Braves team officials sat down with members of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow-PUSH Coalition on Monday to talk about the team’s lack of African-American players.

Jesse JacksonRainbow-PUSH representative Joe Beasley said the Braves, and specifically GM John Schuerholz, could do more to recruit black players.

From the AJC:

“As I expected, [Schuerholz’s] idea is the bottom line: I’ll put the best 40 men I can get wherever I can get them from on the field, and that’s fair,” said Beasley. “But the fact of the matter is if they put resources into recruiting here in the United States, and more specifically here in Atlanta, there are talented players here.”

Maybe Beasley is right, although no team works harder at recruiting local players than the Braves (see Francouer, McCann, Davies).

But is it really a big deal that there aren’t many African American players in the MLB? There are plenty of dark skinned players. There are players from South America, Japan, Korea, Cuba, the Dominican Republic — the list goes on and on.

And there’s the rub: this isn’t about race, it’s about nationality. Rainbow-PUSH’s problem isn’t that there aren’t enough dark skinned players, it’s that there aren’t enough African-American players.

But so what? There aren’t nearly as many white players in the NBA these days, and of the handful that are left, many are foreign. But you don’t hear much complaining about that.

The truth is, Jackie Robinson’s legacy lives. He opened the door to players of color and, thanks to him, today baseball has a ton of players of color. It is one of the most diverse sports out there. That diversity just doesn’t happen to include many African-Americans. Which is a bummer. But it’s certainly not racism.

It must be a slow month at the Rainbow-PUSH offices.

13 Responses to “Jesse Jackson to Braves: You’re not black enough”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    Nick is actually just upset that Daisuke Matsuzaka is on his fantasy team, and all these errors that keep getting scored as hits are ruining his ERA!

  2. Lugo is not as bad of a batter as you write – pointing out 2 specific situations (or are these just made up?) doens’t make him a bad hitter. He is a patient hitter and rarely swings on the first pitch, which fits in well with the Red Sox philosphy.

    Defensively, I agree that he is no Alex Gonzalez, but then again, few are. He is a servicable shortstop. Yes, he had a bad night last night, but I think it was more the microphone that he was wearing than anything else. He is quick and gets to a lot of balls that many others wouldn’t (those shallow center field hits especially) so when he misses, it looks bad, but come on, is Derek Jeter even going to get close to any of those?

    You can’t blame him for positioning in the field – these decisions usually come from the dugout. The one bad throw to first was more a function of good baserunning by Jose Guillen than it was a mistake by Lugo.

    He fields balls cleanly most of the time and typically makes solid throws. Not quite getting to a ball is an error that is acceptable, throwing it into the stands is the error to look out for.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    You can’t defend Lugo’s limited range by comparing him to Derek Jeter, another shortstop with limited range! Come, now.

    Last time I checked, Alex Gonzalez was hitting better than Lugo this season as well. And yeah, Lugo also drove in a couple of runs in that game, if I’m not mistaken, but Gonzalez would have saved even more than that with his glove. Short is a vital defensive position—I don’t know where the Sox are getting this idea that the shortstop has to also hit home runs. Isn’t that what they’ve got Ortiz and Manny for?

  4. Sarah Green says:

    Coley, overall, I agree with you on this. However, I do think baseball should ramp up its interest in recruiting inner city kids (many of whom are African American) to play the game. I know MLB, for a variety of reasons, prefers to run camps for youngsters in the DR over the kids in our own backyards, but that’s sad. It’s our national pastime. This is Our Game. We ought to do more to pass it on to all of our kids. Who doesn’t enjoy the wholesome innocence of Little League on a summer’s eve?

  5. Sarah, I don’t think it is our game. Not anymore. It’s an international game. And that’s a good thing. Jackie Robinson helped open up the league to African-Americans. Now it’s open to Mexicans, Cubans, Koreans, etc. Simply put, race or skin color is no longer part of the equation when it comes time to assemble a roster. Isn’t that what we want? What Rainbow-PUSH wants the Braves to do is put race back into the equation. I think that’s a step back.

  6. Nick Kapur says:

    Actually Sarah, MLB has been pouring millions of dollars into programs designed specifically to recruit African-American youngsters to baseball, especially the “RBI” (“Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities”) program. We’ll see if it works.

    But I totally agree with Coley. There is no racism here, and if there were lots of young African-Americans playing baseball, than you can bet there would be a lot more in the Majors.

    I think when people say there seems to be a lack of African-Americans in the Majors today, they are comparing it in their minds to the NBA and the NFL. But is that realistic? I mean, African-Americans make up only 10% of all Americans. When we take the percentage of Major Leaguers who are Americans, what percentage of them are African Americans? I’m willing to bet it’s over 10%, and thus from a purely statistical standpoint, African-Americans may actually be *over* represented in the MLB.

    Which is not to say that I wouldn’t want to see more African-Americans playing baseball, but just to say that all these accusations are kind of silly. I think MLB is actually doing the right thing (for once) – which is, if you want more African-Americans to play baseball, you have to build ballfields in the neighborhoods where they live and give them gloves and leagues and coaches. Which is exactly what MLB is trying to do.

  7. Sarah Green says:

    Coley must have missed the part where I said I agreed with him, so I’ll say that again. However, while baseball has become an international game (and that’s great) I still claim the old adage that it’s Our Game (some old president said that, and they quoted it in Bull Durham) and add that I think it’s good for kids to play it.

    And Nick, according to the data (as quoted in an ESPN article), blacks are 8.4 percent of major leaguers and 12.25 percent of the population at large, so they are slightly under-represented. They used to be about 27% of baseball players, back in the 70s, so to people our parents’ age (who run these various political groups now) it does seem like, “Whoah, what happened?” I looked this up when I was doing research for my Jackie Robinson column, and I present the link below. FWIW, here is what the same article had to say about your vaunted RBI program:

    ‘Since 1991, MLB’s RBI program claims to have subsidized urban youth-baseball leagues serving 120,000 players in 200 cities. The program has also produced major leaguers Carl Crawford, Coco Crisp, Jimmy Rollins and Dontrelle Willis. But the $16 million it’s spent on RBI over 16 years is unimpressive in the context of modern baseball economics. In addition, the program’s effectiveness has varied from city to city, acknowledges Young.

    “But what it’s done everywhere is raise awareness,” says this former major league scout. “Now if kids don’t want to play it’s their choice, but they have that opportunity.”

    MLB undertook another new initiative in 2006, opening an “urban youth baseball academy” in Compton, Calif. But the $10 million spent on the facility to produce more black players pales besides the $50 million to $60 million MLB clubs spend each year on scouting and player development in Latin America. Virtually every team has an “academy” in the Dominican Republic, the richest source of Hispanic players (81 of them in the majors last year).

    William Forrester Jr., whose minority-oriented Richmond, Va., youth league has received all of $8,000 from RBI, and who has failed in efforts to get MLB to aid struggling HBCU baseball programs, believes it’s pretty simple. Baseball’s economics trump baseball’s pieties. Bottom line: It’s much cheaper to develop talent offshore, independent of the amateur draft.’

    We’re outsourcing our National Pastime. That’s sad.

  8. JojoFireball says:

    I am a card carrying ACLU member, but I’m also a baseball guy so I am conflicted. Although I do agree that a deficiency in the number of black players in the game is staggering considering the proficient number in other professional sports.

    But players are going to be found wherever they are. No scout or GM cares what color a guy is, and fact of the matter is that a black player with the same stats as a white player will get more attention from scouts because of athletic ability alone. No matter where players are they will be found. Scandanavia would be taking over the bigs if they had great high school and college baseball….

  9. Nick Kapur says:

    Sarah, just to spell out the point I was trying to make earlier – if African Americans comprise 12.25 percent of the American population, then statistically speaking, African Americans are exactly representative or even ever so slightly *over* represented in major league baseball. Here’s why – African Americans comprised 9.2 percent of opening day rosters this year, but only 69 percent of opening day rosters were Americans of any kind! This means that if a representative 12.25 percent of the *Americans* in MLB were black, only 8 percent of the opening day rosters would have been African Americans, but the actual figure was 9.2 percent!

    You can’t say that 12.25 percent of Americans are black but “only” 9 percent of major leaguers are black, because only ~70 percent of major leaguers are Americans! You have to look at the percentage of *American* major leaguers who are black and that percentage is actually ~15 percent.

    If you look back, this is what I was trying to say in my earlier comment.

    But you do have a good point about how America is outsourcing player development because it is cheaper. Pretty much the sole reason for this is that players developed within the United States are subject to the draft, but players developed elsewhere are not. Why would a team spend good money developing an American player in a Dominican-style academy in an American intercity when that player is probably just going to be drafted by another team? If you spend your money developing a Dominican player, you know he is going to be yours and yours alone for 10 years.

    The solution, which pretty much everyone has been calling for for years, is that there needs to be a “world draft” in addition to the American draft, and that Cuban defectors, Japanese posted players, Dominicans, etc. should all be subject to the draft.

  10. Paul Moro says:

    Nick, I do agree with you that the situation is not as serious as some have suggested. And I think it’s smart of you to to realize that it’s terrible math to compare the pct of African-Americans in the US vs. the pct of African-Americans in MLB. That’s trying to find the difference between two demographics that already are different. It’s a rather pointless exercise.

    I also struggle with the idea of why we don’t consider Latin players of African descent “black”. Many of their ancestors were sent to places like the Dominican for the same reason they were sent to America – to be sold as slaves. But I also see the other side of the story because it’s how these players identify themselves. Torii Hunter had a very different upbringing than David Ortiz. Just because they have a similar skin tone doesn’t mean that they can quite relate with each other.

    And while I’m a big fan of the RBI programs all around the country, I’d be curious to see how the percentages break down among the race of MLB scouts. Are white scouts willing to go into inner-city neighborhoods that are deemed dangerous to go see a talented, young black player? I honestly don’t know. I hope that they would, but wouldn’t be surprised to hear otherwise.

    So I do think it’s overblown a bit. But I also would completely understand why guys like CC Sabathia would want more black players around. Grady Sizemore is the only other player on the Indians who could be considered African-American (he’s half black). Tom Mastny is Indonesian for friggin’ sake. So I get it. The population is getting smaller due to the internationalization of the game. People want others to whom they can relate. Right now, Damion Easley’s the only black player on the Mets. I’d imagine that he looks around the clubhouse sometimes and thinks about it.

    One thing I don’t recall seeing (maybe I did), was the percentage of white players in the game. If we are to merely blame globalization for the decrease in black players, shouldn’t white players be decreasing at a similar rate? I wonder if they are.

  11. Danny O says:

    Woohoo, nothing like a post about race to evoke a bunch of well-written comments!

    Taking in all of the points from above, there doesn’t seem to be active racism in the recruitment and development of African-American baseball players. No entity involved is actied with hatred or prejudice. It is simply a matter of economics that MLB clubs pour money into overseas scouting and training because it’s a much safer investment. And like the article said, if the inner-city kids don’t wanna play ball, you can’t make em. Some of the kids might not have an interest in the game, so they don’t really care about playing.

    One way to rectify this is to generate more fans in the inner city America. Perhaps baseball could make more of an effort to market itself in a way that appeals more to an urban audience. Ever notice how different the NBA ads on ESPN are from the MLB ads? Marketing is a product of the culture, however, so it may be a chicken-and-egg type of situation. But MLB should be thinking about their future and having to compete with other sports for fans. They have an advantage in that it is much cheaper to attend a baseball game than any of the other major pro sports. They just need to make sure that they’re product is appealing to a broad demographic.

  12. Sarah Green says:

    It is a chicken-egg thing, Danny. It’s also a bit of a vicious cycle. As African Americans have stopped playing baseball (that ESPN article also cites limitations on college scholarship money for baseball players as another reason), African Americans have stopped *following* baseball. Fans of baseball are mostly white.

    Another problem which is so obvious I can’t believe it isn’t discussed more is the availability of facilities. Simply put, it is easier to maintain a basketball hoop in an inner city environment than it is to maintain an entire baseball diamond, complete with grass. Similarly, you don’t see a lot of blacks playing ice hockey; part of the reason has to be that in our still-very-segregated public school system, predominantly black schools cannot afford rinks or rink time, and inner city students cannot afford copious amounts of hockey gear. Ask yourself, for instance, why soccer has become such a popular suburban sport; without actively involved parents to run the leagues and lots of open grassy space to have games and practices, this would not be so. But for basketball, all you need is the ball and a hoop. You don’t even really need a team, as you can just practice many skills one-on-one. It’s easy to see why it has surged in popularity in urban neighborhoods. But without a certain amount of money for equipment and infrastructure, certain sports are pretty much off-limits.

    To quote a different sports film, I maintain that if you build it, they will come…

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