Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Whiteyball

The Wall Street Journal has noticed something:
It's hard to watch the college-baseball World Series, under way now in Omaha, Neb., without noticing how different the college game is from the major-league version. Not in the caliber of play or the funny ping of the aluminum bats, but in the way the players look.

College players in the three main divisions are 86% white, according to the most-recent NCAA figures. That's a big difference from Major League Baseball, where one study puts the number at less than 60%. The most striking difference is in the number of Latinos on the field: They made up about 29% of all major leaguers in 2007 but only 5% of players in college.
Because it's the Wall Street Journal there's a lot of good stuff in the article about the economics of all of this including how, for example, college baseball's farkakte scholarship rules affect minority recruitment.

I think one of the reasons I can't take a shine to college baseball -- apart from the obvious pings -- is that so many of the teams seem to be stacked with Tylers and Austins and not enough Joses and Juans. It's not some overt flaw that violates some squishy equality requirement on my part. I don't look at the TV and yell about the lack of diversity on the screen. But the relative lack of Latin players is kind of disconcerting on some level, in the same way that weird lighting or the lack of crowd noise would be disconcerting. Something is missing from the game that we have come to expect -- something just wrong -- that makes you feel like you're watching something less than baseball.

16 comments:

dubbschism said...

keep in mind too that there aren't a lot of Dominicans and Venezuelans coming to the States for college.

Jason said...

adding Yiddish to the argument only makes it more obvious.

Of course, I laughed reading it.

Seriously though, why would the Latin Americans go to college if they can just auction their wares and jump right to the minors and get paid? Given the poverty levels in some of these countries, even a minor league salary would help a ton. Last time I checked, you don't get paid squat to go to class with co-eds (what a dated term) in shorty-shorts with writing on the back that you have to stare at to read.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Oh, no doubt about that. I'm not getting into the reasons for the lack of Latin players in college -- there are a lot of good ones, langue and the TOEFL test most prominent among them (JC Bradbury at Sabernomics mentioned that this morning).

I'm just talking about my reaction to the college game. Even if the reasons for the lack of Latins are good ones, it still makes for a lesser game for me somehow.

I hope it doesn't make some kind of racist (or reverse racist?), but to me, baseball needs to have Hernandezes and Lopezes and stuff for it to feel right.

/deep thoughts

Jason said...

CC, I respectfully disagree that the game needs "Hernandezes and Lopezes and stuff for it to feel right".

When I was watching the CWS (and I was), I never noticed the names or races. Maybe that's because 86% of them are the same. And the same as me. I was watching THE GAME. And the games were great, compelling, fun, interesting, passionate. Would a Lopez/Gonzalez have made it better? Only if their on-field exploits made it better.

We can discuss why there aren't more African Americans and Latinos in the college game, but their absence doesn't necessarily make the game worse merely because of their absence.

Pete Toms said...

Farkakte is a perfect description of college balls' scholarship rules. I've often used this word but admit I didn't recognize it when I read it, had to look it up.

From the WSJ article ( thanks BTW, otherwise might not have seen this );

"What bugs many coaches most is that baseball, a sport that has a legacy of integration dating back to Jackie Robinson, has become at the college level a game for the privileged -- a country-club sport. To be noticed by college recruiters, they say, players must participate in travel leagues and showcase tournaments, attend camps and work with well-known trainers and coaches. Only the families of wealthy kids can afford this, coaches say."

I notice this in my kids' little league, it's practically all caucasian. The PC parents who love soccer ( ugh ) love to promote it as an affordable game ( all you need is a ball ). Didn't this used to be baseball? All you needed was a ball and a stick? Stickball? Ironically while baseball has become an elitist sport in North America, more and more professional players are coming from desparately impoverished countries abroad, because all you need is a ball and a stick. The Commieball piece in Vanity Fair included a photo of a Cuban boy playing ball, hitting with literally a discarded board. Kids baseball doesn't have to be so expensive and bureaucratized and safety conscious ( I don't think 7 year olds need full catcher gear and batting helmets for coach pitch but yet...not only do they need helmets but each player must have their own helmet, we couldn't share a couple, oh the dangers of head lice...but I digress ). I hate my generation ( HT to Dave Lowry ).

Craig Calcaterra said...

Jason -- I see what you're saying. Understand, this is a purely subjective thing on my part. It doesn't keep me from enjoying the game, really. It's just something that I'm aware of and which makes me think about something other than the game itself if only for the briefest of moments.

Anonymous said...

While the article concentrated on Division 1 numbers, it probably should have looked at college baseball as a whole as well. With the scholarship and recruiting budgets of D1 baseball teams, many times it makes more financial sense to go to a JC or a D2/3 school, where its much easier to get "non-athletic" monies to baseball players and for JC you can get drafted more immediately (this would be huge for the lower income bracket players, Latino or otherwise). I know the money of D3did for me and I was a comfortable middle class kid, but getting a $15,000 "academic" scholarship two weeks before classes started was pretty good monies. Plus, I think basketball and football have an effect on the "types" of people baseball is encouraged to recruit, since baseball usually helps push up the overall academic GPA of the men's sports programs (this holds for basically all sports besides football and basketball). I remember reading that somewhere but can't remember where. I think the article really oversimplifies things and could have investigated a bit deeper into other non-D1 colleges to get a bit more meaning of the numbers. D1 is the least attractive choice financially for most, but that doesn't mean kids aren't going to other colleges to get the same exposure to increase their draft status.

Ken Dynamo said...

an even bigger tragedy is the utter demise of norwegian baseball players. according to wikipedia, the last norwegian to play in the MLB was Art Jorgens, born in Modum, Norway and played for the Yankees from 1929-1939.

to me, its just not the same anymore without all the Svens, Knudsons and Clengs out there.

mahnu.uterna said...

I don't know much about the inner workings of MLB, so I'll ask: Does MLB's big investment in player development in Latin American countries involve offering scholarships to American schools? If not, shouldn't it? I know it's a business and all, but wouldn't a system that encourages young men from severly disadvantaged backgrounds to develop their baseball skills in exclusion of everything else be exploitation of the worst kind? I'm gearing up for a career in TESOL, so I have some strong feelings about this that probably blind me to reality, but geez, isn't a "player" also a "human being"?

Richard Dansky said...

I think the turnaround may already be underway.

Where do you get college scholarship money? From "revenue" sports with television deals. Is it not interesting, then, that there's been what looks to be a massive effort to raise the public profile of the CWS and the amateur draft the last few years? The former is the showpiece that can create rooting interests; the latter makes "stars" in the pre-draft maunderings for folks to attach to and follow. And with that, hopefully, there will be more attention paid to college baseball, which means more TV money, which means more scholarships that won't have to get divvied up in 3/7th fractions and guys from the Cobb Counties of the world.

Anonymous said...

APBA Guy-

Craig, you are absolutely right about this. I came back from Florida where my 3 nephews play an average of 129 games each in a 12 month period. Some are high school games, some are little league, and some are local public leagues.

It's amazing how diverse the teams are, similar to MLB in make up, and how good the baseball is at each level (my middle nephew was in the LL WS a few years ago). A lot has to do with the diverse population, a lot with the weather, and a lot with the coaching (many ex-MLB players retire to central Florida and coach youth leagues).

My brother and I were watching college games on TV, and I had the same reaction you did. His perspective was more that when his kids get to be college age, if they have a scholarship, it means they weren't good enough to get drafted out of high school. As for diversity, they'll get that in the local industrial league in the summer, again coached by ex-MLB players. Necessary, he says, because with a few exceptions, college coaches aren't up to the task.

Peter said...

The biggest barrier to my enjoyment of college baseball is the fact that, other than a handful of guys selected in the first round, I have no idea who the players are.

I know I'm in the minority, but if it were on TV more often, I would definitely watch it.

Pete Toms said...

mahnu, I think teams are becoming more progressive in their efforts to develop talent in the Latin countries. Not surprisingly Sandy Alderson is at the forefront. The Padres new facility in the DR is to include computer and language classes ( IIRC ). Maybe you can combine your interests in baseball & TESOL!

If you want a cynical POV on how MLB exploits impoverished young men from abroad, google Diane ( Dianne? ) M. Grassi. She's written some pieces on this subject very critical of MLB and the US government ( who according to her have changed immigration laws to allow more foreign born players into the industry ). Ms. Grassi will tell you that most of these kids who come to the US end up working as illegal aliens after baseball discards them, many in NYC. I don't necessarily agree with everything she writes but that doesn't mean I don't think she's worth reading.

Craig, I don't watch the CWS, don't even know if it's broadcast here ( wouldn't watch anyway ) but I get your point. Caucasian athletes are kinda boring in comparison to their black and latin peers. I know I refer to this too often but William Rhoden devotes a chapter in Forty Million to this subject.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the 2008 draft:

#1 Tim Beckham- African American
#2 Pedro Alvarez- Latino
#7 Yonder Alonzo- Latino
#12 Jemile Weeks- African American
#14 Aaron Hicks- African American
#24 Anthony Hewitt- African American
#27 Carlos Gutierrez- Latino

Seems like a healthy percentage to me for the first round, no? I didn't even count Jason Castro who was drafted by the Astros because I wasn't really sure if was he considered himself Latino since his family has been here for a long time. I'm Italian but I can't play for Italy in the World Cup . . .

themarksmith said...

Read Sugarball by Alan Klein for a better idea on baseball in Latin America. He does a great job explaining how they are recruited, the academy process, and what happens when they get here.

mahnu.uterna said...

PT and TMS, thanks for the reading tips. I will definitely follow up! And btw, Pete, you identified a long-held and not entirely secret fantasy of mine...TESOL and MLB may one day be my chocolate and peanut butter. :-)