Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees

A dearth of black ballplayers, a dearth of black fans

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I missed this story from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram over the weekend, but a bunch of blogs are picking it up today. It’s about the relative dearth of black ballplayers compared to years past, what is driving it and the effect it has on the fewer black ballplayers who are in the game today.

We’ve covered this territory many times here before.  And, like most complicated issues, there are no easy answers. Hell, there aren’t even easy questions everyone can agree on.  There are several reasons why there aren’t more black ballplayers. Some of them economic (baseball programs are expensive to maintain), some of them sociological (baseball isn’t all that cool compared to other sports) and some of them likely just random.  And that’s before you get into the matter of what, exactly, can be done about it.  And of course it’s all complicated by the fact that, overall, baseball is probably more diverse today than it ever has been, so how big a problem is this really.

The framing device of the story is a bit more interesting to me, however, in that it goes beyond just the players. It goes to the fans. It features Curtis Granderson and a little game he plays with his teammates at the ballpark:

Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson moved to the top dugout step, looked into the stands of Rangers Ballpark and challenged his teammates.

“Count the number of African-American people here at the stadium who aren’t working at the stadium and see if you can get to 10,” Granderson said.

A teammate will point at a black man only to hear Granderson reject it because, “He’s Latin.” Or, “You already counted him.”

“At first, it starts off as a joke,” Granderson said. “And then as the game moves on, you’ll get to 10, or maybe 15. Depends on where you are, too. Places like Chicago or New York, other places, it’s easy. Here, it’s hard. So after a while it becomes, ‘Told you so.’ “

I can’t say that I haven’t made that same observation whenever I go to the ballpark.  And it strikes me that, just as important as promoting youth baseball programs through things like the RBI initiative, baseball should figure out how to get more black people in the stands too.

I mean, when did you fall in love with baseball?  If you’re like most folks, it happened while you were watching the game.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.

Daniel Szew: “Landa was a leader, happy-go-lucky guy”

FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 1:  Yorman Landa #81 of the Minnesota Twins poses for a photo during the Twins' photo day on March 1, 2016 at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Twins’ right-handed pitching prospect Yorman Landa passed away in a tragic car accident on Friday night, per a team statement. According to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, 22-year-old Landa was in the passenger seat of the vehicle when it struck a fallen tree.

Daniel Szew, Landa’s agent, spoke highly of the young pitcher, who was one of his first clients back in 2010. Szew acknowledged Landa for helping him expand his company, LA Sports Management, and referred to the late pitcher as a leader and his “little brother.”

Per Berardino:

He was very even-keeled,” Szew said. “That was his personality. He wasn’t wild. That’s why this is so tragic. He wasn’t a wild guy. He was a happy-go-lucky guy who took life as it came, and he was super happy — always happy.

If leadership was one facet of Landa’s personality, so was loyalty. The 22-year-old agreed to a minor league contract with the Twins on Tuesday after getting cut from the 40-man roster, fulfilling a promise to re-sign with the club despite fielding multiple offers from competing teams. The deal included an invite to spring training, and comments from his agent suggested that the right-hander was “super confident” he’d break through to the major leagues in 2017, notwithstanding a troublesome shoulder injury that hampered his progress in High-A Fort Myers during the 2016 season.

“He never wanted to leave,” Szew told Berardino. “It was the only organization he ever knew.”

Our condolences go out to Landa’s family and the Twins organization during this terrible time.