Thursday, April 16, 2009

Are You Black Enough?

NEW YORK (AP) - Black players accounted for 10.2 percent of major leaguers last year, the most since the 1995 season.

The sport had reached an all-time low of 8.2 percent in 2007, according to Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. The percentage of black pitchers rose to 5 percent from 3 percent and the percentage of black infielders went up to 9 percent from 7 percent.

"I feel encouraged. It's not a huge leap, but it's a step forward," said Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson. "I think we have to feel encouraged, not only feel encouraged but feel inspired by progress so that we can not only sustain what we have, but work harder to see that we get that number up in future reports."


Don’t get me wrong. Jackie Robinson is a hero of mine. And he’s a hero from Southern California to boot.

This was a man with big, brass balls who withstood the microscope of the public and fellow baseball players and blew the doors open for people of all colors to follow. He was, in my view, more than just a baseball player. His journey became the precursor for the civil rights movement of the 60s. The things he accomplished resonated so loudly, it is my view that he laid the groundwork for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. I applaud the fact that baseball celebrates Jackie’s historic 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and, as a Dodger fan, I feel it is one more good reason to feel superior to those who support two of the last teams in baseball to integrate, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

Every year on Jackie Robinson Day, Richard Lapchick releases a report on the integration of baseball. And every year, many people bemoan what they consider to be the “low percentage of blacks” in baseball. This, of course, is simply not true.

The number is reached by totally ignoring the growing number of black baseball players from Latin America who have joined the ranks of major leaguers. It is clear to look at players such as David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Guillermo Mota and so many others and to see black faces. And yet these players are not counted as black when Lapchick’s statistics are compiled.

Why are there less African Americans by percentage in the game today than there were in the 70s? Is it because football has overtaken baseball in popularity since then? Is it because of the popularity surge of the NBA that began in the 80s, through the Michael Jordan era, and which continues today? Is it because baseball depends upon tradition and, if your Dad wasn’t around to take you to a game when you were a kid, you’re less likely to care about this slow-moving, pastoral sport? All of those reasons may be part of the answer. But there is one reason that is not: discrimination.

Baseball is more diverse than ever before, with players from Latin America, Asia, even Australia. There are only 750 positions available. Just as there is a smaller percentage of African Americans in the major leagues than there once had been, it is safe to say that there are fewer Caucasian Americans playing than ever before. And, mathematically speaking, that is as it should be. The more people come from Taiwan or South Korea or Venezuela into the major leagues, the less positions there are for Americans of all colors. The best players should play regardless of color or national origin.

Should we really care where the black players are coming from? Did anyone know or even care that the Chicago Cubs pitcher of the 60s and 70s, Ferguson Jenkins, was from Canada? Would he count as black? What about Andruw Jones? He is from Curaçao. Is he any less black than Gary Sheffield? What about Carlos Delgado? He sure looks black to me. Robinson Canó was named after Jackie Robinson by his father, José, a one-time major leaguer. Guess you’ll have to tell Mr. Canó that he and his son just aren’t black either.

Is the suggestion that baseball should be like the Affirmative Action program in which we have quotas for certain races and national origins? If there are any .330 hitters who aren’t getting a fair hearing from Major League Baseball because they are African American, please let me know who they are and I will shout it from the rooftops. I believe that the reason there are less African American ballplayers is because African Americans have moved on and found other sports to be interested in, not because of discrimination. Torii Hunter, Chone Figgins, Prince Fielder, CC Sabathia and so many other African Americans decided that baseball is what they’re good at and what they love. They chased their dreams and succeeded. I love that they are part of baseball’s fabric.

What is Richard Lapchick saying? That we should turn baseball into a civil service position in which we will reserve, say, 15 percent of the jobs for one particular group regardless of performance? You tell me.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Your TARP Money At Work

It is bad enough knowing that our tax money is propping up banks. What is worse is seeing our tax money spent on bank TV commercials and websites telling us to come to the bank for advice on how to save and plan for the future.

What the hell do banks know about that?

The timing of these TV spots is incredibly bad. These days, many of us check the news daily to see if Citibank is broke and going out of business, if Bank of America is actually lending the TARP money we gave them, if Wells Fargo has bitten off more than it could chew by buying subprime monster Wachovia.

If US banks knew anything about planning for the future, we wouldn’t even be in the mess we’re in today. Based on what we have seen the last couple of years, a bank is the last place I would go for advice on saving, planning, or investing.

The following comedy material comes from the banks’ and insurance companies’ actual current websites after the recent debacles. (The websites pretty much reflect the content of the current related TV commercials.) Please finish whatever you’re drinking now as we take a look at some bank and insurance company websites and their hilarious attempts to serve as a clearinghouse for your financial advice needs. (Wouldn’t want you to snort milk or any carbonated beverages out of your nose.)

· “Knowledge is the key to any investment.” – Citibank (Pause for loud laugh here.)

· “Creating a budget can be done easily with pencil and paper, spreadsheets, or financial planning software. Look at your monthly income first, or how much money you receive each month.” – Bank of America (Good advice…did they follow it themselves?)

· On having a good credit rating: “Your score is negatively affected if you have paid bills late, had an account sent to collection, or declared bankruptcy. The more recent the problem, the lower your score -- a 30-day late payment today hurts more than a bankruptcy five years ago.” – Washington Mutual (Wonder what their FICO score is!)

· “AIG Retirement Services offers a wide variety of retirement products including mutual funds, combination, fixed, and variable annuities to meet your needs.” – AIG (Does anyone believe that AIG will even be there by the time we retire so they can “meet our needs”?)

· “Making suitable investment decisions can be tricky. “ – Wachovia (Just ask Wachovia's new owner, Wells Fargo!)

· On managing credit: “Can you reduce your payments and consolidate outstanding debt at the same time?” – Citibank (Question: can they?)

· On tax planning: “Sometimes a little knowledge makes a lot of difference in your return.” – Citibank (Stop it! You’re killing me!)

Is anyone stupid enough to consider these incompetents as experts at anything but begging for government money? Will anyone of this generation ever believe banks or insurance companies again? Will you?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Random Thoughts Scrawled on a Freeway Underpass

· When there’s a rain delay at the New York Mets new ballpark, Citi Field, will the announcers on TV be allowed to say that the groundskeepers are “putting the TARP on the field”? Hell, the TARP is not just covering the field, it’s paying for it.

· Why is it that the only people who aren’t smart enough to shop at Costco and Trader Joe’s are the people who need it the most?

· Speaking of the economy, why do those who can afford it the least spend the most on energy drinks, fancy coffee drinks, smoking, fast food, boozing, and dropping babies on the world?

· When CNBC’s Rick Santelli called people who defaulted on their mortgages “losers”, sorry Jon Stewart, he was right. His only mistake was not also biting the hand that feeds CNBC: cheerleading corporate bigwigs and the CNBC toadies who interviewed them and accepted virtually everything they said unchallenged. Turns out many of them were ignorant losers as well. Why is it so politically incorrect to tell the truth…that both average yahoos and conglomerates who borrow more money than they can ever hope to pay back to overpay for overvalued assets such as lousy tract homes and convoluted derivatives are immoral, irrational ignoramuses?

· Why does Showtime say that “Some HD programs are not available in Spanish”? Is that because they believe that Latinos can’t afford flat screens? Is that also why Univision isn’t in HD?

· If Salma Hayek were an illegal alien, would Lou Dobbs turn her in?

· Has anyone noticed how much the story of Lou Dobbs’s transformation from old-school financial reporter to shrieking maniac parallels the story of Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network?

· What am I missing about NBC's Late Night host Jimmy Fallon? Don’t get me wrong, Jimmy is a genuinely nice guy. I am the first one to give anyone credit for getting great ratings, and he is getting them for sure. He deserves all the credit in the world for his early success. Yet here is a late night host with no edge...just that nervous flop sweat look, and comedy material as harmless and lame as any I have ever seen. If you like train wrecks as much as I do, look for the video of his interview with Robert DeNiro. Skincrawlingly awful. Why are so many people watching this show?

· The biggest talent TV news anchor Paul Moyer of KNBC/Los Angeles ever had was looking and sounding something like the more famous Tom Snyder when Snyder was on Channel 7 doing Eyewitless News back in the day. Does anyone believe Paul Moyer is “retiring” without a gun to his head? He makes over $3 million a year, his newscasts’ ratings stink, and this economy is so lousy that Channel 4 has taken to running infomercials during weekdays. I know that as a society, we are pretty damned dumb, but we’re not THAT dumb.