Sunday, June 10, 2007

Baseball Blues

Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact. ~ George Eliot
If there was any doubt in anyone's mind, I think we can now put to rest the idea that any one race is different from the others. Thanks to Barry Bonds' brother and Gary Sheffield, we can see that African Americans can be every bit as stupid and bigoted as Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians, or any other group.

Mr. Bonds' brother not long ago allowed as how all these people who didn't like Barry Bonds were obviously racists who didn't like this black man breaking the all-time home run record. Evidently, history is not this person's strong suit, since the last time I checked, the current home run record holder is one Henry Aaron, who was then, and to the best of my knowledge still is, an African American. Mr. Bonds' brother needs to be aware that, if someone is a jerk, other people of any race are not under any obligation to like him or root for him to beat the record of a classy individual like Mr. Aaron.

Mr. Aaron's own take is that he doesn't really care about Barry Bonds, to the point of not being able to spell his name. I'd say Hammerin' Hank is having a little funny there.

Then along comes Mr. Sheffield who insists that the reason that there are so few blacks in baseball (8% of the total players) is because Latino players are "easier to control", whatever the heck that means. Mr. Sheffield has managed to wear out his welcome with quite a few teams, who are willing to forgo his good hitting and adequate fielding to rid themselves of an arrogant and divisive presence.

The reason that there are fewer black players and so many Latino players in baseball is pretty simple. You have to look at the games they play when they are young. Basketball and football are more available to young blacks than baseball. Basketball in particular requires a hoop and one ball; it can be set up in an alley or on any piece of concrete. A kid can practice by himself for hours on end, which many young African Americans do.

Football is a little different matter, but it could be that it is viewed as a way out of the poverty loop. There are a lot more scholarships out there for football (and, as a percentage of roster size, for basketball for that matter) than for baseball. If you want to get into college to increase your odds of making it in the real world, football offers an opportunity. Also, pro football and pro basketball are direct jumps from college to good money, while baseball might put in you in the minors making a relative pittance for years.

In Latin America, baseball has become part of the culture. Kids play baseball for the hours on end that an African American might spend on basketball. And, it serves as that same way out that football or basketball provide for American youngsters. The Hispanic kids put their time into baseball; African American kids put their time into football and basketball. Where's the surprise, then, when we see a greater Hispanic population in baseball, while football and basketball are dominated by African Americans?

It's that fundamental ideal of the American Dream: If you work hard at something, you have a better chance of succeeding. We're just seeing who's working harder at what.

When I was thinking about all this the other day, it brought up some of the comments I've heard over the years that would have it that, had black players been allowed into baseball in the heyday of the Negro Leagues, they would have dominated the game. This is a vast oversimplification.

Certainly, there would have been black players would have made their mark on the game, and some of the records held by whites would have been held by blacks. But, keep in mind that baseball in those days had sixteen teams. Only the best of the best made it to the Major Leagues. So, not every player from the Negro Leagues would have ended up in the Majors. Not every player who did make it would have racked up the numbers that he did in the old Negro Leagues.

It would have enriched the game to have players like Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige (in his prime) playing against Babe Ruth and Lefty Grove, but it wouldn't have altered the overall scheme of things that much. It's just that society as a whole would have been better off had we started breaking down the barriers that kept opportunities from being available to people of all races.

It's just an irony that an African American player should espouse the same sort of attitude that kept his brethren out of the game for decades.

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