Calvan: Baseball’s black and white issue

From Bobby Caina Calvan at on June 23, 2014, with SABR members Mark Armour and Dan Levitt:

If Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson were still playing today, he would perhaps be an anomaly in the world of baseball: an African-American pitcher in a sport whose glory days has mostly faded among black Americans.

Gibson, now 78, is arguably Nebraska’s biggest name in professional sports. The Omaha-native spent 17 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is a two-time World Series Champion and a double winner of the Cy Young Award.

Wander around TD Ameritrade Park during the College World Series, and look around.

It’s hard to find anyone who is black.

The same could be said about players on the field.

“You’re not going to find very many African-American or Latino players that are playing in the College World Series. College baseball is largely dominated by Caucasian players, much more so than the major leagues are,” said Mark Armour, the director of the Baseball Biography Project for the Society of American Baseball Research.

Armour co-authored a study showing the year-by-year decline of African-Americans in the major leagues.

According to his tally, the number of African-American players in the major leagues peaked in the early 1980s, when nearly one in every five players was black.

Dan Levitt, the study’s coauthor, said college baseball remains the main pipeline into the majors. That’s significant because fewer players of color in college ball means a smaller pool from which Major League Baseball can choose during its June draft.

About two-thirds of those drafted are plucked out of college.

“To the degree that college baseball is starting to figure out its diversity issues, I think that’s great,” Levitt said.

“Whether it’s become more important or how much more important is hard to say, but it’s obviously very key in supplying talent to the major leagues,” he added.

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Originally published: June 24, 2014. Last Updated: June 24, 2014.