Rico Carty

Today that annual diversity-in-baseball study comes out. Take it with a serious grain of salt.

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Today is the day that the annual report from Richard Lapchick’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida comes out.  He’s been doing this for years, and it always gets highlighted in the media, with headlines about how the number of U.S.-born black players in baseball is declining.  Which, yes, it is.  But Lapchick’s report is also normally treated wholly uncritically, with his conclusions being parroted instead of reported, and it really grinds my gears.

It bugs me on a broad level, in that — as I’ve mentioned in this space several times — it looks at the trees but not the forest, noting that while, yes, there are fewer U.S.-born black players in baseball now than there used to, the overall diversity of baseball is up as the game becomes increasingly internationalized.

But it bugs me in a much sharper sense in that I believe the numbers Lapchick puts out are misleading.

They are misleading in that, while his current count of U.S.-born blacks in baseball seems right — he has it at 8.5% — the numbers he and others typically cite for the height of black representation in the game are usually off. He has cited as high as 27% of all players being black, and this number is often repeated as gospel, like it is in today’s USA Today story about it.

Thing is: these are apples and oranges measurements.  Back in the 70s when that 27% number came out, those numbers represented counts of all black players — or people who had sufficiently-black skin to be called “black” according to the view of those doing the counting. This included Latino players like Rico Carty, who happened to be born in the Dominican Republic. Today Carty — or, say, Aroldis Chapman or any other non-U.S.-born black player — wouldn’t be included in Lapchick’s count. Which makes sense because he’s counting only U.S.-born blacks. But he and his media surrogates freely cite the old numbers which did include Latino blacks back in the day.

Friend of mine and frequent HBT commenter Mark Armour is doing some research on this for the Society of American Baseball Research. I’ve not seen the research, but Tyler Kepner notes it in the New York Times today. Armour estimates that the actual height of U.S.-born blacks in the game came in the 1980s and peaked at 19%. See the update below for some of Mark’s additional comments on this.

No, that research does not mean that all things are wonderful. There clearly are fewer U.S.-born black players in baseball today than there were in decades past. But it’s not quite a crisis on the order of magnitude that Lapchick and others portray. And given that they’re not being particularly discerning with their numbers you have to wonder if either sloppiness or agenda-setting is taking precedence over science here.

And that’s my problem with it. Not the underlying idea — I want there to be more blacks in the game; heck, I want EVERYONE to play baseball and anything that can be done to promote it should be – but on the manner in which the problem is portrayed. A manner which seems more calculated to draw attention to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports than it does to the underlying issue.

UPDATE:  Mark Armour chimed in in the comments:

I am not exactly sure where the 27% number came from. My theory had been that the old data was from some newpaper story that counted all dark-skinned players as black, while the new data only counted US black players. However, several years ago this was explored further by the Wall Street Journal, and they determined that the old data is just … bad science. Really bad science.

The real drop in African-Americans (from 17-19% in the 1975-95 period) to half that today is significant enough without the bad data. Baseball is MORE diverse, of course, than every before.

By the way, MLB is very cooperative in the Lapchick study. In fact, they provide all of the data on opening day rosters to Lapchick every year. The writers that imply this is some sort of bigotry on the part of MLB are nuts. It is very clear that MLB is spending lots of time and money on this problem.

This is the WSJ story from 2008.

Are the current Collective Bargaining Agreement talks too friendly?

Scott Boras
Associated Press
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Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1. There have been comments from both commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA director Tony Clark suggesting that progress was being made and there has been no suggestion thus far that there are sticking points which could lead to a work stoppage. Heck, even a few acrimonious rounds of negotiation before it’s all said and done seem unlikely.

That’s good news for fans, but it’s not making certain agents happy. Smooth labor sailing likely means a new CBA that is pretty close in most terms to the current CBA. Agents — especially agents who represent veterans — don’t like that because they believe that the current rules regarding free agency, draft pick compensation, luxury taxes and qualifying offers penalize the players they represent. Today Ken Rosenthal has a story about that anger, talking to both anonymous agents and super agent Scott Boras about how baseball’s middle class is disappearing and baseball’s median salary goes lower and lower.

Major League Baseball counters that while the median salary is going down, the average salary is going up. And baseball is right about that. But it’s also the case that the average is propped up by a handful of superstar contracts while the somewhat less lucrative but still nice mid-level contracts for mid-level veterans are disappearing. The financial landscape of the game is morphing into one with a small upper class with nine-figure contracts and a large lower class of pre-arbitration players and veterans on shorter, smaller deals, squeezing the old veteran middle class out of existence.

Sound familiar?

Baseball, of course, is not the American economy. There are some good reasons why those mid-level contracts have gone away. Specifically, because they tended not to be very good deals for the teams who signed them. At the same time, baseball is far better able to tweak its rules to spread the wealth than the U.S. government can, and those rules — like the qualifying offer and luxury tax — have had a harsh impact on a lot of players.

There’s not a clear answer on what the best system is for free agents, draft pick compensation, draft bonus pools and the like actually is. I tend to favor the fewest restrictions on a player’s right to negotiate freely with teams, but I’ll also acknowledge that there is a less than perfect market at play in baseball given revenue disparities between teams and the need to maximize, within reason, competitive balance. It’s not an easy trick even before you get into the B.S. team owners tend to spew about pocketbook matters.

But it’s also the case that an all-too-friendly relationship between the union and the league — one in which a given set of rules is rubberstamped from CBA to CBA — is not an ideal situation. No one wants acrimony, but the fact is that the players and the union are slicing up a pie. If the person you’re slicing up a pie with is all-too-happy to keep slicing it the same way, it probably means that they’re getting a bigger piece than you. Maybe, if it’s your job to grab a bigger piece?

The agents Rosenthal talked to, who represent a good chunk of MLBPA membership, certainly think the union should be doing some more grabbing. I wonder if their clients do too.

Four baseballs autographed by Jose Fernandez wash ashore

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 03: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins looks on during a game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on August 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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This is just . . . ugh.

WSVN-TV in Miami reports that a black bag containing Jose Fernandez’s checkbook and four baseballs signed by him washed ashore on Miami Beach. Probably a bag to keep stuff dry while out on the water.

The bag was given to a lifeguard. Hopefully the bag finds its way back to Fernandez’s family quickly.