Ain’t Much Black in the Fall Classic: Racial Diversity and Baseball
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
The World Series is set to start on Wednesday between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. Much will be made of the pageantry, the Cinderella story surrounding the Cardinals, who only made into the playoffs on the final day of the seasons, the Rangers’ attempt to finally win a title, and of course the redemption story of Josh Hamilton (whiteness has its power). Yet, there are more stories to be hold, one being what this World Series tell us about diversity and baseball, and more importantly what the racial and national demographics of the “American past time” tell us about large social forces.
While the National Championship series highlighted an overwhelming number of African American baseball players (8), the World Series won’t showcase a similar level of diversity; as the Cardinals possess 4 African Americans on its roster (Edwin Jackson, Arthur Rhodes, John Jay, and Adron Chambers), Rangers will only suit up a single African American player (Darren Oliver). Representing 10%, this still exceeds the league-wide number, which stands at 8.5%. Mac Engel describes the state of baseball’s diversity in “Baseball continues to see fewer black players:”
For a variety of reasons, from societal to financial, the sport can’t seem to reverse the trend of fewer African-Americans playing baseball.
The University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports reported this year that the number of blacks in baseball is down to 8.5 percent. The percentage of Latinos is 27 percent. The percentage for African-Americans in MLB is at its lowest level since 2007. When the institute began to track the figure in 1990, 17 percent of all MLB players were African-American. Beginning in 1997, the number has steadily decreased for a variety of reasons.
The consequences of closed parks, globalization, specialization of sports, prohibitive costs, a failing school systems, and expanded prison system has been the steady erosion of baseball. The last thirty years have seen the re-segregation of baseball, an ironic twist given its importance within the larger history of sports integration. From 1990-2000, blacks presence in professional baseball decline from 18% of the league’s players to 13%; in the ten years since, the number has continued to decline, with prospects even worse for the future. While the lack of black baseball roles models and the presumed incapability between an authentic black identity and baseball certainly part of the story, segregation and the systematic divestment, dismantling and destruction of the institutional spaces that produced past generations of black ball players is key to understanding the waning black place within “America’s Past Time.”
The declining presence of African American baseball players, almost 65 years after Jackie Robinson reintegrated professional baseball, transcends the numbers, with the shrinking influence and importance, evidence by the lack of African American star power. It is also evident in the absence of younger African American talent. Two of the players are older than me (Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver) revealing beyond the numbers how the systematic destruction of the infrastructure that produced both the great African American stars of yesteryear and the role players has left a barren future for African Americans in baseball
The World Series will equally highlight the impact of globalization, with a total of 17 players coming from outside the United States (8 from the Dominican Republic, 3 hailing from Venezuela, 2 coming from Japan and Mexico). Two Cardinal players hail from Puerto Rico, which has historically produced a large number of Major League players. Similar to their African American brothers, recent history has seen a precipitous decline amongst the professional ranks, which in part reflect the limited development and focus on cultivating talent. Despite its neocolonial status (or maybe because of it), players from Puerto Rico are subjected to the MLB draft, impacting Puerto Rican presence within the game (teams won’t want to invest in players that they might not be to sign). In “Puerto Rico’s Pipeline Has Been Running Low,” Ken Belson reflects on the changing place of Puerto Ricans within Major League Baseball
The pipeline of prospects from the island, once rich with potential Hall of Fame talent, has narrowed as major league teams focus on cheaper and more plentiful prospects from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
In 2009, only 3.5 percent of position players in Major League Baseball came from Puerto Rico, a 24-year low. Meanwhile, the percentage of Cuban and Venezuelan position players has nearly doubled in the last decade.
While the mere mention of the declining numbers of African Americans and Puerto Rican players, or the efforts to highlight the global influences on the game often sets off resistance to the mere introduction of race and politics in the game (see here for a vivid example), we can learn much about larger issues of injustice, social change, economic inequality, and global politics by examining the rosters of this year’s World Series competitors.
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