With the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in MLB on Sunday, as well as the introduction of the Civil Rights game, there has become a renewed interest in the level of African-Americans playing the game today.
In papers, and media outlets across the nation, the topic has been about the decline in African-Americans playing the game, and with that, MLB has been viewed as moving backwards, not forwards, in terms of racial diversity.
There are many reasons for the change, but one of the biggest reasons has to do with the economics of MLB, not some covert effort to remove African-Americans from the game.
Today, Chris Isidore of CNN/Money does the best job yet of covering this issue (Green Behind the Decline of Blacks in Baseball), with particular emphasis placed on how the drafting process in America and the increased player development in other countries is skewing the numbers more than any other factor. As mentioned in the article:
"Baseball is getting beat up on this. But it's really supply and demand that dictates a lot of this," said Maury Brown, the creator and editor of BizofBaseball.com.
As Isidore writes:
"The international market is more economically efficient," said Vince Gennaro, a consultant to numerous major league teams and the author of "Diamonds and Dollars," (editor note: see Gennaro's Q&A here on The Biz of Baseball) a book about the economics of baseball. "This is the place where the high revenue teams can leverage their economic advantage."
Because of that, every team has opened an academy in the Dominican Republic, providing a combination of schooling and baseball instruction to the promising young players. Another 10 teams have academies in Venezuela.
"Clubs do leverage their dollars much better if they develop a kid in a country not subject to the draft," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB executive vice president for baseball operations, who is black. "Those decisions are purely business decisions, very pragmatic business decisions."
Isidore also mentions how the number of college scholarships for baseball are limited, and therefore impact the number of African-Americans through that process, as well:
It takes a certain amount of economic resources for a baseball player to go to college and whites, on average, have higher incomes than blacks in the U.S. So for a black athlete that needs financial assistance to attend college, it makes more sense to try for a football or basketball scholarship. This is a big reason why college baseball teams have even a lower percentage of black players than does the major league, said Solomon.
"A Division 1 football program can give out 85 scholarships, and baseball teams only 11.7," said Solomon. "If you're an African American kid and you need help to go to school, do the math."
When taken in total, it's not surprising to hear Solomon say, "You're not going to have a very quick reversal. It took 30 years to get here," he said.
Maury Brown is the founder of The Biz of Baseball and an author for Baseball Prospectus. He can be contacted here.