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.