factors to isolate the significance of each variable. The specific quantitative results from the coefficients may be difficult to describe without more calculus than I would care or need to get into, but the most important takeaways are the variables show up as statistically significant.

In the end, these regressions are glorified correlations that have the added benefit of controlling for several factors at once. This approach shows how important weather and income are, and how they have become more important over time.

Since the data are skewed, the dependent variable is not WAR/birth ratio of a county, but the natural log of WAR/birth ratio, which is less skewed. Since the natural log of zero is non-existent, I use the natural log of (WAR/million births + 1). From here out, I’m just going to call this “the WAR-birth function.”

First, here is the regression of the WAR-birth function on county income, with an adjustment for decade:

Regression of the WAR-birth function (N=15,210)^
Variable WAR/Birth Ratio p-stat
Median County Income (in millions) 16.6 .000
Median County Income * Decade Number Indicator 2.27 .010
Decade Number Indicator# -0.143 .000
Constant 0.062 .527

^: Sample sizes don’t match above because of missing temperature data on Alaska and Hawaii
#: Note that this variable is just set to 0 for 1940, 1 for 1950, etc. as a means of removing bias to get a true impact of the interaction term, much like the constant term

The fact that the first row’s variable (median county income) is statistically significant means that county income level has a positive effect on WAR for the county. The second variable shows the interaction term of median county income with a decade number indicator (a dummy variable that simply increases by one each decade).

The fact that this is statistically significant is very important. It shows that not only is income important, but that it has become more important over time. In fact, the coefficient on the WAR-birth term is effectively 16.6 for the 1940s, but is 25.7 for the 1980s (16.6 + 2.27*4). In other words, a county’s income level is more than 50 percent more important than it used to be in determining how many baseball players a county could produce.

Putting Together Green Weather and Green Money

The next regression shows the importance of weather. It shows that counties with warmer winters have produced more baseball players in richer counties.

Regression of the WAR-birth function (N=15,210)
Variable WAR/Birth Ratio p-stat
Winter Avg. Temp. -.008 .000
Winter Avg. Temp. * Median County Income (in millions) .361 .000
Constant -.055 .004

Ignore the negative coefficient on winter average temperature outside of the interaction because that would only show the effect of winter average temperature on a county with a median income of zero. Instead, what this shows is that if a county has an average income of $22,000, the effect of warm winters would be near 0, but it would be positive beyond this income level. Verbally, this table shows that warmer winters matter more in higher income counties.

The next regression will show that warmer winters matter more in recent years.

Regression of the WAR-birth function (N=15,210)
Variable WAR/Birth Ratio p-stat
Winter Avg. Temp. .0028 .002
Winter Avg. Temp. * Decade Number Indicator .0012 .002
Decade Number Indicator -.052 .000
Constant .141 .000

Here, the coefficient on winter average temperature is positive, but so is the interaction term. This means that warmer winters made a county more likely to produce players even in the 1940s, but that this was much more important in the 1980s.

In fact, it says that a one-degree increase in winter average temperature would increase the production of baseball players in an area by more than twice as much in the 1970s as the 1940s and nearly three times as much by the 1980s. (You can ignore the decade number indicator and constant terms again, since they are just statistical techniques to un-bias the regression coefficients that we care about.)

Lastly, let’s put it all together. Let’s include three interaction terms, considering the effects of income on the importance of weather and of income and weather over time. These are all statistically significant positive in the equation below.

Regression of the WAR-birth function (N=15,210)
Variable WAR/Birth Ratio p-stat
Median County Income (in millions) -3.34 .115
Median County Income*Decade Number Indicator 1.58 .000
Winter Avg. Temp. -0.011 .000
Winter Avg. Temp. * Decade Number Indicator 0.002 .000
Winter Avg. Temp. * Median County Income (in millions) 0.366 .000
Decade Number Indicator -0.134 .000
Constant 0.222 .032

The three variables to consider here are the interaction terms. We have established that income and weather are important, but the number of interactions means that the coefficients on the individual terms will not matter without taking partial derivatives, and we can skip that today. The keys here are that:

  1. Higher income has become more important over time
  2. Warmer weather has become more important over time
  3. Warmer weather is more important in high-income counties (and vice versa)

Conclusions and Future Studies

I began this article by discussing the question of the declining share of African-Americans in baseball. Although I do not have data at this point on player’s races, I do think that what I have shown about incomes at the county level can help shine a light on this and other questions.

Putting together the high rate of baseball players relative to births coming out of the South in recent decades (and the growth of this high level) with the relatively larger share of African-Americans in the South, and referencing back to the issue of urban sprawl and low opportunity of lower-income areas in the South mentioned at the beginning of this article, I believe that a trend has emerged.

As becoming a baseball player has become a year-round activity in the South, it is easier for richer families to afford all that this entails. As a result, with a finite number of roster spots, lower-income young players (including, on average, African-Americans) are losing ground to higher-income young players who train throughout the year.

There are implications for MLB’s initiatives to address this issue, like the RBI Initiative (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities). The issue may not be simply exposing young people to the game of baseball, but rather giving them an opportunity to train like richer families can afford.

In other words, MLB should not just settle for exposing young African-Americans to the game of baseball, letting them know that just maybe making millions of dollars playing a game might be a good way to live your life, even if you’re better at baseball than football or basketball. Instead it should enable promising youth to become great players by providing coaching and year-round training that would not otherwise be available to them.

Of course, all of my analysis was done without actual data on race.  As a next step, I hope to redo some of these studies looking at African-American players’ production at a state and county level and separating out whether there were differences that could illuminate what has transpired.

Because it takes a few decades before one can even study career WAR by players born in a given decade, the fact that we are finding such trends for players born 25-to-34 years ago means that we are already pretty late and that correcting differences in opportunity will take decades.

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Comments

  1. Paul G. said...

    “Bradbury also firmly debunked the myth that African-Americans are simply participating more in football and basketball instead by showing that the percentage of African-Americans in the NFL and NBA has remained roughly constant even as their share has been drastically reduced in MLB.”

    Not having read Bradbury’s study I am curious if this description is an oversimplification. The fact that the percentage of African-Americans in the NFL and NBA has remained constant is interesting but not necessarily on point. The NBA’s percentage is very, very high so there is not a lot of upward movement possible, and the NFL is essentially a game with many different specialists where African-Americans have reached dominance in many of them (defensive secondary, running backs, etc.). It is quite possible that there are a lot more African-Americans being funneled into the NBA and NFL without having much of any impact on the overall percentage because there is very little room left for movement. I would think that the proper place to study participation levels would be further down the chain at the high school and college levels, if not down into Little League and its equivalents.

    • Paul S. said...

      All things being equal, the results of this study might cause one to wonder whether or not the conventional view holds, namely that participation rates among African Americans in football and basketball have increased without making inroads at the highest levels. However, there are several factors that suggest this is not the case. First, more intense participation is strongly correlated with advancement and success at the highest levels. This phenomenon is observable in the statistically disproportionate representation of baseball players from the Dominican Republic in the Major Leagues, or the continued excellence of long distance runners from Kenya, etc. Therefore, one would expect greater participation levels of African Americans in other sports to be discernible at the highest levels of those sports, when in fact this is not the case. Second, recent studies (http://tinyurl.com/k7sper3) strongly suggest that poverty is a major barrier to entry for NBA players, just as it is for MLB players. In short, the traditional narrative of NBA players coming from predominantly impoverished, inner-city, single-family backgrounds is not supported by the evidence.

  2. Matt Swartz said...

    That’s a fair point, I guess it’s not thoroughly debunked. However, it seems pretty far fetched that something preference-based that would cause the share of black players to fall by more than half in baseball wouldn’t cause a minor increase on basketball or football’s percentage of black players.

    Even if there are more black wide receivers than offensive lineman, those percentages are both safely between 0% and 100%, so our best guess has to be that they would increase a little bit if massive numbers of young black athletes were now playing football and basketball instead of baseball they would have played a generation earlier, no?

    • Richie said...

      No, you would rather see them down one level. Are NCAA Division I basketball and football teams now ‘blacker’ than they were 20-30 years ago? Seems so to me, but I hardly pay attention to college sports.

      Anyways, what MLB or private parties want to do with their money is fine. As a taxpayer, spending money on an absolute handful of really good baseball players rather than on increased Head Start programs (or just mass athletic opportunities in poorer areas): AAAAHHHHH!

      • Matt Swartz said...

        If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that the percentage of white college athletes who make it professionally would increase as a result of young black athletes choosing a sport??? If there are more black college athletes proportionately, then there are less white college athletes proportionately. Why wouldn’t this lead to fewer white professional athletes and more black professional athletes?

        Also, to be clear, I did not advocate for taxpayer money to be spent on this issue in this article.

      • Richie said...

        Understanding me very incorrectly. Once ‘black’ (or whatever) participation level is maxed out a la NBA and NFL, you then check the next lower level to see if overall such participation is nevertheless growing. If it is growing there, that means it’s growing period. And there bottled up given that professional opportunities are remaining static.

        So it hasn’t grown from an extremely high level to an extremely just-higher level like your hypothesis suggests? You’re using a lousy hypothesis. Just so many things that could wipe out the size of an increase that you’re looking for.

      • Richie said...

        Anyways, I fully agree that the expense of playing youth baseball sure has driven kids from poor backgrounds out of the field. I also think you’re really pooh-poohing the substitution effect of football and basketball. Of course you can’t find evidence of it by looking in areas that started off inundated.

    • Paul G. said...

      That’s hard to say without real data. I understand real data is hard to come by at the lower levels, but using imperfect proxies of higher levels for lower levels is imperfect. The idea that this is the best we can do with the data we have does not make the data we do have any more useful for the question at hand.

      To hypothesize:

      - In the NBA, at least since I’ve been watching it in the 1980s, the league has always been dominated by a high percentage of African-Americans. There have also been rumors of teams actively trying to keep a token white player on the roster, when possible, even if an African-American would be better. This token would presumably take up someplace on the far end of the bench where his ability or lack thereof would have little impact on the team. I also postulate that most athletes who know they are elite talents at a given sport will focus on that given sport, Michael Jordan’s detours acknowledged. So a possible scenario here is a larger percentage of African-Americans are funneled to the NBA but these newcomers are not elite talents as the elite talents were already heading to the NBA. These lower tier athletes are not going to threaten the positions of elite white talent nor can they budge the tokens who are on the rosters for reasons other than their ability. Now there are probably some marginal white players who could be pushed aside in favor of the new guys, but that likely shifts the white player into the token status. There are only so many NBA jobs and so few white players to begin with that any actual change would be indistinguishable from statistical noise.

      - The NFL’s specialists are a diverse bunch of athletes. How many of these athletes could play baseball? Punters and placekickers? Probably not. Linemen tend to be 300# behemoths and there are not a lot of 300# anythings in MLB. The type of athlete that would most likely be successful in baseball would be positions like tailback, wide receiver, defensive secondary, and probably linebackers. These positions are already overwhelming African-American and the white guys at these positions are probably pretty darn good and not easy to push aside. (If you were a white guy who played safety and second base equally well and you knew NFL teams were biased against white safeties because everyone knows that all the good safeties are African-American – just like they used to think that African-Americans could not play quarterback, the “common sense” in this organization being a bit dim historically – which path would you focus on?) Again, it is adding a bunch of second tier athletes to positions that are already overwhelmingly African-American sprinkled with elite white talent. Percentages are not going to budge much at all.

      That analysis may be wrong, but I think it is certainly possible.

  3. Bucky said...

    Wow, great stuff. I guess if you took the class/wealth and weather things to the extreme what you’d wind up with is the PGA.

  4. Kenn Frye said...

    Some sociological aspects regarding the Black community’s change over time might also figure into the equation. For instance, a chart by decade of the percent of children born to unwed mothers would show an increasing trend from the 1950′s. The last stat I remember seeing on this is that over 70% of Afro-American children are born out of wedlock. It seems a reasonable assumption that boys born with no father figure will be less likely to pursue sports in general. Also, living in a poor environment (higher crime rates/poorer education/less disposable income) tends to lead to fewer young boys playing sports and more running afoul of the law. Another graph to look at would be the number of Black youths (age 10-18) in jail or “juvy” detention. That chart likely shows an increase each decade. I wonder what the numerical comparison would look like if one listed the number of young Blacks involved with local street gang versus local organized sports? It is possible that changing mores in society as a whole and the Afro-American community in specific hold the key.

    • Matt Swartz said...

      If you click on the JC Bradbury link, you’ll see some discussion of these issues actually. They don’t seem to line up well timing-wise, though. Also, while all of the things you mention could plausibly have that effect, there must be some sort of unique factor why they would only impact baseball player development and not other sports. Either crime or single parent households would need to deter baseball players from developing but have no effect on football or basketball. Further, they would need to jive with some of the other trends above too, such as increased share of players from the southeast. I don’t think that there have been fewer out of wedlock births in the southeast over time, have there? Has the crime rate improved in the southeast relative to the northeast and midwest?

  5. Spock said...

    Here’s, from an A/A parent of a minor league player, what happened.

    1) Decimation of grass roots support network for youth & high school level coaching post integration.

    2) Pay for exposure (showcases).

    3) Pay to play (travel ball).

    4) Downsizing of MLB stadiums built since 1990 reduced need for rangy outfielders.

    5) MLB clubs player acquisition shifted to Dominican Republic for lower cost talent than domestic USA.

    6) NBA/NFL offer faster time to financial benefit (no minor leagues).

    • Matt Swartz said...

      I think 1) to 3) all align very well with the income-based data I have above. I would guess those are the main things that are going on, or at least some of the main things. I’m not sure if 4) is big enough to cause such a change, but it could’ve had a small effect. 5) wouldn’t affect the data because it’s specifically about a smaller share of US-born players. 6) could be true, but maybe offset by the opportunity to at least earn bonus money as an 18-year old while football makes you wait years and basketball makes you wait at least a year. But the showcasing issue, the coaching issue, and the travel issue all seem like major impediments that jive with the data I have above.

    • Billy said...

      Well, the good news on 4) is that teams do seem to be valuing outfield defense more these days as a whole (ignore the Mark Trumbo trade) due to the rise of defensive metrics, so that would help. Though honestly, I’m not sure that moves the needle much either way.

      I think 6) hits on a major issue. I know it was not touched on much in the article, but the fact that football and basketball make for college scholarships is huge for a number of reasons:

      1. In basketball and football, the odds of success are better and the timetable for earning is shorter. If you succeed in college basketball or football, you are more likely to succeed in the NBA or NFL. There isn’t as much likelihood of a bust like there is in baseball. Also, you reach the pros more quickly. Wealthier young people can afford to take jobs that pay little early on but might open doors to higher, well paid positions. Unpaid internships are far more appealing to young people whose parents can afford to continue supporting them into early adulthood or help them out if it ends up being a dead end. Poorer young people often NEED to take the first stable source on income they can find, even if it leads to far less earning potential in the long run.

      2. If you dont’ succeed in sports, the college scholarships these sports make available can lead to other decent opportunities in life outside of the sport.

      • said...

        Your point that the NBA and NFL offer better opportunities for the economically disadvantaged is valid, and I believe it may explain why there are such large shares of black athletes in the NBA and NFL relative to how many there are in the MLB. Since the results in the article show that economic disadvantages are becoming more problematic over time, this could one of the main reasons why or it may be a small part. The key would be to determine if a narrative like you’ve written about above would (a) make blacks decrease as a share of MLB players over time (b) not make them increase as a share of NBA or NFL players.

  6. Bill Rubinstein said...

    The obvious reason why the black % of Major Leaguers has decreased is because there are more job opportunities available for blacks today than in years gone by, and they are now more likely to go to college and join the middle class than decades ago, when sports was virtually the only legal way up. This is less true for basketballers, often from the inner city, or football players, recruited from college. The same pattern has arguably been true for white ethnic minorities- the number and visibility of Italian-Americans in baseball has apparently decreased since the DiMaggio-Berra era, for the same reasons.

    • Matt Swartz said...

      As much as I like writing these articles for you guys, I’m pretty sure I’d be playing shortstop instead if I’d had the skill set.

      Even beyond that point, one of the main points of this article was that being wealthier INCREASES your chances of making the big leagues.

      • tz said...

        Good point. I wonder how many well-off white kids with MLB-level talent quit playing ball at the college level to pursue a higher-paying career, back when the top major leaguers were only making 5-figure salaries.

  7. bucdaddy said...

    The question everybody wants to avoid here, of course, is that of sheer athletic ability. Are black athletes somehow generally better suited to the conditions (such as, being really tall is an advantage) and skills (such as, having a 42-inch vertical) required to play basketball or football than they are to playing baseball? No one wants to touch this with a 10-foot pole, of course, because it could evolve (or devolve) into a discussion of genetics and race, and we all know that’s a serious taboo. I don’t know. I’m just noting the unasked (and perhaps unanswerable) question. And please note, this question has nothing to do with intellectual ability, but sheer speed, strength and size. Why is it that the top track sprinters tend largely to be black and the top distance runners (the mile) seem to be largely white (until we get to the marathon, at least)? There shouldn’t be any socioeconomic factors involved there. You can run just about anywhere, for free.

    Perhaps the simple answer is: Because they’re better at it. And we all tend to gravitate toward the things we’re better at doing, don’t we? Couldn’t that apply to baseball, football and basketball as well?

    Anyway, I think it’s also notable that the racial composition of the baseball major leagues — white, black, Hispanic and Asian — still more closely mirrors the racial composition of the U.S. far more than the NBA or the NFL. It’s those two (and the overwhelmingly white NHL) that are the outliers. From the Census Bureau:

    More than half of the growth in the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 was because of the increase in the Hispanic population. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, rising from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010. The rise in the Hispanic population accounted for more than half of the 27.3 million increase in the total U.S. population. By 2010, Hispanics comprised 16 percent of the total U.S. population of 308.7 million.

    (snip)

    The overwhelming majority (97 percent) of the total U.S. population reported only one race in 2010. This group totaled 299.7 million. Of these, the largest group reported white alone (223.6 million), accounting for 72 percent of all people living in the United States. The black or African-American population totaled 38.9 million and represented 13 percent of the total population.

    Approximately 14.7 million people (about 5 percent of all respondents) identified their race as Asian alone.

    • Matt Swartz said...

      Ah, the internet– where you can find any length pole you need to touch any taboo you want. Either way, it wouldn’t apply to this article unless there was a rapid change in genetics or required skills for baseball from the 1940s to the 1980s. Considering the Armour/Levitt findings linked above, that seems unlikely.

      • bucdaddy said...

        “a rapid change in genetics”

        I’m not saying that at all. That would be absurd. In the 1940s, the NBA and the NFL were largely minor league sports. Their rise to popularity in U.S. culture is, coincidentally perhaps, coincident with the increase in the percentage of black athletes playing those two sports. Those sports got a lot better to watch — and probably more attractive to play — once much better athletes were playing them. (TV had a lot to do with this too, of course, football and basketball being ideally suited to TV’s screen.) And that influx of talent has largely come from black athletes — perhaps overwhelmingly so. And possibly there was some snowball effect from that. As more black youths saw more black players in the NBA and NFL and examined their own skill sets by trial and error in school and youth programs, they may have thought, there’s the sport for me. Baseball has never had anything like 70 or 80 percent black representation (well, not counting the Negro Leagues), though it certainly had its share of black superstars to emulate. Plus baseball had that ugly history of discrimination, while pro basketball and football were more open minded (perhaps BECAUSE they were considered minor sports for a long time, and nobody was really watching much.)

        So I’m not saying the genetics have changed in 50 years. (Though modern medicine and training techniques have certainly raised the performance bar considerably for ALL athletes.) I’m saying that the sports in some senses require different body types and skills that do not necessarily translate to each other. Speed and strength are good to have in all sports, of course. But there would be all kinds of challenges with the mechanics (for one thing, a huge strike zone) that would make being 7 feet tall a disadvantage for a second baseman but a huge advantage for a center, get my drift? Sprinter speed is ideal for football and basketball, which call for a lot of short sprints on most plays, which other than running the bases and the occasional ball in the gap in the outfield largely go uncalled-on in baseball, which let’s face it has a lot of standing around. And, of course, as Billy Hamilton may soon find out, you can’t steal first base. Sheer strength can be utilized much better and much more often by a linebacker than by a baseball player because, while maybe you can hit the ball a mile when you connect, you have to connect first.

        Kind of like this: 50 years ago there were very few outlets for someone like you who wanted to be a writer to make a living (or at least find an outlet to make a substantial hobby) out of writing. (Or being on the radio or the TV — in general, to reach an audience of any size other than your friends and immediate family.) But once there were, once technology provided plenty of outlets for anyone with a modem, or, now, wifi, you found your niche, and you gravitated toward writing about baseball because (presumably) you like baseball and you found a community of other baseball fans and an audience of people just like you.

        You found a good fit for your abilities.

        So why isn’t the same thing possible in sports? Women in general, by nature’s design, can be fine tennis players and golfers but are not terribly well suited to play pro football or basketball or major league baseball either, are they? More or less everybody acknowledges that. So why is it wrong to suggest some groups of people of the same gender might just by nature’s design be better suited to some sports than others? (Again, this has NOTHING to do with intellect.)

        I’m not saying this is the answer to the decline in the numbers of black players in baseball — there are an enormous number of factors at play, and the commenters have mentioned some of them (the lack of scholarships in largely white DI baseball, for instance, probably plays a huge role), and you raised some of them here, in ways that seem to make sense. I AM, though, raising this as one possibility.

      • Matt Swartz said...

        I understand what you’re trying to say. I have a few thoughts though:

        1) These are players born in the 1940-1949 range so they presumably peaked in the late 60s or 70s.
        2) You would still need to link your theory to the LACK of an increase in % of blacks in the NFL or NBA.
        3) You might be interested in the Armour/Levitt piece above. For whatever reason, blacks have been far more likely to play outfield than corner infield/middle infield/catcher/pitcher, and yet the share of blacks at each of those five categories has declined. So any change in advantageous skill sets would need to be something that affected hitting AND pitching AND defense.
        4) A relative change in the demand for allocations of skills-based argument is even more problematic in that as the run scoring environment went way up and then way down, the decline in black players was stead throughout the 1990s and 2000s. If strength became more important in a higher-HR era, it would presumably become less important in a lower-HR era. Yet the decline in black players occurred during the amp up of run scoring and the amp down of run scoring. Not only that it happened steadily for both hitters and pitchers.

      • bucdaddy said...

        Oh, sorry, I overlooked one of your points:

        “it wouldn’t apply to this article”

        Well, I understand that your article examines possible socioeconomic factors in the decline in % of black Americans in MLB, and as such wasn’t intended to include possible physical factors. I just think the possible physical factors are too big to ignore, whatever the implications (along with the impact of television, which I don’t think can be overstated).

        I’m a lifelong baseball fan. I don’t watch football and basketball on TV, because those sports bore me to tears, for various reasons. But I have great trouble watching baseball on TV as well, because TV somehow reinforces how little goes on during a ballgame. You sit in the ballpark, there’s lots else to look at. Your gaze is not directed to where the camera points. But when the camera focuses almost entirely on the field … man, those three-hour games drag.

        As I noted, football and basketball are almost perfectly suited to the TV screen. Even the field size and the court size roughly mimic the 16X9 movie screen ratio. And there’s generally a lot going on during football and basketball games. Every 25 seconds there’s a burst of action in football; in baseball, every 25 seconds there’s a pitch. In basketball, the action is pretty much continuous (until the final two minutes, of course).

        I just have to think that, to a kid with any athletic skills, growing up and watching games on TV, which sports LOOK better? Which allow you to see most of what’s going on? Which just look like more fun?

        Which might, then, lead to the question I raised above, although I’ll try to state it in a less racially charged way: Are there body types that are better suited to these sports? Example, here are three body profiles:

        1) 7-0, 295 pounds

        2) 6-2, 320 pounds

        3) 5-10, 180 pounds

        Which body type typically profiles best with which sport?

        a) Pro football

        b) Pro basketball

        c) Major League Baseball

        If you said 1-b, 2-a and 3-c, you’re right.

        Now, are there any general groups of people who might fit these profiles better than others? (I’m thinking “maybe,” but I really don’t know, just making an intuitive guess.) And if so, why would it be unusual for these groups to tend to accumulate in the sports for which they seem physically best suited?

        Anyway, thanks for opening the discussion. I may be right or I may be wrong, but I’ve found it interesting.

        Best wishes.

      • said...

        Of course it’s true that not everyone can choose whichever sport they want. The fact that blacks are not growing in percentage terms in the NBA and NFL while they are shrinking in the MLB further reinforces the fact that the “now they play other sports instead” theory is inconsistent with the data.

  8. JiminNC said...

    I’m surprised there has been no mention of the shortage of baseball scholarships. “NCAA Division I schools are allowed only 11.7 baseball scholarships, and many fund fewer” while football teams have 85 (http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/eye-on-baseball/22045063/mlb-creating-committee-to-study-decline-in-african-american-players) and many baseball kids have only partial scholarships. Even lower-middle-class kids whose families might be able to scrape together the money to fund year-round play must be less willing to do so because there is less of a chance of their getting a free ride to college as a return on investment.

    • tz said...

      If I had the ear of an HSBC athletic director, I’d advise them to offer as many football scholarships as possible to kids who would also play baseball at the school. Imagine if, say, Southern U had a Rickie Weeks-type talent surrounded by a few other strong Division I baseball players AND a deep, strong pitching staff. Think of how more publicity a College WS appearance would get than a SWAC football championship.

  9. james wilson said...

    This is a remarkably well documented and useless article if the object is to understand the black American disdain for baseball, both player and fan. You are looking for reasons in data that does not inspire any. This is usually the result of being afraid of looking in places where uncomfortable truths are actually found.

    Black American baseball died with integration. That is where the story begins. It’s an interesting trail.

    And advising kids to seek their fortune in professional sports of any kind is so patronizing and irresponsible that it would cause embarrassment if there were any self-awareness, but avoiding truths in others leads to blindness about ourselves.

  10. rmc said...

    In the 1950′s, ’60′s, and ‘early ’70′s there were still ballparks everywhere, north and south. The poor generally populated major league baseball and suddenly the ballparks disappeared and the kids had to be part of a team in order to find competition – there weren’t a lot of kids playing video games then.
    The real study would be to compare the financial resources of the families of players who became major leaguers from the states to players from Latin American countries over the last thirty years; you will find that the Latin American players continue to come from a variety of economic levels while here in America that has changed. More kids are playing baseball in Latin American countries with a larger pool of competition than here in the US.

  11. Mr Baseball said...

    Whites and Blacks have been losing share over the past 30 years. To me this is simple. Analyze the talent pool in MLB in terms of geography from 1940 to today.

    Before the 40s the talent pool was limited to white Americans. In the 50s it expanded gradually to include black Americans. Then in the 60s we began to see Latinos both black and white Latinos from Latin America. Starting in the US with Puerto Rico, then expanding quickly to the Dominican, then Central America, Mexico and northern South America. Then Nomo hit the US, adding Asian born players to the mix.

    Blacks are ONLY 12% of the US population. Add in the rest of these countries into the talent base, you discover blacks are not around 8% of the population base of talent. That’s it and that’s in fact what you see at the MLB level.

    I argue blacks were perhaps overrepresentted in years prior, in the 70s and 80s when speed was probably more important. The share of races in MLB roughly matches the share of the races that make up the larger MLB geographic talent pool.

    Unless we make the racial assumption that blacks are inherently superior baseball players, then I don’t see why blacks should be expected to “over represent” or over index in terms of share of MLB ball players.

    That said, we should encourage kids to play ball in lower income areas, such as innercities and in Puerto Rico as well (which has seen its own decline of good MLB players of late).

    • said...

      That’s fine. I’m not saying that they should inherently be over represented. I’m asking why they were over represented and now are not. Why are white US players becoming less under represented as a share of the population over time.

  12. Ricardo Sanchez said...

    Matt,

    Can you please rationalize/explain your theory as to why WAR/births is a good indicator of athlete production?

    Several flaws seem apparent. Birthplace (trailing indicator) does not equate to where someone grows up/plays sports. At the very least you need to correct your data for population flow (leading indicator) if you are trying to adjust for the sample size. Second, how does WAR represent participation rates. WAR, even adjusted by your arbitrary cut-off, speaks more to the quality of players produced rather than quantity.

    It appears you have fuzzy data combined with fuzzy logic which tends to produce nonsense. If this was a peer review paper (which it effectively is) you would need to justify your metric before applying the data sets. I don’t see the rational connection; not a strong one anyway.

    I also agree with the consensus response that a study that neglects to examine high school and college participation rates is not valid. The funnel effect is statistically and logically relevant e.g. only recently (last decade)do you have a increase in African-American quarterbacks; this bias would have put a cap on the participation rate as well as the kicker position not only in the NFL but in the high school and college game.

    In addition, you can not logically make a strict correlation or comparison between basketball, football, and baseball regarding the logic of a decrease in one should fuel an increase in the other. While there is some overlap in physical specimens (so to speak); you have fundamentally different body and athletic types associated with each. There is virtually no-one under 5″9″ playing professional basketball (nor football for that matter) while height is significantly less relevant to baseball. Although this graph does not include baseball, it illustrates my point. There is no 1-1 ratio and this only follows one facet of the athletes. When you add in body mass, muscle energy, etc… the profile significantly diminishes who can compete enough to participate in those sports. Baseball is fairly well established as a sport that almost anyone can go professional in with enough practice. Common sense (and the data) dictates the same is not true of basketball/football.

    Don’t even get me started on self-selection or preference bias (i.e. if your tall you play basketball, if you are strong you play football, if you can throw, etc… :). The simplest explanation is usually the best. African-Americans stopped choosing to play baseball. This is a great example where psychology/sociology is perhaps the better discipline to pursue to elicit the truth in the data.

    • said...

      There is enough wrong with this post in both tone and substance that it’s hard to know where to start, but I’d ask you cool off and have a conversation. I’ll pretend you do and reply to your individual responses, most of which are either self-contradictory or contradicted by the data.

      WAR/births was used instead of players/births because I wanted some way to capture the fact that there was a difference in between a star and a guy who just got a cup of coffee. Both methods do produce similar results FWIW.

      I completely disagree with your dismissal of using birthplace, and based on later comments within your post, I would guess you will change your mind about this if you think about it more too. Here’s why birthplace is important– because it’s about opportunity. That’s what this article is largely about! Why use the location where a person went to high school when in fact the very fact that someone has moved counties is correlated with economic mobility? If we start with high school, we’re introducing a bias. The point is that being born in a poor county hurts your ability to become a major league player, and that fact has become more true over time.

      I’m not sure I see any “consensus response that a study that neglects to examine high school and college participation is not valid.” That sounds like a classic case of “Angry-Internet-Guy-Speak” where you completely invent a fictional consensus on something being invalid. I agree, and I’m sure many others agree that more data would be better. That data isn’t out there that I can find it, and how about you try to find it for me? I’ll pay!! In all seriousness, you go to war (WAR?) with the data you have, and I think the correlation between WAR/birth and income that grows over time is a valid finding.

      I’m not totally sure you’ve read my article clearly enough or perhaps I haven’t been clear enough, but I completely agree that there should NOT be a relationship whereby a decrease in blacks in the MLB would accompany an increase in blacks in the NBA or NFL. That’s definitely because of the reasons you mentioned. HOWEVER, I think if they only actual cause of the decline in blacks in the MLB was preferences shifting in favor of other sports, then that WOULD be the effect. Even without perfectly substitutable skills, a larger share of young blacks playing other sports would at least cause some increase in their share in those leagues. Ironically, you seem to have turned to biting your own tail off a paragraph later by proudly and in defiance of the data declaring confidently that this is simply preference-based.

  13. Greg Hardy said...

    Great article and for the most part excellent replies. First let me state that I have a son playing D1 baseball for a college in Texas and I am an African American. This subject has always interested me because both of my sons who played baseball, soccer and basketball when they were younger very rarely had any other black teammates on their baseball teams and very rarely saw other black kids at the tournaments they competed. I believe for the most part your article is spot on but needs some additional meat on the bones. The reasons that were stated by the other black parent who has a son in the minors hit on some of those points that I would like to address, in addition to a few others.

    With the advent of specialization in youth sports there came year around competition in many sports not just travel baseball but AAU basketball and soccer to name a few. I won’t get into my distaste for this year sports culture we now live in but just to say that as it relates to baseball you a kid can now hone thier craft if they decide to year round. Of course what you need is money, parents who have the time and ability to get Johnny to the games, pay travel team fees which can easily exceed over 2,000 dollars for a season. Oh don’t forget Johnny also may need money to attend showcases, hitting and pitching lessons and someone to pay the out of pocket expenses of travelling and staying in hotels and of course meals and gas to name a few, plus work schedule that permits you to support Johnny’s lifestyle. You of course need favorable climates and beautiful baseball fields to play on-which hits on your point of socioeconomics and weather. It helps to have a two parent household or at least a financial support system to get Johnny to any from these venues. So yes, I totally see the correlation but to add insult to injury he needs additonal money to support him in college because very rarely does a player get a 100% scholarship because the NCAA only allows 11.7 scholarships to be spread among approximately 30 players assuming the scholarships maxium are fully funded. Some schools may only have 6 or 8 or some other number less than 11.7 scholarships for the entire team. If you do the math try spreading 11.7 scholarships among the whole team maybe 30 to 40% scholarhip per player, again we are talking economics.

    As far as weather it is interesting when you look at your graph how the warm states #s pick up and will continue to grow particulary as it relates to positon players . Travel ball pretty much started in the mid 1980′s a really grew during the nineties and after that time period. So now the kids from the south have an added advantage because there is a system that promotes year round or nearly year round baseball with the weather to support the system. There is travel ball in the northern states but they are still hampered by mother nature. You don’t have to look far watch the NCAAA college world series and ask yourself when is the last time a cold weather team has won the world series. Also just take a look at the rosters of the teams. Most teams have players on thier rosters from the region they are located in because baseball does not have large recruiting budgets. Again, since college is one of the venues that the MLB recruits from it does not take long to see that the these kids are primarly coming form warmer climates which started where they spent thier formative years playing and learning the game and coming from families who could economically and time wise support their child’s dreams. So again yes economics and climate are big factor but it is the economics along with other factors that provided a hindrance for a black boy to play todays game.

    The other factors I beleive are the absense of father in the household which of course affects all races but unfortunately affects black households more. It does not help in any household if the father did not play the game or like the game. Since the trend of blacks playing baseball has been declining since the 70′s it does take long to see that fewer black fathers have played the game and are probably less likely to pass it down to thier sons even if they are activily involved in their son’s lives. It is my belief that most baseball players had some man in thier life who played catch, taught them how to hit and maybe take them to a game. It does not help if you don’t live near those beautiful fields that are primarily in well to do neighborhood s to practice your craft, again economics. I believe that other factors could include the Michael Jordan affect and now his heir apparent Lebron James. There is a cool factor to basketball and football via the pace and athletism of the game and marketing of the game that baseball lacks with the black community. You just don’t see many blacks following MLB let alone going to the games unlike basketball and football where many blacks at least follow the game and know something about the stars of the game. There is also the perception among black youth that those players have a glamourous life that they don’t see in the media about baseball players and especially black ball players. The bottom line is that there are very few visible black “roll models” for them of black players.

    Plus lets face it, you can get a full ride playing basketball and football and if you are part of that lucky 000001% and are drafted it is instant money and a ticket to the show where if you get drafted in baseball you may never get to show and make the big money. I wonder in addition to the above does this also indirectly play in the decline of AA’s playing baseball. My gut feeling it is not that deep it is more of the above.

    Just my thoughts

    • said...

      Thanks for your thoughts, Greg. This is a really thoughtful and detailed illustration that colors in the math I did above, and I understand my results better for reading it. I’m not sure I have something immediately to add, but the picture you paint with the traveling leagues and the other economic impediments to success that are unique to baseball that add up along the journey of a kid’s baseball development makes perfect sense and explains the data well. Thank you for sharing some of the details that shine a light on what has happened over the years.

  14. Anon said...

    Do not under estimate the impact of travel ball economics as a pathway to college and/or pro scout exposure.

    For example, its a matter of public record now admittedly by his father, a certain young star player for the Nats was paid (er, um reimbursed) for all travel expenses across the country from the age of 9 yrs old.

    What that does is elevate a kid into the person of interest (poi) databases as well as showcase tournaments they fuel for the pay for exposure & pay for play which cater exclusively to affluent suburban parents.

    * Even the less affluent rural white kids are disadvantaged by this same system.

    These findings only underscores that unless you’re connected into the player promotional marketing ecosystem, it becomes difficult to break through the clutter as a superior but virtually unknown talent.

    Area scouts are also at a disadvantage against these paid promotional services as some teams, especially the more saber inclined, dissuade virtual unknowns from their consideration set due to small sample size or other confirmation biases.

    Candidly, off record you will hear area scouts complain about “sleeper” talent they uncover in economically disadvantaged areas but are afraid to post their scouting reports to the home office for fear of being questioned on their judgement by front office saber enthusiasts preference for large physical size.

    * One AL-C scout we knew from the inner city who’s ultimate boss was A/A even said “I’d get fired if I don’t list the kid at least being 6′ 1″).

    Most A/A talent not already fully committed to football or basketball, don’t typically profile at 6′ 2″ & 220 lbs in high school.

    MLB has sent an overwhelming message out to America from 1998 til now that HR hitting types like Adam Dunne or much more preferred over yesterday’s Eric Davis for mostly economic reasons associated with the massive tv advertising fuel growth from $1.5B to now $8B under Selig.

    Bottomline, the A/A community once identified solidly with baseball, especially before integration.

    In the past 25 years, that community has moved to the NFL/NBA as there simply aren’t enough new Jackie Robinson’s playing to matter anymore, especially when the HR emphasis under Selig resulted in a much slower paced game than when it was played in larger stadiums featuring astro turf.

    A/A

  15. Michael Bacon said...

    Because of illness I am a month behind on reading the articles on THT & Fangraphs and only read this today. As a proud native of the South, the Great of Georgia to be specific, your article has amused me greatly. You devoted a great deal of time to answering a question any cab driver could have answered. Since I have driven a taxi previously, I would like to take the opportunity to say that after reading the introduction, and before reading the rest of the article, it was obvious to me that, 1) money matters; 2) weather matters; & 3) the lingering effects of the War of Northern Aggression matters.
    I was born in 1950 and all my life I have seen charts like these. No matter the reason, or the study, these kind of maps have shown the South, especially the deep South, lagging. People of the north have considered we Southern people “backward,” which, unfortunately, was often the case, through no fault of our own. Invaders came down here and raped and pillaged the land and the people. The northern people enriched themselves at our expense. That is simply fact. Down here we have an expression for it, “The damn yankees kept their boot on our necks.” This has been mitigated with time, but still, look at the maps. It is, as it has been, there in black and white. It has not changed now that there is color in the map. If you read your history you will find that Southern boys did not want to leave their homeland in the South to go play ball in the land of the yankee. Ty Cobb’s father did not want him to go into yankee land, fearing for his son because he hailed from the South. And unless a Southern born player was exceptional, he was not given the chance given to a yankee born player. The hatred of the Southern player lingered, and to many lingers to this day. Jimmy Carter was not exactly welcomed by the yankee establishment after become President.
    Without study, just off the top of my cab driving head, it is obvious to one who has attended many baseball games at Georgia Tech that there is a tremendous disparity between caucasian players and people of darker skin in the college game. There are many more MLB players coming out of college and it has increased tremendously since my birth. The cost of college has increased exponentially over my lifetime, and it is simply a fact that caucasians can afford the cost of college more than people of color.
    The Atlanta Braves announced recently that they were moving north, out of the city of Atlanta. It is a fact that many more caucasians live north of the city, with people of color dominating the city and the southern part of the city. The Atlanta Journal newspaper printed a map showing the majority of season ticket holders live north of the city. The city of Kennesaw, north of Atlanta, famous nationally for passing a law requiring citizens to own a gun (www.rense.com/general9/gunlaw.htm), has also made news because of the number of baseball programs and multiple fields (www.kennesawbaseball.com). The baseball program for young boys in West Cobb has also drawn national attention (www.westcobbbaseball.org). I cannot recall any mention during my life of any program for people of color in Georgia, or anywhere in the South, for that matter.
    Because of this background and knowledge, nothing you have written has surprised me in the least. I doubt it would surprise any true Southerner, and by that I do not mean any carpetbagging yankee transplant, but a person who, when a young boy, after watching the Game of the Week with Pee Wee and Ol’ Diz, which often included the team still called the New York Yankmees by one Southern friend who went up north to play baseball for Princeton, was asked, “Why the HELL do you watch those GODDAMN YANKEES?!” The nine year old boy, knowing only what he had been taught in public school, could not understand what was meant by that vitriolic comment, so he asked his mother why cousin Ed had said it and why he had said it in such a way, followed as it was by a stream of tobacco juice that splattered the young boys new converse tennis shoes. The young boy was me, and that day started a life-long pursuit of the truth of why the yankees invaded our land. What I learned is the truth was not taught to we people of the South. For example, we were not taught in school that the famous author Charles Dickens, who was a strong opponent of slavery (and so am I, for the simple reason that I would not want to be enslaved!) wrote in 1961 in a London weekly publication, “The Northern onslaught upon slavery is no more than a piece of specious humbug disguised to conceal its desire for economic control of the United States.”
    In an 1861 article published in England, the European socialist Karl Marx articulated what the major British newspapers had been printing, “The war between the North and South is a tariff wa. The war, is further, not for any principle, does not touch the question of slavery, and in fact turns on the Northern lust for power.”
    After the war the people of color who had been slaves were made many promises by the yankee victors. The promises proved to be as empty as the promises made to the native Americans, from whom the European invaders stole the land. The former slaves were promised “Forty acres and a mule.” What they got were new owners emanating from up north who wanted nothing but for them to go back into the fields to enrich the yankee pockets. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Won’t get fooled again goes the song.
    If you have read this far the question I wish to pose is why the hell has MLB done so very little to help advance people of color in this country as far as baseball is concerned? MLB seems real proud of itself every year on Jackie Robinson day, but never puts more than a modicum of money where its mouth is when it comes to the BILLIONS of dollars floating around the game of baseball. Bud and the boys ought to be ashamed, but they know no shame, as long as the revenue keeps coming in…
    Michael Bacon

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