MLB's African-American "problem"

Scott Cunningham

I hope you'll pardon me for not getting overly excited about this news (via press release):

Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig today announced the creation of an On-Field Diversity Task Force to address the talent pipeline that impacts the representation and development of diverse players and on-field personnel in Major League Baseball, particularly African-Americans. The wide-ranging group, which includes representatives from Club ownership, Club front offices, MLB's Central Office, Minor League Baseball, former players, the Major League Baseball Players Association, the MLB Scouting Bureau, and collegiate baseball, will focus on the myriad of issues influencing on-field diversity at all levels of baseball.

Oooo, a formal task force! Is that sort of like the task force that's been solving the Athletics' ballpark issues for three years?

Seriously, there's really not much new here. Or there isn't likely to be. Major League Baseball started its RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Program way back in 1989. More recently, MLB's built four urban academies with more on the way; it's too early to see much impact from those. My point is that Baseball has been trying to attract black kids for some years, albeit with little apparent effect, and it's hard to see how a new Blue Ribbon Panel is going to make a real difference.

Which is to say, this just seems to me like window dressing.

So why bother with the window dressing? Partly because USA Today just loves to beat on this stinking drum every spring:

The African-American percentage in baseball this season is the lowest since the Boston Red Sox became the final team to integrate its roster in 1959, according to a USA TODAY Sports study that includes major-league players on the opening-day disabled lists. It's a drop from 8.05% last season, a dramatic decline from 1995 when 19% of the rosters were African-American players, and far from the peak of 27% in 1975.

Just to be real clear, that 27%-in-1975 figure is pure unadulterated bullshit.

Way back when, some "scientists" who were either trying to find support for a theory or maybe just plain lazy did some lousy research, published it, and for some reason USA Today just keeps aping those findings in the face of better research. I don't know why USA Today keeps doing this. It's hard to see how they could have missed what's been published before, but it's also hard to see them publishing incorrect data just because it makes for a better, more controversial story. I guess you'd have to ask them.

My friend Mark Armour has done more and better research on this subject than anyone. According to Mark, the percentage of African-American players in the majors -- that is, black players born in the United States -- never reached 27 percent, and in fact never reached 20 percent. From 1973 through '96, the percentage hovered between 17 and 19, and now it's around 8 percent

Yes, that's a significant decline. But a number that starts with a 2 seems a lot bigger than a number that begins with a 1. And again, I don't understand why USA Today insists on using numbers they must know are simply wrong.

It sure looks bad to some people, though. Which is probably why MLB is creating a task force and issuing a press release and stuff. My personal opinion is that I hope the public-relations efforts work, because I want Baseball to have the reputation it deserves. And in this matter, Baseball doesn't deserve a bad reputation.

You don't think Baseball wants the best American athletes? Frankly, I find that notion preposterous. I suspect that 99 percent of the managers and coaches and scouts and front-office personnel and Commissioners of Baseball go to bed every night praying that all of America's young athletes, black or white or Martian purple, choose the glorious game of baseball as their chosen profession.

But you can't make them. For a huge number of reasons, many of them immune to the Commissioner of Baseball's considerable charms, many young athletes of every stripe choose a different sport.

I hope this new Task Force has some positive impact. It probably won't. There are much larger forces at work.

More from Baseball Nation:

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The problem with Tim Lincecum (but not the solution)

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The Rays, Marty Foster, and THE HUMAN ELEMENT

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