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.

Blame Baseball’s copycat behavior for its lack of diversity in the executive ranks

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Following on yesterday’s stuff about baseball’s marked lack of diversity in the executive ranks comes a Ken Rosenthal column which digs into it a bit.

I might observe that, while, Rosenthal is right on all of the facts, there is a whiff of pushback in the story. As if MLB folks were hearing the criticisms Murray Chass and others have leveled in recent days about the lack of women, minorities and other candidates who don’t fit the “30-something MBA from an Ivy League school” mold of so many of today’s top execs and wanted to get some points out there. The league’s search firm is examined and there is a bit of “well, here is an exception; and here are a few more . . .” to it. Which, hey, that’s fair. Like I said, Rosenthal has his facts right and treats the issue seriously.

I think Rosenthal’s best bit, however, is the point he hits on at the end, when he says “homogeneity is dangerous in any industry, particularly when bright people are excluded.” That’s probably the key word to think about when you think about baseball’s hiring practices. “Homegeneity.” Baseball has a distinct lack of women and minorities in key positions, but I don’t think it’s because baseball is maliciously racist or sexist. Rather, it’s because baseball is acutely prone to copycat behavior that breeds homogeneity.

Everything about baseball culture, from the first day of a player’s minor league career-on and from the first day an intern is hired to get coffee for an assistant general manager is about not being different. About not sticking out. About emulating successes. You may mess up or you may fail, but if you do it while going about your business the way other, successful people went about theirs, you’ll be way better off than if you did things differently or stuck out.

This is true of all industries to some degree, but it seems far more prevalent in baseball. It’s a smaller world with fewer opportunities than business at large. It’s a more conservative world in terms of temperament. It’s one where you’re far more likely to have a reporter ask you about why you did something than, say, the accounting industry. It makes people afraid to take chances and makes people far more likely to do what that last successful guy did than to go out on even the shortest of limbs.

Not that things don’t change. Indeed, today’s preference for 30-something MBAs is radically different than the old model of hiring some old “baseball man” to run baseball operations. But it only came to the fore after the sabermetric and analytical model forced its way into the conversation with success and/or efficiencies that were impossible for even the crustiest old baseball man to ignore. That said, it was a transformation that was so difficult and radical that it was literally turned into a book and a movie and led to a decade and a half of arguing. A philosophical change which may have been casually noted in another business and then quickly emulated played out like some sort of cultural civil war in baseball circles. Change came, yes, but it wasn’t easy.

But here we are again, with the old baseball men replaced by the “Moneyball” disciples, who have become the new normal. A normal which one deviates from at great risk in baseball’s conservative world. I don’t believe that baseball’s homogeneity in the executive ranks is a function of bad people who believe bad things making bad decisions. I think it’s about fear and conformity more than anything else. Now there is a fear that not hiring that Ivy League MBA is the radical and perilous move. And if that Ivy League MBA was one who worked under another Ivy League MBA with another, all the better. And the easier we can sell him to fans as “the next Theo Epstein,” well, the better. And it sure would be easier to do that if he looked like Theo Epstein! Comps are the lingua franca of old baseball scouts. They’re the lingua franca of baseball decision makers too.

Whatever the causes, the net effect of all of this is no different than if there were virulent racism and sexism in the hearts and minds of baseball’s decision makers. It’s the same rich white boys club that maliciousness and bigotry could’ve created, even if it was created via more benign means. If baseball’s leaders truly believe that diversity in their leadership ranks is important — and I believe them when they say they do — they need to attack the problem of its homogeneity in the same manner they would if there was something malicious afoot. They need to stop throwing up their hands and saying “well, that’s what clubs do” or “that’s what our search firm gave us” and make achieving diversity a goal with an action plan, not just a goal which is merely stated.

Chris Archer could lose his 20th game tonight

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10:  Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on from the mound after surrendering a home run in the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 10, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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That’s a pretty negative way to put a headline, but the fact is, a starting pitcher losing 20 games is a rare and notable feat these days. But Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer could pull it off against the White Sox this evening. He’s 8-19 with a 4.02 ERA in 194.2 innings across 32 starts in 2016.

That’s a big fall from 2015, when he was considered one of the rising aces in the game. Archer was an All-Star last year, and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting, finishing fifth in pitcher WAR, sixth in ERA, second in strikeouts, second in strikeouts per nine innings, fourth in fielding independent pitching and allowing the fourth lowest number of hits per nine innings pitched among AL starters.

To be fair, he still should be considered one of the best pitchers in the game. Yes, it has been a bad year for Archer, but he still strikes out a lot of guys. Overall, it takes a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games in the big leagues. You don’t get the opportunities to do such a dubious thing unless you’re healthy and you have the confidence of your manager to take the ball every fifth day. And to be fair to Archer, he’s had bad defense and awful run support this year. Make no mistake, he has pitched worse than he did a year ago, but not so much worse that he deserves to reach a milestone no one has reached since 2003.

The guy who did that in 2003: Mike Maroth of a 119-loss Tigers team. Maroth won nine games that year and now gets referenced every time someone approaches 20 losses. If Archer avoids his 20th loss, he might match Maroth’s 2003 win total himself tonight. If not, well, everyone will cite Archer’s name, and not Maroth’s, whenever someone get to 19 losses in a season.