While the decline in numbers of black ballplayers is a negative for the game, the issue, as framed by Dennis Hayes and others, is utter bullshit.
Of course the notion that the numbers of U.S.-born black players in Major League Baseball has declined considerably in the past 20 years or so is not bullshit. It's a fact, the reasons for which have been well-covered in recent months. Simply put, black kids in the United States are more likely to play basketball or football than baseball these days. As a baseball nut this bugs me because there are likely a dozen black kids playing second string safety for second tier college football programs who would have been ten times the ballplayer than the out-machines on your favorite team's roster. Indeed, if only a handful of black athletes chose to play baseball instead of basketball or football Robert Fick would be working at a Jiffy Lube right now, and no one would be upset about that except for some Jiffy Lube manager.
Make no mistake: the game has suffered due to it's failure to attract the best athletes, especially U.S. born black athletes. This, however, is a competitive issue -- i.e. how can we convince the best athletes to play baseball -- not a social crisis worthy of media hand-wringing or NAACP grandstanding. Coming as they have sixty years after Robinson broke the color barrier, these articles have liberally name-dropped Jackie, and have frequently posited a moral equivalency between pre-1947 honkyball and the state of today's game. It's a ludicrous comparison, of course, because the game today is more diverse than it has ever been.
Latin Americans have become such a dominant force that, outside of Gary Sheffield and Paul LoDuca's zone-of-crazy, their ethnicity is hardly ever discussed, whether they be players or coaches. Exhibit A: the lack of anyone really saying anything when a Venezuelan manager led his team to the World Series title. Compare: the considerable editorial effort that went into informing every last human that Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith were black before the last Super Bowl.
Earlier this season I had the pleasure of watching a Red Sox-Mariners game in which the two biggest stars on the diamond were a Japanese pitcher and a Japanese hitter. The biggest story of the game, however, was the Venezuelan pitcher -- caught by a Japanese catcher -- who hurled a one-hit shutout. None of these guys would have been allowed to sniff a baseball diamond before 1947, so the implicit criticism of the Dennis Hayes' of the world -- that no one is around to receive the torch being passed down from Jackie Robinson -- is freshly ground baloney.
OK, OK, I know Dennis Hayes is tasked with advocating for one particular racial minority, so let's pretend for a moment that only blacks matter. Back in April, C.C. Sabathia was asked about the issue, and his answer was quoted approvingly and without question or criticism by the story's author:
Sabathia called the lack of African Americans in baseball a "crisis" during spring training, adding: "I don't think people see the problem. They see players like [Jose] Reyes and [Carlos] Delgado and assume they're black."
No, they're not from Compton, but if Reyes and Delgado aren't black, I'm not sure anyone is. The fact that more and more of baseball's black players happen to come from a couple hundred miles south of an artificial political border doesn't mean that there is no one around to receive the torch passed down from Jackie Robinson, nor does the fact that baseball has spent millions to develop Latin American talent mean that the sport has turned its back on U.S.-born blacks.
When one looks past rigid census categories and takes in the big picture, it's impossible to suggest that baseball has racial or ethnic issues that need to be "solved." Baseball is a truly international, multi-ethnic game in ways that, say, American football will never be, and why idiots like Dennis Hayes and the NAACP fail to appreciate that says much more about Dennis Hayes and the NAACP than it does about baseball.
UPDATE: Welcome Rob Neyer readers! Shyster extends a hearty thanks for taking the time to click his way (and thanks Rob, for suggesting that they do!). Like you, Shyster is reading baseball stuff while pretending to work, and appreciates that such circumstances don't always lend themselves to sitting back, relaxing, and reading several thousand words at a time. All the same, Shyster invites you to take your shoes off, get comfy, and check out the archives for a bit while you're here. I may be biased, but I suspect and hope that you will find some stuff that you like.