I read on ESPN today that Major League Baseball has commissioned a panel to study "how to increase diversity" in its players. In the same month that the new movie "42" about Jackie Robinson debuted, Commissioner Bud Selig has discovered that professional baseball lacks "diversity," at least so far as the number of black players is concerned.
"As a social institution, Major League Baseball has an enormous social responsibility to provide equal opportunities for all people, both on and off the field," Selig said in a statement.
According to the data from MLB, about 9% of the players are identified as "African-American." That compares to a figure of 19% in 1995 (though figures from 20 years ago included black players from Latin America; a fact that Selig et at ignore in stating that the rates have fallen by half).
This figure strikes me as low - part of that is perception, no doubt. When I watch professional baseball, I don't really try to parse the races of the players, but I would certainly consider, say, Big Papi (David Ortiz) to be "black," though he counts as "Latino" in the MLB survey, as he comes from the Dominican Republic.
As whole, when the demographics of the US are parsed - blacks not of Hispanic origin separated from blacks, Hispanic - black people make up 12 per cent of the total. Thus, the MLB figure of 9% is low, but not shockingly so.
(For the record, the makeup of MLB according to Selig is about 61% "white," 27% "Latino," and 9% "African-American." No mention is made of Asian or "other" races).
One thing I find particularly galling about this "story," aside from the ugly, unnecessary injection of race and politics into sport, is how ridiculous and biased the methodology and language are. Does baseball really lack "diversity," when the distribution is pretty damned close to the makeup of the country? It's certainly far, far closer to the real distribution than, say, the NBA, which is overwhelmingly black. The most recent data indicate that among professional basketball players, 83% are black. Of the 17% ostensibly "white" players, I wonder how many are actually, in the parlance of Bud Selig, "European Americans?" A significant number of players are from Europe, even if we include Steve Nash - a Canadian - among white Americans.
Statistically speaking, the probability of coming up with an 83-17-0 (Black-White-Hispanic) sample from a population of 63-12-21-9 (White, Black, Hispanic, Other) is orders of magnitude less likely than what is seen in baseball?
Is anyone calling for an investigation into the lack of 'diversity' in the NBA? Such a suggestion would be considered laughable.
Part of the perception, I think, that baseball lacks diversity is not because the number of black players is low compared to the population, but rather, because the number of black players in MLB is low compared to the number of black players in the NBA.
This is, indeed, low. But is this really the standard one should use? What presumptions about such a yardstick are presumed and not said?
Second, does anyone really, honestly believe that professional baseball is not offering equal opportunities for black players? That there are institutional roadblocks to keep black players out?
Professional sport is incredibly competitive; the difference between the best player in the league and a marginal one, along the total distribution of abilities, is miniscule. Teams look for the tiniest advantage in an attempt to win.
An entire genre of strategy, books, and films - "Moneyball" - has arisen with clever ways to gain a small advantage.
I wrote some time ago about the phenomenon of Jeremy Lin; Lin created a sensation in the NBA when he briefly stepped in to a void created by an injury. Lin has faded back into obscurity - as a Harvard grad, he was an unlikely star.
The bottom line is that MLB should just let us fans watch the games and stop badgering us with diversity nonsense.
As Jackie Robinson attested, can we just watch the best players play and leave it at that?