Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, who absent an epic upset by the inferior Phillies is about to cap off his long and illustrious baseball career with a World Series championship, blundered into a rare (for him) and foolish outburst sparked by the news that there are no “American-born black players” competing in the World Series. You see, there are black players, a lot of them, on the Astros and Phillies, and many of them are American citizens, but they were born south of that almost non-existent U.S. border, so I guess they don’t count. So Dusty dusted off his racial resentment, and announced in response to being informed about this carefully layered statistic, “Nah, don’t tell me that. That’s terrible for the state of the game. Wow! Terrible. “Quote me. I am ashamed of the game.”
And I’m ashamed of you, Dusty. That’s an ignorant and unfair comment. It’s not as if baseball wouldn’t sign a trained squid to a mega-million dollar contract if he hit like Aaron Judge, the assumed American League Most Valuable Player this season. (Incidentally, Judge is biracial, and would be counted as black if he decided to “identify” as such.) Is Dusty ashamed of Judge? There are many reasons the percentage of black players has fallen in recent decades. The 2022 percentage of African-Americans was about 7%, or half the proportion in the population generally. The main reason for this is not any racial discrimination by baseball, but because of the choices made by black athletes and social forces affecting them.
Because baseball was the first professional sport to break the color line, young black athletes naturally gravitated to the game for about 25 years, peaking in the 1970s. As football and basketball integrated, however, and especially as colleges began handing out scholarships to black players to fortify their lucrative NCAA televised sports, football and basketball increasingly seemed like the better deal. Baseball also is the most expensive of the three sports to play, so the relative economic status of the races became a factor, as did the concentration of the black population in cities, where it is a lot easier to play basketball—all you need is a ball—than baseball, which takes a lot of space.
Another factor is the baseball is just a harder sport to play than football or basketball, so multi-sport black athletes who want a surer pay-off are drawn to the other two sports. Remember how Michael Jordan did when he tried to play pro baseball? In 127 games (497 plate appearances), Jordan hit . 202, with three home runs, and that was in the mid-level minors.
Eventually, baseball got in an unfortunate cycle: more black celebrity athletes were in the rival sports, and that led to even more bias towards basketball and football. Almost 60% of the NFL is black; the NBA’s percentage is 73%. Should those sports be “ashamed” of not having a representative number of white players, Dusty? If your answer is no, do explain. A strong argument can be made that baseball is the most diverse of the major league sports, with far more Hispanic and Asian players than either football or basketball. I thought diversity was the the virtue of virtues this year. What is Dusty complaining about?
Baseball wants more black fans, and has instituted programs to bring more black kids into Little League and to promote the game in black communities. And, regrettably, the felt need to appeal to African-Americans has led MLB to engage in such pandering as its promotion of Black Lives Matter and pulling its All-Star Game from Georgia because Stacey Abrams told it to. Baseball should be ashamed of that, but not, however, about the fact that American blacks haven’t been drawn to baseball lately. That’s their own choice.
Shut up and manage, Dusty.
Pointer: Willem Reese