October 30, 2005

Minorities and the Strike Generation of Baseball

Last week the Associated Press filed a story about the prevalence of minorities in major league baseball. According to this story, black representation in major league baseball has dropped to nine percent. While that only slightly under-represents the black population in the United States, it is a significantly smaller percentage than the other major sports.

The story does not go very far to discern the reason for this trend except to quote Joe Morgan hypothesizing that African-American kids do not feel welcome in baseball. The story also quotes Commissioner Bud Selig saying “We know that we have work to do. We'll continue to intensify our efforts.” But I'm one of those “Work Smarter, Not Harder” people. I think that it is important to really figure out why multiple teams, including the World-Series-attending Houston Astros, had zero black players before diving headlong into some vague initiative to change it.

This story did not mention any systemic barrier preventing qualified black athletes from achieving major league status. The problem addressed in this story has to do with the pool of potential baseball players. As Morgan says, that could be because of a perception among black youth that they aren't welcome in baseball.

However, it could also be a reflection of a general downward trend in the popularity of baseball, say from a certain strike about 10 years ago. The eight-year-olds of 1994, alienated by baseball, could conceivably have turned their attention to Michael Jordan and eliminated themselves from today's baseball consideration.

With fewer athletes interested in the baseball, the reduction in the pool of candidates of the minorities would be more apparent than the reduction in the pool of candidates of the majority, simply because of the numbers. When a potential baseball player of any race decides to pursue a different sport instead, there are going to be more white potential players to take his place.

If that is the case, then baseball needs to work on improving its esteem with young'uns across the board, not just zero in on the inner cities. Furthermore, baseball needs to act now to capitalize on the current waning popularity of basketball and reap the benefits 10 years from now.

But how can baseball appeal to the eight-year-olds of today? Appeal to their parents.

Baseball already has a reputation for being wholesome (steroid scandals notwithstanding) and for providing role models (if increasingly monochromatic ones). But baseball also seems stodgy and old-fashioned. This sport that used to be the trendsetter is now so steeped in tradition that it's become antiquated.

Case-in-point: baseball's relationship with the “minority” that makes up more than half of the population. Major League Baseball doesn't let women play: fine. I find it unlikely that there has never been even one woman through history who could have played, but fine. That still doesn't explain why there are no female managers, general managers, bench coaches, hitting instructors, pitching coaches, or base coaches. I cannot accept that there has never been a woman who has been qualified and willing to do one of these jobs, so I can only assume that they have been prevented from it, or, at the very least, never been recruited to.

It's difficult for an old sport, such as baseball, to decide which of its habits are venerable and which are just outdated. The system that has churned men from prospect to player to coach is well seasoned, but if room is never made for a woman in that system, there will never be room for one. And in an age where a family's entertainment choices are made increasingly by women, it would make sense for baseball to try to appeal to women, who, if alienated by baseball, could conceivably turn their attention to the WNBA or other sports and effectively eliminate their children from tomorrow's baseball consideration.

8 comments to “Minorities and the Strike Generation of Baseball”

  1. JinAZ says:

    I can’t see anything wrong with your argument. I think it’d be great if women could play, but separation of the sexes is a longstanding tradition in pretty much all sports… But I certainly see no reason why top front office people, scouts, etc couldn’t be female. Seems like a nice untapped pool of talent.

    Hmmm…maybe that’s how the Reds can finally get an edge…

  2. Red Hot Mama says:

    Do they already have woman scouts? If not, that’s really a no-brainer. I mean, even the oldest sex stereotypes would paint women well for scouting, what with our intuition and black magic.

    Making women scouts would benefit the club by providing a diverse viewpoint, but it wouldn’t give them the PR of demonstrating their commitment to diversity because scouts aren’t high profile positions. Maybe they could make a big deal out of their female scout initiative.

  3. Joel says:

    I’ve heard that Adam and Austin are scouting women on every road trip.

    I’m not so sure about women in the front office. I mean, look at how that woman in [url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097815/]Major League[/url] tried to run the Indians into the ground. 😛

  4. Red Hot Mama says:

    Joel, I can’t tell you how sad it makes me to hear you say that.

    Not that you’d manage to squeeze womanizing and a double-standard into the same comment; that the best you could come up with was the woman from Major League. And to make matters worse, that you’d link to it on imdb, as if I wouldn’t know what you were talking about otherwise.

    Honestly, what does a woman have to do to get some respect around here?

  5. JinAZ says:

    In all seriousness, if the Reds were going to start hiring female scouts/player development people/front office staffers, I think they should avoid making it a PR move. As soon as you do that, you then have to start making all sorts of justifications for the individuals’ qualifications, the women are made tokens, and everyone (including coworkers) will view it as just a stunt.. And then, what happens if you have to fire one of these women a year later because that individual turned out to not be any good. I’d much rather find out by reading the paper one day and seeing something like "assistant director of player development Jane Doe said the prospect is showing some improvement on fundamentals…" (no reason it has to be an assistant director, just an example)

    Unfortunately, to my knowledge, the only "higher-up" female in the Reds organization is the person in charge off-field entertainment in the stadium.

  6. Red Hot Mama says:

    Hi, J,
    The marketing splash wouldn’t have to be blatant, but I think it would have to be there for a handful of reasons:

    * One of the big reasons for hiring a woman in one of these positions would be to draw attention. Yes, that would make it a stunt, but only in the short term. After the novelty wears off, she’s just a contributor.

    * Unfortunately, Jane Doe is going to have detractors no matter what, and, especially in baseball, her coworkers are going to think she’s unqualified. At least if the move is public, she’ll have the support of outside organizations who will put pressure on the organization to do the right thing, even if her coworkers decide to turn against her.

    * Though it risks giving the woman token status and putting pressure on her to be perfect, that is just the nature of being first. She’s going to fail or succeed either way, but if she’s carefully chosen, she’ll handle it. The fact that she does it in public will prove that she had the chance and set the example for others to come after.

  7. Joel says:

    I thought you might be interested in this:


    Your wish might be granted this off-season.

  8. Red Hot Mama says:

    Thanks for the link, Joel. Do let me know if you see more on that story.