Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Race and the Red Sox

Many of you saw Ken Rosenthal's column yesterday about the Red Sox, the free agent market, and race, in which he said that "the Red Sox look very white," and wondered whether the racial/ethnic makeup of the club will cause them to lose players and fail to attract free agents of color.

Fair points, I guess, and certainly a juicy subject to chew on as the weather gets colder. But as Jason at IIATMS (by way of reader Tadthebad) points out, Rosenthal was saying something slightly different about the Sox and race less than five months ago:
The Red Sox are a better example of a melting pot, but they are not just a cultural melting pot. The Sox are a blend of players young and old, gifted and ordinary, wealthy and hungry. The pieces — from Manny Ramirez to Dustin Pedroia, Daisuke Matsuzaka to Jonathan Papelbon — could not be more disparate. But somehow, under the leadership of manager Terry Francona, they all pull toward a common goal. If the Red Sox can make it work, any team can.
To be clear, Rosenthal is not necessarily contradicting himself here. Yesterday's piece is about the simple but undeniable demographics of a roster, whereas the May article was about team chemistry. The Red Sox are a bit whiter than other teams, Boston does have, justly or not, a history of weirdness when it comes to race, and the Red Sox have, whatever their makeup, had pretty good team chemistry during the Francona era.

So, what to make of this? Maybe it's a situation in which the question Rosenthal posed yesterday -- do the Sox have a diversity problem -- was answered by Rosenthal himself in his May column -- maybe, but they've always seemed to make it work.


Mark said...

And as the first commenter to Jason's article pointed out, that means that about 36% of the Sox' roster is non-white. In other words, a greater percentage of the Sox' roster is non-white than the country as a whole.

Which makes you wonder how much of the roster the original author thinks ought to be non-white. And isn't that just as bad as complaining about not enough white players?

I personally could not care less what color my baseball team is, as long as they're doing a pretty good job of playing baseball.

Peter said...

Mark, that was my initial reaction, too.

But in fairness to Rosenthal, I think he's making the point that the perceived lack of diversity could matter to free agents, not that it matters to him.

Michael M said...

I think if I was a major non-white free agent, I'd go to Boston just to mix it up, if I cared that much. I think this is purely coincedental and I'd be surprised if this kept any one player up at night.

Craig Calcaterra said...

I tend to agree. I think there are at least two things that come up in potential free agents' minds before race/chemistry issues (and way after money and whether the team has a shot at winning the WS)and they're (1) the press and fanbase; and (2) facilities/amenities.

There are certain players who don't want to deal with the hero/goat crap in Boston and New York. There are also guys who don't want to spend 81 games a year in Fenway's cramped conditions, dealing with Boston's traffic, etc.

My guess is that that stuff is way more important to the analysis.

Anonymous said...

the sox' most succesful draft choices of the last few years are all white (youkilis, pedroia, ellsbury, lowrie,lester, papelbon, hanso, moss). most of them were taken from top college progrms, which is kind of their strategy for picking winners. obviously this kind of skews white, but not by design. also, the roster got whiter as the season dragged on due to trades and injuries (lowrie for lugo, bay for manny, ellsbury for coco, even byrd for bartolo). again, this doesn't look like it's by design. i'd rather watch a more diverse team, and think that will happen naturally.

Jacob said...

Ellsbury is actually a Navajo Indian.

mooseinohio said...

The issue of race is prevalent in not only the US but in the world unfortunately the topic or conversation of race is not. While I may not completely understand the motives Rosenthal had in writing the article I certainly appreciate his willingness to address an issue that most folks, when pushed to answer, will acknowledge is a problem but are either unwilling or unable to discuss the matter. For proof just read about the 'Bradley effect' or how voters in a number of states have openly expressed their inability or unwillingness to vote for a candidate because of the color of their skin.

This is a blog about baseball so getting deep into issues of race may not be what folks are looking for or what Craig intends but as Rosenthal points out race is part of baseball, its history, present and future, and comments by Longoria about Pena are another example of the subtle role that issues of race and ethnicity play in our daily lives. Whether you are able to recognize that we live in a racialized world is more an indicator of where you are in terms of your racial identity and not an indicator of the issues of race/ethnicity that are prevalent in the US and world.

Understand that I do not write this as criticism of anyone or any race but to highlight that ones inability to recognize how issues of race are interwoven into the fabric of society is just one indicator that more dialogue needs to occur on the subject and why pieces like Rosenthal can be used as a vehicle for the deeper discussion that need to occur if we are ever to deal with such issues.

Lastly recognize that I am posting this as a person who has committed his life to issues of social justice and racial reconcilliation. I was born and raised in Maine, one of the whitest states you can live in, and now reside in Ohio, which is more diverse but still is predominantly white and my understanding of race issues has been influenced by a variety of experiences and conscience choices. For example my wife is African American and Puerto Rican and while I had already begun my working on issues of diversity and inclusion my relationship with her has exposed me to issues of race and ethnicity that furthered my understanding of who I am as racial being and how issues of race and ethnicity affect us all. While I know issues of race and ethnicity will continue to be challenging and difficult conversations for us to have I also know that avoiding the discussion will only allow the disease of racism to spread - so I thank folks like Rosenthal for providing a forum to talk.

Rob said...

Ugh. I have nothing against Ken Rosenthal, but this is an example of the worst element in sports writing today. This is nothing but speculation, and it's speculation based on what the author himself admits is nothing more than a coincidence.

I'm all for having a discussion about race and prejudice in sports, but how about we agree to use examples that aren't just baseless supposition?

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Guys, that was the point of the sidebar story that I posted; I couldn't care less what color the bodies are so long as they are wearing the uni's of my favorite team when they win.

I'd like to think most rational fans think this way, though there will always be "those" who don't.

The cauldron of the AL East, plus the weather, traffic, etc. will certainly weigh differently on all free agents. Some want that pressure, others less so. Hell, I live here and I'd love nothing more than to live in sunny, relaxing, less stressful San Diego!

Anonymous said...

yes, ellsbury is navajo.
lowell is cuban. and youk's jewish, if you want to get real nitpicky.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

Another thing, when Rosenthal wrote the first story, they still had Manny and Tavarez, making them more non-white. Without those two, the statistic goes down because they've replaced them essentially with Masterson and Bay.

Pete Toms said...

The BTF crowd were on about this last nite and I agree with a number of them in that the timing of this piece is very odd...does Rosenthal have an axe to grind with somebody???? Rosenthal quotes Richard Lapchick who I can't stand, diversacrat ( sic? ) at their worst. Yes the big issue of the changes in where MLB players come from is interesting but a snapshot of 1 team can be very misleading. Disappointing reporting from Rosenthal.

Peter said...

It's pretty clear, if you actually read Rosenthal's story, that he's not calling the Red Sox racist or advocating personnel changes in the name of diversity. He's just saying that the perception could matter this offseason.

I don't know whether or not that's true, but my guess is that this isn't just something Rosenthal came up with the other night while watching the game. There's an interesting discussion to be had regarding the public perception of Manny and his race, and I wonder if that doesn't have something to do with this column.

Dre said...

heaven forbid putting the best 25 players on the roster

mooseinohio said...

Race matters in society folks and when a player such as Barry Bonds say he'd never play in Boston because of its racist past - he is making a choice based on his perception of Boston. Now as one who lived in NE and spent lots of time in Boston I can attest that Boston is no more racist than Columbus Ohio where I lived for 17 years. Why the perceptual difference - Boston had some real issues that were publically documented but trust me race issues are alive and well in Columbus, Indy, Boise, Portland and just about any place else you want to reference and in many ways the subtler forms of racism in central Ohio are harder to see than cities with the history of Boston, Birmingham or Tulsa.

We can discredit Barry Bonds because he is an ass who cheated on baseball, his wife and his taxes but on this point he has some merit. I can show you study after study that identifies forms or cultural and institutional racism, present data that cleary indicates that white supremacist groups are on the rise and have changed their colors enough to be more palatable to the general public and find examples like the Jena 6, the 'Bradley effect' and how whites publically say they'll vote for a black man but privately don't because they struggle with the overcoming years of being told in both subtle and overt ways that blacks are lessor than whites. We don't overcome centuries of racism in a few decades, it's not that easy.

Sports have played an incredible role in helping to shape the US in many ways and baseball was one place that helped to move the Civil Rights agenda forward. Yes the Red Sox were the last team to integrate and shame on them but the Bruins and Willie O'Ree broke the color barrier in hockey and the Celtics and Bill Russell et al did some amazing things to help the country deal with race issues - so while Boston has its baggage it also has many heroes and triumphs. So when Barry, or others sees the worst of Boston - and trust me folks it isn't just Barry who has this perception of Boston - it is a sign of unresolved race issues that plague Boston as well as the US. Is it fair to compare this Red Sox team and ownership group to the past - probably not but its hard to deny the residual affect of those past actions and whether it is fair or not - perceptions matter.

Grady said...

Slightly off topic... but here it is regardless:
I've been to a few dozen games at Fenway this season. Last time I went (company seats, about 25 rows up from the backstop net on the third base side), something struck me. I looked around me 360 degrees, and noticed that less than 1/100 of people around my section were non-white.
To tie it to the conversation above: I fully expect baseball and race to be an ongoing topic of discussion during my lifetime. It is an interesting and unique microcosm for society in general, IMO.

Pete Toms said...

@ moose - I don't disagree with anything you wrote save for maybe MLB's role in the Civil Rights movement. $$$$ motivated MLB to integrate, not morality and many think it was to the detriment of African Americans that it was integrated. I.E. The Negro Leagues, black owned and operated, collapsed as a direct result. MLBs motives behind the RBI program ( $$$ or morals )....I don't know.....either way, some good things seem to be arising from it.

Rob said...

As I wrote before, I'm happy to have a discussion about race in society (or sports, if that's somehow separate). The perception of Boston's racial attitudes is a legitimate story when someone like Bonds says that he wouldn't play there because of it.

However, Rosenthal's column doesn't point to a single athlete (baseball or otherwise) who recently suggested that he wouldn't play in Boston because of that perception. There isn't even an anonymous source quoted.

This really strikes me as just another throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks story.

And Grady, you'll probably find that most baseball crowds are similarly melanin-deprived. I know I made the same observation at Comerica Park just this past summer, and I've seen the same in Baltimore, Boston, New York, and San Francisco. Baseball draws white people, even in a city with a predominantly black population like Detroit.

mooseinohio said...

@Pete Toms - Agree with what you state and recognize the issue is very complex and MLB's motive can, and should be question. However despite the less than humanitarian reasonings the public result of integration was more of what I was referencing - that is the public act of integration in baseball was valuable. I'm sure Red Auerbach wasn't functioning from the position of social activist when he named Bill Russell coach but the mere act of an African American crossing the threshold had positive effects in breaking down racial barriers.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted, when Barry Bonds commented that he would never play in Boston because of its reputation, he had never been to Boston. After playing in Boston last season, he seemed to change that tune:

Eric said...

i have a question.. and this is not to come off as bigoted or anything else like that so i'll have to suzy kolber it and ask gently.

but is the lack of african americans in baseball really a bad thing? and this is what i mean... it seems to me that a young african american is simply drawn to basketball and football. they are faster moving sports that you can play in a group of anywhere from like 4 to 40 people.

so like.. if a person has found a sport they really love, regardless of race, shouldnt we all just be OK with it?

kind of playing devil's advocate here but i think it's worth at least thinking about.

if a person doesnt want to play a sport dont make them?

Pete Toms said...

Eric, I've asked that same question, should it matter to non African Americans? I don't know. It matters to me in the sense that I think it's an interesting subject. It doesn't matter to me in the sense that I watch less baseball as a result.

As for why fewer big leaguers are African American I think there are a couple of big factors.

1. You cash in more quickly in football & baseball. Elite athletes have choices and the ( relatively ) long apprenticeship ( minor leagues ) necessary in MLB is a disincentive.

2. More players coming from college as opposed to high school. The problem with this for African American athletes is there is relatively very, very little scholarship money available for baseball because it isn't a revenue generator for the schools. A lot of black kids can't afford to go without the scholarship.

I've never bought into the argument that baseball has become too costly for urban black kids. Teams can still draft talented 18 year olds and invest 5 or 6 years in them developing baseball skills.

Eric said...

pete i agree with you entirely. if i had been blessed with the athletic ability to play at a professional level somewhere and it was either A) 3-4 years of college and then 3-4 years of minor league development before making league minimum or B) 0-2 years of college and be playing at the highest level immediately i think the choice would be clear.

mooseinohio said...

@ eric - I agree with your premise which is different from Rosenthal's article was questioning, which was does the perception of the lack of Black ballplayers have an impact on other FA Black ballplayers from opting to sign with Boston, especially given the image/history that the Red Sox have regarding race issues. In that context that Rosenthal and I have been discussing I believe it does matter for the reason I put forth as well as others I will not get into here (not the right forum).

As for the context you reference - hockey, soccer and cross-country are great examples that demonstrate your point well.

@ pete toms - The urban baseball decline impacts any child growing up in the inner cities and issues such as race, class, urban v suburban funding allocation in budgets and lots of other factors (e.g., lack of fields/maintained fields). Since people of color are disproportionately represented in these neighborhoods the effect is that fewer kids from those neighborhoods are exposed to baseball. So in that broader context one can argue that race is an issue as it is a contributing variable.

Marcel said...


I don't know where you live, but the proper city of Boston is pretty predominately white. The surrounding cities that make up the entire Boston area are more diverse, but are considerabley poorer ares than Boston itself. And with the cost of a Red Sox game, most of the people in those cities simply can't afford to go to games.

Once you start to branch out from there, you'll find that the rest of New England is pretty white also. I live in a decent-sized town (about 12,000 people) in southern mass, and I could probably count on both hands the number of people that live here that aren't of european descent. So when the majority of your market is made up of white people, you'll probably draw more white fans than non-white.

Eric said...

moose.. maybe as a white guy i have a hard time identifying with a black or dominican player shopping his services to various cities.

living in boston i can say its very white here but ive never gotten the feeling its particularly racist or more racist than any other area of the country i've visited.

so while i think its fair to classify boston as a white city i think referencing the poor hiring habits of the yawkey family is not valid in the argument. that was decades ago.

however, saying that will or will not affect a FA is purely opinion and speculation so i can't criticize anyone for feeling a certain way.

Anonymous said...

"Let's try to make sense of what's being said here. The Red Sox are a predominantly white team. Except for all the non-white players in a clubhouse that looks more like the United Nations than one of Tom Yawkey's old rosters. The owners may or may not steer away from signing minority players because the people of Boston are racist. Except for the fact that Papi is the most beloved player in team history, Dice-K is a cultural phenomenon, fans demanded the team bring back Lowell last season and guys like Ellsbury and Crisp are popular way out of proportion to what they've accomplished on the field. But still, we only embrace white players. OK, Pedro's diva-ishness was always more popular than Schilling's know-it-all windbaggery, but still. And the fact that the current Left Fielder is white is because the old, Dominican-born Left Fielder (who was wildly liked despite the 10 million reasons he gave the fans NOT to like him) shot his way out of town doesn't count. We're still guilty. So there's no use in defending ourselves by pointing out the popularity of the Celtics (without Brian Scalabrine Mania gripping the Hub), our utter disregard of NASCAR or the dozens of black Patriots players who love playing here. The Sox owner who croaked 25 years ago was a racist so we all are and always will be. No point in denying it." -Barstool Sports. Why am I looking to such 'illegitimate' sources for intelligent sports journalism? Let's ask Ken Rosenthal that....

mooseinohio said...

@ eric - I agree with you that I do not perceive Boston to be more racist than any other city as I believe all of the US is plaqued by issues of race and blantant forms of racism has diminished greatly but institutional and cultural racism affects us all, regardless of geographic location. However Boston has had very public struggles with race in the past and the Yawkey era Red Sox are only one example others include: busing issues/violence in the '70s, red lining in real estate and banking as recently as the last decade, the Charles Stuart incident that highlighted some of the race issues in the BPD, and both the South Side and North Shore had national reputations for being inhospitable to blacks.

Please understand I am not singling Boston out or saying it is any worse than any other city but the history of the city on race relations has not been stellar. That history/reputation plagues the city and is why folks like Michael Wilbon question why black FAs in basketball would be willing to sign in Boston or why non-white colleagues of mine wonder if accepting a job in Boston, while a great career move, is a good personal move. Unfortunately reputations are hard to live down and Boston's history on race issues tends to focus on the negatives.

Eric said...

@ moose...

dont forget dennis and callahan and the metco fiasco

Tom M said...

Try again Marcel.

Boston is LESS than half white as of the 2000 census and the trend has been in the other direction in the eight years since then.

But the wealth is still concentrated in such a way that most of the people who can afford Sox/Celts tix are white. Don't fool yourself, just because the places YOU go in massachusetts are mostly white, just means your sample has a bias.