Racism in America is alive and well, but to hear about such an aggressive display of it at a baseball game was jarring, and made me question what I’d written for this piece. How could I advocate for diversity in the major leagues when this is what these diverse bodies are subjected to? How can MLB continue to sing the praises of its diversity initiatives when words and actions like these are allowed in its ballparks?
The fans responsible for the racist taunts and the attempted assault were escorted from the park, but that hardly seems like enough response. Banning them from the ballpark, as one fan was, seems like it will be hard to enforce. How do you make sure one fan doesn’t enter the building? After the game, Jones said he thought the perpetrators should be heavily fined upwards of “10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand. Something that really hurts somebody.” Buster Olney, in his blog for ESPN, wrote that MLB “could declare war on the kind of language that was directed at Jones” by including an intolerance of abusive language in the pregame announcements.
Jones and Olney are not the only two to offer up theories about how to combat racism at a ballgame; the internet is overflowing with thoughts and ideas. The simple thing is to say that people should not yell racist slurs at professional athletes. People should not yell racist slurs at anyone. People should not throw things at professional athletes, of color or otherwise. People should not throw things at anyone.
There’s a common refrain, whenever sportswriters deviate from their traditional coverage: “stick to sports.” It’s a problematic phrase on a lot of levels but, most critically, what these “stick to sports” people fail to recognize is that culture, sports and politics are inherently entwined, like a mess of Christmas lights brought up from the basement. Sports are a reflection of our broader society, in ways that make us proud and in ways that shame us so deeply we pretend they don’t exist.
Racism is deeply rooted in our culture; it will not be fixed by having yet another white sports blogger write about how “events of this nature” will not and should not be tolerated. I have little desire, and even less ability, to police the morals of the anonymous internet masses. To that end, I have no solutions to offer, no groundbreaking perspectives to share; I simply seek to look at some of the information shared in the latest Racial and Gender Report Card so that we may better understand the circumstances in baseball today.
Two weeks ago the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports released its annual Racial and Gender Report Card for Major League Baseball. The report card is packed with useful information about the current state of MLB, but is released to little fanfare, likely because it does not often reflect well on the major leagues. This year, you need only read the opening line (“The 2017 Major League Baseball Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC) was released today and showed decreases in both racial and gender hiring practices”) to understand that despite its initiatives MLB has continued to struggle with diversity throughout its organization. The overall grades; a B in racial hiring practices, a C for gender hiring practices, and an overall grade of C+, should not surprise most baseball fans.
This is not an instance of, say, cursing Norichika Aoki on every at-bat and covering your eyes each time he makes a play in the outfield, only to look at FanGraphs and realize he had a 146 wRC+ in the second half of 2016. Oh no. The power of the Report Card is that it reinforces the lack of diversity that is on display in every Sunday Night Baseball game, every broadcast shot of the dugout, every press conference. It serves to confirm everything you’ve seen, and everything you’ve read, about the need for greater diversity within all levels of baseball.
It’s worth acknowledging that, within all these negative trends, the game “has reached unprecedented levels of diversity (42.33%) on non-DL active Opening Day rosters.” That figure represents more than a 10-point jump since UCF first began recording these numbers in 1991, and can be largely attributed to the growing percentage of Latino players. However, it’s important to note that the percentage of African-American players has dropped steadily since 1991, and that the 7.7 percent of African-American players on Opening Day rosters represents a continuing downward trend.
The report card does cite “promising signs for a future increase in African-American players in MLB,” citing a growing number of African-American first-round draft picks, including the high draft selections of graduates of MLB youth academies and RBI programs, demonstrating the success of MLB initiatives in this regard. The diversity percentages grow smaller, and progressively grimmer, however, when we turn to non-player personnel.
Baseball is no longer exclusively a white man’s sport to play, but it is overwhelmingly still a white man’s sport to coach, lead, and cheer for. There have been many conversations about how MLB leadership is out of touch, and in no place is that more clear than within the discrepancy between the number of non-white coaches/managers/team executives and the number of non-white players.
In 2017, 10 percent of major league managers are non-white, which doesn’t sound terrible until you realize that percentage is made up of just three men: Dave Roberts, Dusty Baker and Rick Rentería. Rentería is only the 17th Latino manager in history. The diversity does not get more expansive as we look at the front offices; there are just four “diverse individuals” currently acting as president of baseball Operations or general manager of major league clubs. Within 26 of the 30 franchises is at least one woman acting as a vice president or senior vice president, but only seven women held on-field operations roles, and just two women had coaching roles.
A bright spot can be found in the 44.3 percent of coaches who identified as people of color, a number which represents a 6.1 percent increase since 2015 and a high since 1993. Baseball is a game steeped in tradition, and there is a strong history of hiring preference being given to those already involved with the industry. Therefore, this recent trend may bode well for a future increase in managers of color, particularly since 33.5 percent of those coaches are Latino.
Greater diversity among players and within major league organizations is certainly not going to end racism in baseball, and it unfortunately won’t do much to prevent “fans” from throwing things or yelling racial slurs, but it would be a critical step in the right direction if MLB were better about increasing diversity at all levels and in all facets of the game.