Monday, June 04, 2007

Possibly, a more likely root of Gary Sheffield's beef

A bit has been made of Gary Sheffield making comments regarding the reason why there are fewer African Americans in Major League Baseball today than in the past. Sheffield attributed the decrease in African Americans to an increase in players from Latin America, and the ability of the powers that be to more easily "control" the Latin American players of African descent, whereas he implies that the powers that be need to "respect" him, and "These are the things [Sheffield's] race demands."

However, I think Gary Sheffield may have missed the mark. I don't think that the drop in African American baseball players has been due to what Sheffield believes to be differences in response to "authority," but rather, the drop could be due to a general, widespread neglect of baseball programs in predominantly African American high schools.

It is also easy to point to the large number of players coming out of the Caribbean, as Sheffield does, but this trend has been going on for a long time. Even in 1985 Time magazine was reporting about the influx of talent in the Dominican Republic, even taking the time to quote a 24 year old [!!!!!] Julio Franco.

To look at the lack of attention paid to baseball programs at predominantly African American schools, I looked at the connection between not only record, but games played compared to percentage of the student body that is African American.

Chicago Public Schools "racial ethnic survey" for 2007 (pdf) baseball standings

These are the two main websites used for this comparison. The Chicago Public Schools results are listed on the page from the Jackie Robinson Division to the Luis Aparicio Division (and somehow Ozzie Guillen got a division, too).

In particular, I looked at the results in the Double Duty Radcliffe Division and Luis Aparicio Division, and compared them to the racial makeup of the Jackie Robinson Division [School (total record, division record) % African American]

Dunbar (10-4, 8-0) 98.3%
Englewood (4-4, 4-3) 98.2%
Bronzeville (3-5, 3-3) 96.2%
Bowen (2-4, 2-3) [not listed]
Gage Park (1-10, 1-5) 41.7%
Noble Street Charter (0-5, 0-2) 10.7%
Harper (0-6, 0-3) 99.1%

Farragut (10-2, 10-1) 21.4%
Manley (9-10, 9-1) 99.9%
Orr (5-2, 5-1) 90.0%
Clark (0-3, 0-3) 98.1%
Senn (0-4, 0-4) 40.1%
Austin (0-6, 0-6) 98.8%
Raby (0-8, 0-7) 99.3%

Lane Tech (21-9, 11-0) 12.6%
Clemente (18-14, 10-2) 31.8%
Young (22-9, 9-3) 31.7%
Harlan (23-10, 8-4) 98.9%
Lake View (22-11, 8-4) 14.1%
Mather (14-14, 8-4) 13.2%
Simeon (23-10, 7-4) 99.6%
Von Steuben (10-16, 5-7) 31.2%
Kenwood (8-13, 4-8) 93.1%
Northside College Prep (8-15, 4-8) 6.4%
Schurz (11-18, 1-11) 5.4%
Hyde Park (7-17, 1-11) 99.3%
Foreman (5-18, 1-11) 16.9%

The Chicago Public Schools, as a whole, are predominantly African American and Latino American. For this survey, the total results for Chicago Public Schools list African Americans as 47.9% of the total student body, and "Hispanics" as 38.3%.

It could be assumed that the Jackie Robinson Division is the place where the best teams in the Public League are placed. The division produced both teams who played in the city championship [the Whitney Young Dolphins who went on to defeat my very own Lane Tech Indians 1-0], and at 13 teams, they have six more than any of the other divisions in the Public League (all other divisions have seven teams). Of those 13 teams, 4 have an African American enrollment of above 90%; while of the 14 teams in the Radcliffe and Aparicio divisions only four have African American enrollments below 90%. It seems as though there is at least a little bit of a correlation between African American enrollment and baseball team support, if it is assumed that there is more emphasis placed on the baseball programs in the Robinson Division than in the Radcliffe and Aparicio Divisions.

Looking at the results in this fashion can be problematic in several ways:

- This looks solely at the racial makeup of Chicago Public Schools compared to those school's baseball programs, and does not take into consideration baseball programs in other cities.
- The Chicago Public Schools sports website does not have a standings or results page. It does have a schedule page, but there are no results to be found on that page. Searching the IHSA website only yields results for the state playoffs.
- There are no given reasons for the games played differential in some divisions (for example, in the Double Duty Ratcliffe Division, the difference between Clark HS which only played 3 games, and Farragut, which played 11 games). Possibilities could be rainouts, forfeits, or that the game results might not have been reported to (I realize that for some divisions, the division does not have "FINAL" next to its name, but still, if the games simply have not been reported, that's still problematic)
- In addition to simply the decline in African American born players, a decline across the board could also be attributed to an increase in scouting in Asian countries over the past 15-20 years.


So now the question needs to be asked, and I'm sure Gary Sheffield asks this too, how can we alleviate this situation? How can we increase interest in playing baseball in predominantly African American schools?

First of all, there has to be a stop put to the oppression-through-neglect tactics that might be going on in these schools. In situations where interest is too low to form a full team, maybe the team could be merged with a team from a nearby school (or two) with similarly low interest in baseball. Low interest in-and-of-itself can not be a reason to disband a team.

After that, there would have to be an way to build interest in the sport. The Chicago Cubs have two African American Hall of Famers who would be great ambassadors for the sport in the areas where interest is low. Billy Williams and Ernie Banks could be voices within the community who could help build the next generation of great African American baseball players. Current players, such as Gary Sheffield himself or current Cubs superstar Derrek Lee, could be at the forefront of helping to stir new interest in baseball.

The possible roots of the shrinking number of African Americans in Major League Baseball transcends simply baseball. This isn't just a baseball issue, it's an issue of equity. There really is no reason for a baseball team to play only three games in a season, when a standard season consists of what appears to be at least 10-12 conference games. Even in the event that the games simply were not reported to the news source, it perpetuates the idea that games played by those schools are unimportant, and it destroys any ground upon which a stronger baseball program could have been built. So yes, sports equity should be an issue here, and the sooner this form of oppression is dealt with, the sooner that percentage of African Americans, and even American minorities across the board, in the Major Leagues goes back up.

Who knows, I might be a little off the mark here. It could be that the interest in baseball at certain schools has always been low. There could be more to the scouting of Asian American markets than I've taken into account here. It could be that Major League teams don't scout any city public schools unless there's a sure-fire major leaguer involved (Victor Diaz attended Roberto Clemente High School of the Jackie Robinson Division). However, I think that the percentage of African Americans in the Major Leagues could increase if participation in the sport is encouraged at the high school, or even pee-wee level (no, I didn't see Hardball, and as long as Keanu Reeves is still the lead character, I don't suspect that I'd even stay awake past the first 45 minutes) in certain areas. Granted, even if such changes took place today, the affects wouldn't be seen for the next 20-30 years, and by that time who knows what could happen to the demographics in Major League Baseball.

...but it would still be worth it, for a host of other reasons.

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