Jackie Robinson sliding

The percentage of U.S.-born blacks in baseball drops again

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In what has become an annual tradition — usually on Jackie Robinson Day, but a few days later this year — the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports has counted the beans and announced that, once again, the percentage of black ballplayers is lower than it has been in years:

The percentage of black players dropped to 8.5 percent on opening day this year, down from 10 percent at the start of last season and its lowest level since 2007. The percentage of Latino players dropped from 28.4 percent to 27 percent – baseball’s lowest since 1999’s 26 percent.

However, unlike in previous years, the Institute acknowledges in its public statement that the categorization of players by nationality can be misleading when it comes to trying to figure out the true nature of the game’s diversity:

“This has been a concern of Major League Baseball and leaders in the African-American community,” Lapchick said. “However, the 38.3 percent of players who are people of color also make the playing fields look more like America with its large Latino population.”

I want everyone to play baseball and I would love nothing more in this regard than to see more U.S.-born blacks in the game. In the past, however, I think a lot of people, including players, fans and watchdog organizations like this one have discounted the fact that baseball’s diversity is pretty striking.

Just because someone is from Latin America doesn’t mean that they’re not also black. Likewise, even if there were more U.S.-born blacks playing, it doesn’t automatically mean that the game would be more diverse in significant ways.  Race is important. But so too is class and other things.  Pardon the hacky phrasing, but diversity is a rich tapestry.

Beyond the head count, the Institute gives sports leagues letter grades on its diversity efforts. Baseball does well here, receiving an A for racial diversity in hiring and a B-minus for gender. That latter grade is down from a B last year, but the overall grade remained a B-plus. The Institute describes baseball’s grades as representing “a long-term consistent and dramatic increase in the role of people of color and women regarding who runs the game.”

So they got that going for them. Which is nice.

Rick Ankiel drank vodka before a start to deal with the yips

9 Apr 2000: Rick Ankiel #66 of the St. Louis Cardinals winds back to pitch the ball during the game against the Milwaukee Brweers at the Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals defeated the Brewers 11-2. Mandatory Credit: Elsa Hasch  /Allsport
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The story of Rick Ankiel is well known by now. He was a phenom pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Cardinals in 1999 and into the 2000 season as one of the top young talents in the game. Then, in the 2000 playoffs, he melted down. He got the yips. Whatever you want to call it, he lost the ability to throw strikes and his pitching career was soon over. He came back, however, against all odds, and remade his career as a solid outfielder.

It’s inspirational and incredible. But there is a lot more to the story that we’ve ever known. We will soon, however, as Ankiel is coming out with a book. Today he took to the airwaves and shared some about it. Including some amazing stuff:

On drinking in his first start after the famous meltdown in Game One of the 2000 National League division series against the Braves:

“Before that game…I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yipps, the monster, the disease…it didn’t fight fair so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”

Imagine spending your whole life getting to the pinnacle of your career. Then imagine it immediately disintegrating. And then imagine having to go out and do it again in front of millions. It’s almost impossible for anyone to contemplate and, as such, it’s hard to judge almost anything Ankiel did in response to that when he was 21 years-old. That Ankiel got through that and made a career for himself is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to his drive and determination.

 

Justin Turner talks “Easy D”

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up prior to game six of the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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A couple of weeks ago our president wrote one of his more . . . vexing tweets. He was talking about immigration when he whipped out the phrase . . . “Easy D”:

No one was quite sure what he meant by Easy D. Was it the older brother of N.W.A.’s founder? The third sequel to that Emma Stone movie from a few years back? So many questions!

Baseball Twitter had fun with it, though, with a lot of people wondering how they could work it in casually to their commentary:

It wasn’t a scout who did it, but twelve days after that, a player obliged Mr. McCullough:

I have no more idea what Turner was talking about with that than Trump was. We’ll have to wait for the full story in the L.A. Times. But I am going to assume Turner was doing McCullough a solid with that one rather than commenting on the president’s tweet. Either way, I’m glad he made the effort.

And before you ask: yes, it’s a slow news day.