Want to Make People Uncomfortable? Speculate on Race!

Jackie Bradley, Jr. is the only African American on the Boston Red Sox in 2013. Just how big of a problem is that? Noted sociologist Nick Cafardo wades through at least one or two issues that may or may not contribute to this phenomenon.

Don’t know about you, but I am enjoying the racial speculation in baseball circles that has resulted from this and this. Far be it from me to answer the issues that have lead us to today, but surely we can examine the work of noted sociologist Nick Cafardo as he delves into the emotionally charged topic of race in American sports.

We have dealt with the decline in African-American participation in baseball quite a bit over the past few years, but the questions we raise remain difficult to answer.

Nothing like suggesting a question a thousand times, and admitting an incapability to answer as an opening to a 900 word piece. “I’ve tried and failed to answer this question before, I have no new evidence, but I do have a deadline!”

We know inner-city kids trend toward basketball and football.

And, for what it is worth, soccer is working hard to make in roads into the inner city. I am a massive sports fan, but maybe the conversation should move from “why aren’t these poor kids playing our sport” to, as Charles Barkley has reminded us, the injustice of thinking that sports are the only salvation of our inner city youth.

We know baseball doesn’t market its great African-American athletes like the NBA or NFL.

True. I never see Ryan Howard in Subway ads (or on The Office), Andrew McCutchen on video game covers, Torii Hunter giving interviews, David Price carting his dog around the whole Tampa Bay area to the point that his dog will have a bobblehead day on Sunday, or Jackie Bradley, Jr. having his own media fan club (Pete Abraham, president).

Credit Pan-African New Wire File Photos via Flickr

Even the celebration of Jackie Robinson through books and films doesn’t
seem to inspire African-American youth to play the game Robinson so loved, and paved the way for others to enjoy and participate.

Maybe we are looking at the whole issue from the wrong perspective. Do we really
expect books and movies to start a movement toward a particular sport?

Monday, April 15, 1947, was the day Robinson debuted against the Boston
Braves at
Ebbets Field, 66 years ago, as a first baseman (he later moved to second base). It is mind-boggling that Robinson’s story — which again is on
the silver screen — has not inspired more African-Americans to play baseball.

Has the story of Seabiscuit inspired you to join an Equestrian club?

It did at one time, because in 1975, 27 percent of major league players were
African-American.

But what about the internationalization of baseball? What about the elite level of baseball coming from Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean Islands? We have not returned to a day where the game is whiter than a marshmallow. The game is vibrant and multi-national. Perhaps the rise of an international game has as much to do with the dip in some demographics in the game?

Would I like more African American players? Of course! I love elite baseball. But, are we creating problems here? Is it possible that we are being myopic in our view and in these reports? If Uncle Bud and his henchman are striving to make the game international as can be, there are going to be dips our demographic counts somewhere. The more brilliant Asian players that come over here to share their
exciting and talented brand of baseball, the more Americans of every color, race, and nation (remember, Mexico is American, too…North America) are left in AAA. Is there any correlation there?

Why hasn’t Robinson’s story inspired African-American families to attend more baseball games? There are still so few people of color at the ballpark on a given night.

Do you have stats to back that up? Eyeball test, indeed.

What about TV numbers? What about kids talking on the playground?

It isn’t that Major League Baseball isn’t trying to find solutions. Commissioner Bud Selighas [sic] put together a panel of baseball people and dignitaries in other fields to come up with some answers.

Yay for dignitaries! Young people are impressed by few things quite like they are dignitaries.

Maybe Bud could walk over to an elementary school and ask kids some questions.

Major League Baseball revealed some interesting data in its Player Diversity Report, released Nov. 13. Big-league 40-man rosters were 62 percent Caucasian, 28 percent Hispanic, 8 percent African-American, and 1 percent Asian.

Nick Cafardo no transition alert!

According to MLB records, the percentage of players on 2013 Opening Day 25-man rosters who identified themselves as African-American or black was approximately 8.5, consistent with the last few years. One positive return: The first round of the 2012 draft featured seven African-American players, the most by total and percentage (7 of 31, 22.6 percent) since 1992.

So. Things are changing? Headed in the right direction? I’m confused at the point…

The Giants have no black players. The Phillies have the most with five. The Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Orioles each have only one.

The Red Sox also had, on their opening day roster, Jose Iglesias, Koji Uehara, Jacoby Ellsbury (native American), David Ortiz (on the DL), and Felix Doubront. These are not the Tom Yawkey Red Sox.

“As a social institution, Major League Baseball has an enormous social responsibility to provide equal opportunities for all people, both on and off the field,” Selig said. “I am proud of the work we have done thus far with the RBI [Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities] program and the MLB Urban Youth Academies, but there is more that we must accomplish. We have seen a number of successful efforts with existing MLB task forces, and I believe we have selected the right people to effectively address the many factors associated with diversity in baseball.”

That’s the thing. The RBI program has been a noble undertaking. RBI has seen more than 200 of its kids drafted to major league teams. But it hasn’t created that interest of a kid gathering up his pals and heading over to the park for a pickup game, like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks etc. used to do. Nowadays, if it’s not organized or structured, it usually doesn’t happen.

HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS? HOW?

Am I the only one who ever sees a father and son taking batting practice at the park down the road? Kids following their dad to the softball ball field and playing catch or “500″ with the other kids?

Yes, it is a different generation. There are a million other things kids can do. But shouldn’t one of them be baseball? Is it too hard? Is it that much tougher to gather a glove and ball and head to the park than head to the basketball court? Is a glove and a bat more expensive than a good pair of basketball shoes and a ball?

Most parents I talk to think video games, excessive homework, and a fear of dangerous people are key reasons why kids are inside.

Also, only one kid needs to own a football or a basketball. Even when I was a child, it was tough to find baseball gloves and we often shared when teams swapped sides in the middle of the inning. Also, baseball equipment is not getting cheaper.

And, kids are not necessarily in nice basketball shoes.

Maybe it’s something that parents don’t emphasize, knowing perhaps that it’s tougher for kids to get into college on a baseball scholarship. Football gets eight times more scholarships than baseball. So, the great African-American athlete has a much better chance of getting a full ride for football than baseball.

BASEBALL PLAYERS HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE PAID OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL, WHICH IS NOT AN OPTION FOR FOOTBALL PLAYERS.

The visual part of it is also important. Let’s face it, LeBron James is everywhere. All over billboards and TV and YouTube. Who is baseball’s most prominent African-American athlete? Is it Matt Kemp or Giancarlo Stanton or Derek Jeter orJustin [sic] Upton or Prince Fielder or Adam Jones? Are they the centerpiece of our visual being? No.

Wait, what? Is Nick suggesting they are not marketed? Is Jeter not ever present? Could you not pick Prince Fielder or an Upton out of a lineup? Didn’t Matt Kemp date Rhianna?

Former Mariners star Ken Griffey Jr. told Larry Stone of the Seattle Times, “First of all, they’ve got to start off with better commercials. The commercials are [bad]. Think about it. You look at the NBA, NFL, their commercials, and they make you want to go out and play basketball, go play football. They show the excitement of the game itself. In baseball, it’s come to the [expletive] All-Star Game. And that’s it. They don’t show the excitement of the game.”

C’mon, Ken Griffey, Jr. I love you man, but baseball ads are down because they will never top Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine’s drop the mic Nike spot.

Every time an African-American athlete breaks onto the baseball scene, you wonder, will he be the one to spark the interest? The Red Sox introduced Jackie Bradley Jr. this year. He created excitement in spring training, but has fizzled lately.

Do we wonder that? I usually judge a player whether or not they can play, and race is an afterthought. Seriously. Any other assertion is borderline racism.

And the African-American athletes themselves sometimes feel overwhelmed by the burden. There was a time when Ellis Burks was the only African-American member of the Red Sox, and Burks felt all eyes were on him and was extremely uncomfortable. Bradley now is the only African-American member of the Red Sox, and when/if he is returned to the minors, the Sox will have none.

Thank you for the basic math, hair brained assertions, lack of conclusion, and general in-cohesion.

But seriously, I have the utmost respect for Major League Baseball players. None more than Jackie Robinson. The stories, the video, the numbers – he was an elite person and human being. I also so deeply respect the African Americans who have followed in his footsteps – Aaron, Mays, Griffey, Frank Thomas, etc. But I am seriously hoped we were at a point where we were past “minorities” in sports. I do not care if my first baseman is black, red, white, yellow, or purple. I want him to hit 30 homers and get on base at a .370 clip, while not hurting us in the field.  Major League Baseball needs to do all it can to unearth those types of players. Little League, RBI, development programs on the islands, scouts in Latin America all have their part in this process.

Can we please stop asking racial questions about players? More than anything, I suspect we honor Jackie Robinson more by acknowledging that Jackie Bradley, Jr. is (errrrrrm…will be) a great ballplayer than if we call him a great African American ballplayer.

Categories: Boston Red Sox David Ortiz Ellis Burks Felix Doubront Jackie Bradley Jr. Jackie Robinson Ken Griffey Jr. Koji Uehara Nick Cafardo Mail Bag

Thinks Pedro deserved the MVP and that Justin Verlander did not, that Dwight Evans was better than Jim Rice, that Marty Barrett was a worthy choice as favorite Red Sox player when I was a child, that J.D. Drew was very good for the Olde Towne Team, that Fenway Sports group owning Liverpool is not a proper reason to support that loathsome soccer club, that Peter Gammons needs a key lock on his cell phone, still thinks that Nomar Garciaparra is better than Derek Jeter, and that, finally, there is no such thing as being completely bias-free. When not writing about or watching the Red Sox, I moonlight as a father, a husband, a pastor, a doctoral candidate, an infielder and #2 hitter on the church softball team, soccer fan, Disney pass holder, snark manufacturer, and pizza connoisseur. Free time free since 2001.

24 Responses to “Want to Make People Uncomfortable? Speculate on Race!” Subscribe

  1. Tim April 16, 2013 at 3:26 PM #

    More than anything, I want this to convey: What does Nick Cafardo offer to the problem/conversation?

  2. marshall April 17, 2013 at 8:03 AM #

    You're caucasian, right? Can you name 3 African-Americans who are Red Sox fans? Your team was the last to integrate, and by my count the only team who can legitimately field an ALL-WHITE squad incl. pitchers (don't give me Ellsbury he's more light-skinned than ANY Native American I've dealt with). As for the Giants they field mostly Latino players so don't involve them in your analysis. Boston's a hateful city, with the working class hating the liberal-elite and everyone hating The Yankees…"I usu judge a player…race is an afterthought." That's precisely the problem. We are not living in a color-blind society. Boston has a tradition of racism- any thoughts about racist tweets last yr after Bruins loss? Cultural Competency starts at home Mr. Carfado, I hope you begin your journey soon…

    • Tim April 18, 2013 at 10:48 AM #

      I am Caucasian, yes. Unfortunately, I do not live in Boston anymore, so I am hard pressed to name three Red Sox fans I know. But, clearly, there is an unfortunate history of racial tension in the city, but please don't argue that the team is attempting to be Anglo. Surely, Cherington would sign a martian if he had 95mph with movement.

      If the team is racist, I would not associate myself with that. I would move on. There is a past of racism here, but that exists no longer. Look at the Ortiz and JBJ shirts filling the stands.

    • Telson13 April 28, 2013 at 11:43 AM #

      The reason we're not living in a colorblind society is people like you Marshall. The only way you feel able to make your "point"-which is not really a point at all but a poorly substantiated generalized tirade-is by attempting to discredit anything written as a function of the author's race. It's the first thing out of your mouth, and if that isn't racism, I don't know what is. Then you follow it up with a nonsensical argument, as if you actually combed the rosters of all 30 ML teams to verify your blustering. And the love the "Ellsbury he's more light-skinned…" comment…it's really remarkable to see how grossly hypocritical and offensive you're being, and you don't even recognize it. Hateful? Well, my guess is you're an expert in that realm, because the hate is oozing from every word you wrote. Looks like you've got some journeying to do yourself.

      • marshall May 3, 2013 at 6:34 AM #

        The reason we live in a society that has covert racism is white people don't get it. They don't understand white privilege, they don't understand what it means to be an African-American and they don't want to take responsibility for perpetuating the myth of a colorblind society. Again look at your roster- TODAY, now the box score on 3 MAY 13…NOT A MAN of COLOR in there! Coincidence or racism? Then look at other boxscores…

    • E. MacLeod April 30, 2013 at 11:31 AM #

      Marshall I actually do know more than 3 African-Americans who are Red Sox fans! Yes the Sox were the last team to integrate but that was indicative of the owner who was from South Carolina I might add rather than just the city of Boston. It's funny how the running argument is that Boston's a hateful city but we've had more success in racial harmony than most other major cities in the past 20 years. Most of those racist tweets after the B's loss last year if you really want to know, came from cities not in Massachusetts pal! But it seems you know more about Boston than the rest of us who live here don't you?

      • marshall May 3, 2013 at 6:36 AM #

        All I know is what I see- when I see the crowds- I see NO people of color. When I see Carl Crawford's comments about Boston- his performance and the subsequent performance in LA….

  3. Chip Buck April 17, 2013 at 12:23 PM #

    Um…Seabiscuit made me want to join the equestrian club…

  4. Jan April 19, 2013 at 12:13 PM #

    the statistics they pointed out for the percentage of caucasian, black, hispanic, asian players in the majors are actually fairly close to national averages. while there are less african americans in baseball than in america in general ( 8 percent compared to 12 percent) there are more hispanics than the national average and many of those players are black. there are also a lower percentage of caucasian players then the national average so id say the main thing is the influx of hispanic players is displacing americans in general

  5. PMF May 12, 2013 at 11:35 AM #

    Interesting article. Maybe kids growing up want more excitement from a sport then what Baseball has to offer. Perhaps kids are being encouraged to take part in other sports by their parents. I don't think race is the issue here. Boxing and Soccer are on the rise.

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