Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Warning: Hooey Ahead

In what's becoming an annual tradition, the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports has counted the beans, sorted them into hermetically-sealed categories, and announced that, once again, the percentage of Black ballplayers is lower than it has ever been.

I'm on record as being highly skeptical of the value of this kind of counting, and lament the fact that we're now going to face a week's worth of "baseball needs to right the racial ship" columns arguing with a week's worth of "what do you mean David Ortiz isn't Black?" columns. Let's call it a draw now and save ourselves the trouble, OK?

In the meantime, let's make fun of Richard Lapchick:

Among major leaguers, though, just 8.2 percent were black players, down from 8.4 percent in 2006 and the lowest level in at least two decades. The percentage of black pitchers remained at 3 percent.

"Baseball has probably lost a whole generation here," Lapchick said. "African-Americans just aren't playing it at this point. They're going to have to increase their

Although MLB has established its Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program and urban youth academies, Lapchick said it will take many years for those efforts to pay off.
If I'm reading that correctly, Lapchick wants baseball to increase its efforts at attracting Blacks to baseball over and above cultivating interest in the game among the next generation. What is it supposed to do? Recruit at company softball games? Because let's face it, Mr. Lapchick, if you're not playing college or minor league baseball by the time you're 18, you're not going to make it to the big leagues, and if you're not playing high-level amateur baseball by your early teens, you're never going to get drafted or recruited in the first place.

So sorry, the efforts you so accurately describe as requiring many years to pay off will, in fact, require many years to pay off. And that won't change no matter how often you release your little P.R.-generating report cards.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I wouldn't dare say I'm more qualified than Richard Lapchick when it comes to these issues. If you don't believe me, check out his bio, which is longer than many Russian novels. He certainly knows what he's talking about when it comes to social issues in sports.

My problem with all of this is that I've noticed that there is often a direct correlation between how complicated and serious an issue is made out to be by someone and how much they stand to gain by that issue appearing to be really complicated and serious.

UPDATE #2: Jason from IIATMS points me to an ESPN column Lapchick wrote last year. Fun quote:
So as we look around at what Major League Baseball and the NFL and other sports are doing to better their opportunities for people of color in front offices and on the field, we need to remember that the NBA has been the industry leader and a great model for nearly two decades. Stern once articulated this goal to me: "When an African-American coach is hired and, more importantly, when a team fires an African-American, that nobody will notice." It is clear the NBA has
reached that stage.
Of course they haven't reached that stage, Lapchick, because you keep counting and issuing press releases. More substantively, reading that column gives you the strong sense that Lapchick cares all about the numbers and headcount, but gives little thought (at least publicly) to the underlying forces and dynamics which cause them to be what they are.

UPDATE #3: More of my tilting at the windmill that is Richard Lapchick can be found here.


64cardinals said...

There's so much I'd like to say to articles like that, but lest I actually state an opinion and be considered racist for failing to agree with those morons, I'll just have to let this one go.

I have an idea. The NBA should start an RBI program. You know, Reviving Basketball in the Interior (of the country). You know, the heartland, where the white kids are. Then we can get the percentage of whites in the NBA back to the level that matches society.

Oh what am I saying? That would be a completely racist idea.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Counting like this just strikes me as an empty exercise. The only inquiries along these lines that hold any value to me are ones that (a) seek to determine whether there are any insitutional problems with baseball that are unreasonably barring access to the game for a certain group of people; and (b) what, if anything, baseball can do to attact more Blacks to the game (or greens, or blues, or whatever; I'm greedy in that I want ALL of the best athletes to give up football, basketball and soccer and play the best damn game in the world).

If you're merely counting and adding nothing more or, if you've analyzed it and have found that the only thing that is happening is a changing tastes among kids that cannot be combatted by even the most superhuman marketing efforts on the part of MLB, then well, tough cookies. The Lindy used to be popular too, and no one is doing it anymore either.

And yes, I know that the first response will be "well, counting is the first step." My problem is that there never appear to be any second steps from people like this aside from going out to raise more funds from activist groups so that they can count again next year.

Joey said...

lol, I attend UCF (first year) and am seriously looking into a Sports Business Management Minor. Had no idea they did the annual count, but I know they are big into diversity. My favorite sport, the one I grew up playing and hope to work in one day, ice hockey, there isn't much need for diversity classes.

They all rave about Lapchick and his past, but Shyster, I see you as being much more objective (and interesting), on this topic anyway.

64cardinals said...

Seems to me they miss the biggest issue right from the beginning. Its a given fact that more black kids live in the inner city than out in the wheat belt. And a kid who's good at basketball can look at one year of college, then going pro at the age of 19 and escaping poverty.

Plus, basketball can be played yeaer round and requires as little as 2 players, to a maximum of 10. Baseball can't do that.

I can understand why impoverished kids don't play baseball. But I agree. Ban all other sports and make them play baseball. They can go to Europe and play handball if they don't like it.

Of course, I know some pretty poor white kids whose parents can't afford the fee for summer league baseball and softball. I don't see anyone complaining about that.

Jason said...

my beef with his "counting" is that in once case (MLB) he bemoans the % of players while in the other (NBA), he chooses to applaud the front office. sounds awfully selective reasoning.

And choosing only the african american population is also short-sighted, I think. What about using total "non-white" instead? it's not like 91.8% of the MLBPA is caucasian and only 8.2% is african american, is it?

and there is the unmentionable "so what" when it comes to this stuff. sure, there are still bigots out there, but I only care how the bodies in my favorite laundry are performing, not their skin color. maybe i'm too progressive, but who cares what the % composition is? if african americans don't want to play baseball, that's really OK. that's not a crisis. it's a choice. so long as they are not intentionally discriminated against due to skin color, let the best players play and let's get past skin color. (Is it a crisis that the NBA is three-quarters african-american and the NHL is probably 90% caucasian?)

wasn't that the whole point of the civil rights movement in the first place?

But maybe I'm too young, having been born after the chaos of 1968...

CC: Glad you blogged on this one. I was tempted to but I would have been writing and editing my blog entries all day and I have some deadlines at work that need to be adhered to. Thanks for running this one up the flagpole!


Pete Toms said...

MLB, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rickey and all that....I'm gonna come off like a smug Canadian ( a large # of us greatly enjoy looking down on our US neighbors )...but the game wasn't integrated because it was "just and right" or whatever.

MLB integrated because the Negro Leagues were very popular in some parts of the US and MLB also realized they needed the black "muscle" ( as William Rhoden puts it ). It's BS how MLB spins it's role in the civil rights movement and it's contribution to racial harmony, blah, blah. The motive behind integrating the game was $$$.

Rhoden is amongst those who argue that the integration of MLB was the beginning of the end for African Americans and baseball.

I think Jackie Robinson Day and the Civil Rights game are meant to appeal to non African Americans ( ok, caucasians. ok white,middle class, middle aged caucasian guys )who want to feel good about the sport they consume.

I think the aspect of baseball being too expensive for inner city black kids is over reported. Football ain't expensive? Elite black high school athletes are opting for other sports because the payoff comes quicker. There isn't the long apprenticeship that is necessary in baseball. A bigger problem is that colleges don't have much scholarship dough for baseball because baseball programs don't generate big returns for the schools like basketball and football.

The bigger issue is the % of non US players. ( Off the top of my head I think the % of foreign born players in the affiliated minors is over 40% now ). The Rule IV draft is inflationary ( even Jimmie Lee Solomon admitted this last year ) and as a result the muscle is acquired more cheaply outside the US. I think we're gonna see major changes in player development and soon. MLB can find ways to develop players more cheaply than blowing the $600 million per year it does now.

Lastly, why does it matter to non African Americans that African Americans aren't playing baseball? Should it matter? Does it matter that more players are coming from outside the US? I think more than any of the other "stick and ball" leagues ( didn't we used to say "ball and stick"? ), MLB has the best opportunity to expand and prosper outside of North America.

Wow, did I digress.

Happy Jackie Day. ( Doesn't the rotunda at CitiField look sharp? )

64cardinals said...

Just be happy knowing that this will be lead story all over ESPN and FOX for the next week. And what you'll get is 'reporters' shoving a microphone into a black players face and asking for his opinion. What is he supposed to say? Its a no-win situation for eveyone except the media, who get to overblow another story that doesn't need any attention.

I just curious. How come the black community never says anything about this until some columnists
publishes some crap telling us we're discriminating against blacks (except in Canada, where they love everyone)? Maybe Mr. Toms is right. Maybe it isn't really an issue.

The only player I remember having an issue with this last year was Torii Hunter. But he was more concerned with expressing his opinon that non-black players shouldn't be allowed to wear #42 to honor Jackie Robinson.

A completely appropriate comment on such a momentous occasion.

Ironic Goat said...

Pete, I dunno, can I reference John McCain here? First chapter of Hard Call. He(or more probably the other writer) seemed to do a pretty good job of showing how Rickey was motivated by money and morality. And heck, just making that decision for financial reasons was a great leap forward over everybody else.

Pete Toms said...

Mr? Ms? Goat.

"...a great leap forward over everybody else." I don't think there was anybody else in 1947. The NBA & NFL were small potatoes then...

A couple of economists ( Rodney Fort & Joel Maxcy ) published a paper on the integration of MLB in 2001. Following is the abstract.

"Organized African American baseball (AAB), the longest lived rival to Major League Baseball (MLB) in history, thrived from the 1920s through the early 1940s. Although integration in 1947 focused attention on MLB and the American experience, the impact on AAB receives only passing, somewhat wistful notice. From the economic perspective, the unabashed talent raiding by MLB killed AAB a couple of years after integration began. The authors show that AAB did pose an economic threat to MLB. Given this, the theory and history of MLB behavior toward rival leagues would have predicted actions by MLB to end the threat posed by AAB and a better economic outcome for at least some of the AAB owners and players than actually occurred. Although the former occurred, the latter never materialized for AAB. Competitive baseball was lost to countless thousands of fans throughout the South and Midwest, profitable businesses were lost to African American and White AAB team owners, and hundreds of African American players were denied a "big league" livelihood as the result of integration. The general perception is that integration was a positive thing but costly to many."

In "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" Rhoden recounts the tale of Rube Foster, echoing the opinion above.

You ain't gonna get that spin from ESPN or MLB.com

PS. Spike Lee is a joke for accepting one of those MLB "Deacon Awards" ( is that what they're called? ) at last years Civil Rights game love in. Do the right thing!

Ken Dynamo said...

lapchick's 'reports' do a great job of generating a lot of attention to lapchick, but he does dick for baseball or african americans or whatever lapchick thinks he's improving with these reports.

you can say that coaches and FO types may be discriminated against, i could be lieve but i have no idea, but no one gives a shit what color players are, they just want you to produce. there are less black baseball players because black people dont play or like baseball. and somehow thats worth 20 hours of programming on espn a week.

Anonymous said...

I see Lapchick has no woman in management. What a sexist....