Ezequiel Astacio might be surprised to learn he isn’t black. At least, according to the Associated Press he isn’t.
“Astros roster has no black players,” announced the AP headline. That would be the Houston Astros, allegedly the first team with no black players to compete in a World Series since 1953. Except, Houston has a few black players. They’re just Hispanic blacks, so they don’t count.
Baseball is probably the most racially diverse sport in America. But the race-counters have discovered that the number of non-Hispanic black players is dwindling. Only 9 percent of major league players this year were “black,” according to the AP. And by black the AP means African-American. Black Hispanics are counted as Hispanic.
“We know that we have to work to do,” Commissioner Bud Selig whined. “We’ll continue to intensify our efforts. I’m very aware, I’m extremely sensitive about it, and I feel badly about it. But we need to get to work to change things.”
Yes, suddenly Major League Baseball is horrified that it doesn’t have enough players of African heritage who were born in the United States. If we parse the ancestry of baseball players much further, we’ll soon be worried about the lack of Norwegian switch-hitting catchers or left-handed relief pitchers who grew up between West 155th Street and East 110th and aren’t named Rodriguez. It is starting to get ridiculous.
The reason baseball has fewer American-born black players is that they’ve chosen other sports. The AP reported that half of NCAA Division 1 basketball players and 44 percent of NCAA football players are black. But only 6 percent of the baseball players are. America’s best black athletes are opting for other sports. That’s sad, considering the great opportunities available in baseball and the hell black players went through to integrate the sport. But is it really cause for great worry?
Interestingly, no one is accusing Major League Baseball of discriminating against African-American athletes. Everyone seems to agree that few young black athletes choose baseball over other sports. Why that should matter to anyone other than MLB marketing executives remains to be seen.
From a business standpoint, this is bad news. You want to have players who appeal to as wide a variety of fans as possible. You aren’t going to sell as many tickets, player posters or replica jerseys if your fans have a hard time identifying with your players. In certain Boston neighborhoods, where you can find throngs of David Ortiz fans, I doubt you could find a single Johnny Damon poster in a boy’s bedroom.
But culturally speaking, as long as the door to Major League Baseball is open, does it really matter who chooses to step through it? If America’s best black athletes prefer basketball or football, is this a problem for America?
Joe Morgan seems to think it is. The commentator and Hall of Famer is upset that fewer Americans of African descent are playing baseball. Apparently his concern is that inner-city kids — his words — are not turning to baseball as a way out.
If promising young athletes reject baseball because they perceive it as too white, that is a shame. But shouldn’t we be more worried about inner city kids rejecting college because they perceive it as too white? If Hall of Fame baseball players wanted to save young black kids, they could do worse than visiting inner city schools and encouraging black students to go to college.
Census data released earlier this year show that high school graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn almost twice as much as their counterparts who did not graduate from college. And while 30.6 percent of whites have a bachelor’s degree, only 17.6 percent of blacks do. (By the way, even more troubling, only 12.1 percent of Hispanics have a bachelor’s.)
Fewer black Americans than white Americans graduate high school and a lot fewer go to college. This is a serious problem. But we’re worried about whether the best black athletes — the ones likely to become wealthy pros — choose basketball or football over baseball.
Let America’s elite athletes, whatever their skin color, know they are welcome on the baseball diamond, and encourage them to play. But if we’re going to devise ways to maximize opportunities for young black men in America, let’s focus on getting more of them through high school and college. No matter their skin color, I’m a lot less concerned about the future America’s most gifted athletes and a lot more concerned about where the kids with no athletic talent and no education are going to wind up when they step into the real world.