Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Diversity in Baseball

The percentage of major leaguers who are black dropped again last year in a study released today. This will undoubtedly spark a wave of articles highlighting the racial inequalities of baseball. What these stories will fail to mention is that the percentage of white and Latino players in the major leagues is also decreasing. Here is the analysis section from The 2006 Racial and Gender Report Card about the player pool:

"In the 2006 MLB season 59.5 percent of the players were white, 8.4 percent were African-American, 29.4 percent were Latino and 2.4 percent were of Asian descent. This was a 0.5 percentage point decrease for white players, a 0.6 percent decrease for African-American players and 0.4 percentage point increase for Latinos."

Why is there not the same level of outcry regarding the decrease in whites and Latinos in baseball? The decrease is due to the continued influx of Asian players into the majors and the percentage decrease for each group is essentially equivalent for all three racial groups, but it will be reported like baseball is purposely ignoring black players.

Now, is the current system in baseball predisposed to neglect black players? Yes, but only in the fact that the system punishes all Americans, Canadians and Puerto Ricans. It makes economic sense for any major league team to develop young players in South America and the Caribbean since their money will buy more infrastructure than in the U.S. and they can sign the players as soon as they are 17. In the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico a team can spend just as much money to develop the next generation of superstars only to have them required to enter the Amateur Draft and end up on another team. So teams don't spend their resources domestically where a vast majority of black players are from. And if teams do set up domestic developmental facilities they are more likely to not do so in inner-cities where space is limited and overheads are higher than in sub-urban areas that many black children are unable to access.

In conclusion, could Major League Baseball do more to cultivate black players? Of course, but that would require a lot more than a few token programs across the country since the economic benefits of importing players far outstrip the costs of developing then domestically. The first step toward this would be to extend the Amateur Draft globally, but you won't find that suggestion in the Racial and Gender Report Card.


Michael in New York said...

Nice! Counter-intuitive, clever, zigging when others are zagging. If you could data mine and find numbers to back this up it would be interesting. Will the NBA and NFL have similar problems if their sports become more popular overseas?

priv8pete said...

I'm not sure what stats you're looking for, but the 2006 report had this statement to make about the Asian player population:

"There were 29 Asian baseball players in the entire league. The percentage of international players in MLB was 31 percent, up one percentage point."

And while they decry the lack of African-Americans in baseball they still gave the MLB grade for player diversification an A+.