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.