Is baseball’s black glass half empty … or just empty?
The diminishing number of African-American ballplayers has been well-chronicled. This season, only 8.2 percent of major league players were African-American, according to Richard Lapchick, the director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, who has long chronicled and graded diversity trends. That’s the lowest it has been in decades.
But look around. Something intriguing has manifested during baseball’s World Series chase. On the rosters of the eight teams that qualified for the postseason, there are 30 black players – a rate (15 percent) almost double that of baseball overall.
Here’s the list :
Brewers, 7; Angels, 6; Dodgers, 5; White Sox, 4; Rays, 3; Phillies, 2; Cubs, 2; Red Sox, 1.
It’s interesting that a team from a small-market, middle-America city (Milwaukee) has the most color on its roster, including the most dominating player in all of baseball during the stretch run, CC Sabathia, who seemed to pitch every inning every day during the final crucial month.
And it isn’t surprising that the only team with a majority owner of color (Los Angeles Angels, owned by Latino billionaire Arte Moreno) is diverse as well. Nor the team that was the “favorite” for every black baseball fan in my parents’ generation, simply because of the signing of Jackie Robinson.
(It’s also not surprising that the last team to sign a black player is at the bottom of the list. But that’s a blog for another day.)
What does it mean?
For one, while baseball is still not attracting a preponderance of black players (and never will), the current black major leaguers are disproportionately among the game’s elite — players who help their teams win.
That may be a bit of a generalization, but not much. For a while now, the black players who reached The Show were typically among the best players on their teams, going all the way back to Little League. I’ve long said baseball could do better at attracting black journeymen players — black Tim Teufels, I used to call them (look him up). But the game is still attracting athletes.
It’s also a bit of a salute to RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), baseball’s nearly decade-old program created to provide more playing opportunities to the nation’s urban youth, whose areas are usually devoid of baseball leagues and teams. Eight players in the current posteason are RBI alumni.
Will the trend continue? Depends on which trend you’re talking about — the high representation of elite black players (half-full) or the diminishing number of black players overall (half-empty).
Perhaps one clue: Earlier this year, eight RBI players were chosen in the June draft of first-year players, led by second-rounders Xavier Avery (Orioles) and Joseph Austin (Astros).
Maybe there are at least a few Tim Teufels among them.