At the risk of stirring up crap again, I link to Dave Zirin, who this week opines on relative dearth of blacks in baseball. After quoting some guys who have their opinions (e.g. basketball and football are more exciting, baseball isn’t hip, kids have more options), Zirin gets to the nut of why he thinks the demographics look the way they do:
All well-meaning commentaries; all wrong. It’s not a question of action. It’s a question of access. Baseball players now tend to come in two groups. There are Latino players, scouted before they are 10, signed into baseball academies before their sweet 16 and imported along a global pipeline until they are cast aside or make the majors. Then there are white players, who largely come from suburban backgrounds and college programs. Baseball–in the US context–has gone country club. Like golf and tennis, or their hemp-addled cousins in the X Games, they are sports that require serious bank for admission. In addition, you need parents with the leisure time to be involved. These sports just don’t fit the reality for today’s working families, black or white . . .
. . . Each city is also the site of a sparkling new baseball stadium, paid for in part or in full on the taxpayer dime. The irony has become a collective noose: fewer African-Americans play baseball because our cities are being strangled; our children are being fast-tracked to a ravenous prison industry; and no one has the time, money or will to organize a good old-fashioned game of baseball.
I actually think Zirin is generally right about this (though I think he’s wrong to call the other explanations “wrong;” they aren’t mutually exclusive and all of these factors contribute). Baseball, at its highest levels anyway, is an expensive proposition, both for the players and families themselves, and for any organization trying to put a league together. There’s a sense now that if you aren’t playing in some advanced context by the time you’re 12 or 13, you’re toast as far as being a prospect goes. That’s just not the case with football and basketball, where athleticism can often make up for a lack of experience once someone gets to high school, and where it’s way easier to play informal pickup games.
But even if you disagree with the specific factors at play here, the point is that baseball’s decline among blacks is a pretty deep-rooted thing, which makes those annual reports taking Major League Baseball to task for its alleged lack of diversity rather silly. The pool of players has been drained before it gets to the point where Major League Baseball can really do anything about it. Sure, they’re trying with RBI and whatever, but ultimately, MLB is a relatively small business and can only do so much. If there are to be more American black kids playing baseball at older ages, it’s going to be because youth leagues are promoted and advanced on a much larger scale.
But crap, this is a Zirin article, and I feel like I’d be letting my would-be nemesis down a bit if I didn’t find something to get snarky about. So how about this:
Jeter is also the only African-American player in the starting lineups of the two marquee teams in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox in particular have become so bleached in recent years, you wonder if Red Sox Nation has a Whites Only sign on the front door. This is particularly notable considering that the Red Sox were the last team to integrate in Major League Baseball.
Yes, because when I think of David Ortiz, I think “bleached.”
There. Now I feel better.
(Thanks to Pete Toms for the link)