Where Have You Gone, Willie Mays?

AP Photo
AP Photo

No doubt, if you are a sports fan, you’ve noticed a couple of things. First, there is a vast disparity between the major sports in terms of color within that sport. Secondly, in some sports, there is virtually no diversity.

According to a report by Henry Johnson of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, for example, there are issues with diversity in basketball. The NBA, WNBA, and NFL are predominantly African-American, while MLB and MLS are predominantly Anglo.

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Harvard Sports Analysis Collective

 

In a story written by Paul Hagen for MLB.com, fewer African-Americans are playing in Major League Baseball today than two decades ago; the percentage was 8.5 percent on this season’s Opening Day rosters. Some have estimated that number to be around 27% in the 1970s, but exhaustive research by Mark Armour, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, shows that the actual number never exceeded 19 percent.

So, what is Major League Baseball doing about this? Commissioner Bud Selig announced in April the formation of a task force to tackle the issue of on-field diversity.

“To be fair, the numbers have dropped. I believe the numbers have dropped from 18-19 percent, which is what they were for about two decades. From the 1970s through the ’90s, the numbers were in the high teens. Now they’re half that,” said Armour, who writes software for the Environmental Protection Agency. “What I determined, and I analyzed data from 1947, when Jackie Robinson made his debut up to 1986, is that the number never got to 20 percent. The black-player number, counting all dark-skinned players, was in the high 20s for a period. But not the African-American number. All the press stuff that comes out every April compares the African-American numbers from today with the all-black-players number from the ’70s. And that’s where they make their mistake.”

Even with all his data, Armour can’t fully explain why fewer African-Americans are playing big league baseball beyond the fact that there are so many players of other ethnicities, primarily Latin American and Asian, now in the game.

Let me hazard a guess: MONEY.

First off, where is the allure for baseball? While it may be “America’s Pastime,” the money can be made elsewhere. The NBA has shoe endorsements and multi-million dollar contracts. In my job as an educator, I come in contact with many athletes. 98% tell me that they are going to play basketball in the NBA or play football in the NFL. The NFL has popularity and name recognition. If you play in the NFL, chances are good that you are well known, at least in your region. Same is said for basketball.

The NFL and NBA have a sexiness to them. Major League Baseball has a workman ethic. Not sexy, but more of a grind. While the NFL has a 16-game season, and the NBA has a 82-game season, Major League Baseball has a whopping 162 games. With football being played once a week, it captures more attention. An NBA team may play 2-3 games in a week’s time, but baseball plays almost every day. Perhaps it’s a case of oversaturation?

SLAM Magazine
SLAM Magazine

The NFL is at an all-time high in popularity and the NBA is very visible with stars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. The NFL has superstars like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady, among others.  Major League Baseball has stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, and others. Notice a trend? The majority of superstar athletes that play in the NBA and NFL are African-American; the majority of superstars in MLB are Anglo or Hispanic.

Why? Again, I go back to the money issue. Who remembers the Peyton Manning commercials where he chants, “Cut that meat!”?

Who remembers the McDonald’s commercial where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson play HORSE for a meal?

Remember that baseball commercial where…uh…where…ah…well…you get my point. Major League Baseball doesn’t have that appeal to fans, although you will always have diehard fans who keep scorebooks at games. When’s the last time you went to a football game and kept a book for penalties called? When’s the last time you saw someone keeping a book at a basketball game?

Check out these numbers provided by the NCAA.

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football_0 mbb_0

In these statistics from the NCAA, you can clearly see that NOT MANY athletes make the cut. Many boys and girls grow up dreaming of playing sports in college and the pro ranks. But of the nearly eight million students currently participating in high school athletics in the United States, only 460,000 of them will compete at NCAA schools. And of that group, only a fraction will realize their goal of becoming a professional athlete.

The sad part is, while some athletes are good enough to play in college, their grades will not get them into college. That frequently forces them go to Junior College where some, if not all, never make it out.

USATSI
USATSI

Baseball is the only sport now that allows players from high school to go straight to the pro’s. Noah Syndergaard, a pitcher from Mansfield Legacy High School in Texas, went from high school to the New York Mets farm club. He is currently on the major league roster.

The NBA has enforced the “one and done” rule, requesting high school basketball prospects to wait at least one year before declaring for the draft. Contrary to popular belief, the NBA does not require athletes to attend one year of college, but they must wait an entire year or be at least 19 years old to declare for the draft.

The NFL will not draft a player from HS. They prefer the player have at least 2 years in college. More underclassmen are declaring for the draft, and more and more are going UNDRAFTED.

Sexy vs. the Grind. Which would you choose?

Which brings me back to my first question: Where have you gone, Willie Mays?


Ronnie Garcia is the Voice of Reason at The Scoop. He is also an avid guitarist, educator, and all around smarmy guy. You can follow him on twitter @TheRonMann.

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