Happy Jackie Robinson Day! We're 'Going Backward' on Race Relations. Wait, What?


"Turn the other cheek," my ass. |||

As you baseball fans know, today is Jackie Robinson Day, in which the pioneering Brooklyn Dodger who heroically broke the sport's color line in 1947 is honored throughout Major League Baseball by having every player wear his otherwise retired jersey number of 42.

Combined with the April 8 anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974, Jackie Robinson Day has become an occasion to make sweeping pronouncements about baseball, race, and society. The results are often bizarre.

For instance, Jon Friedman at Time last week made the gobsmacking argument that "Hank Aaron Would Have Faced Worse Racism Today," because of social media. (You know, Jon, you don't have to read the comments.) And in a widely reprinted column this week, USA Today's Bob Nightengale frets that "On Jackie Robinson day, MLB diversity still behind." Excerpt from that:

Imagine the terror of '70s sideburns dudes stone cold chasing you on the basepaths like that. |||

Major League Baseball…has the lowest percentage of African-Americans in uniform since 1958.

The African-American population in baseball is virtually unchanged from a year ago at 7.8%, according to USA TODAY Sport's survey of opening-day rosters and disabled lists. […]

It's a dramatic change from 1972-1996, when African Americans represented at least 16% of the game's players, according to Mark Armour of the Society of Baseball Research (SABR)—with a high of 18.7% in 1981. […]

"When I first started playing, you had a lot of black players in the major leagues," Aaron said last month. "Now, you don't have any. So what progress have we made? You try to understand, but we're going backward."

Is "progress" chiefly measurable here by a head-count of American black men playing professional baseball? I think there's reason to question that, starting with the words of Jackie Robinson himself.

Just go buy it. |||

In Robinson's terrific and criminally under-appreciated 1964 oral history Baseball Has Done It (which I wrote about one year ago today), #42 writes rationally—and bitterly—about his early choice to eschew academics for the more openly integrated fields of athletic competition:

My brothers, their friends and adquaintances, all older than me, had studied hard and wound up as porters, elevator operators, taxi drivers, bellhops. I came to the conclusion that long hours over books were a waste of time. Considering my situation, I was not far wrong. […]

[U]nless Negroes can use their education to the fullest extent in competition with whites, the crisis will continue unabated.

Baseball, ahead of other professions, and ahead of other sports, allowed people with black skin to compete. Combined with the deep bench of talent that had been nurtured in the Negro Leagues, this opening led to black participation rates that quickly zoomed north of U.S. Census figures (which these days put the African-American population at 12.6 percent). But as other professional sports opened up and—importantly—became popular, black Americans started picking up the shoulder pads and lacing up the high-tops. Happiest of all, black kids in school nowadays know they are not doomed to max out as porters or bellhops. That doesn't mean racism is behind us in the workplace, but it does mean that fields of competition in all walks of life have opened up in ways that even optimists would have found difficult to believe in 1964.

Meanwhile, actual "diversity" in baseball has never been higher. More than 26 percent of big-league baseball players were born outside of the United States, across 16 different countries. The population over-representation now comes not from American-born players with black skin, but Caribbean-born players with black skin: According to the Census, just 0.4 percent of U.S. residents are "Black or African American Hispanic," yet fully 9.6 percent of MLB players hail from the (comparatively impoverished) Dominican Republic alone. At some point obsessing over skin pigment in the context of baseball becomes a pretty weird exercise.

After the jump you can find an excerpt from my 2013 piece, "When Jackie Robinson Fought Back":

There is something irresistibly heroic about successful nonviolent campaigns against majoritarian tyranny, whether at the ballpark or lunch counter. By publicly absorbing violence, martyrs simultaneously hold up a mirror to society while embodying the ideal of an "acceptable" minority: noble, intelligent, and physically non-threatening.

But in our zeal to turn Jackie Robinson into Martin Luther King Jr., we are scrubbing from history his much longer career as baseball's Malcolm X—a righteously angry, relentlessly self-reliant activist and social critic. Robinson played with pacifist handcuffs for only his first two years in the big leagues. From 1949 to his retirement after the 1956 season—and then after his playing career was over—Jackie Robinson fought back.

The fighting version of number 42 was not remotely as popular as the saint. But it's a much more accurate picture of a complicated and interesting man. If baseball, let alone society, wishes to confront head-on the pathologies behind segregation and the fortitude required to overcome institutional racism, then it needs to grapple with the whole, thorny competitive spirit of Jackie Robinson, not the easy-to-digest, sepia-toned myth. […]

Who the hell are you, Jackie was always demanding to know, to think you are better than me?

NEXT: The Obamacare Taxman Cometh (Again)

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  1. At some point obsessing over skin pigment in the context of baseball becomes a pretty weird diverse exercise.

    FTFY, Matt.

    1. He better fix it quickly, before he gets Lucyed.

  2. OT: Anybody got a pointer to a live stream from Ukraine?

    It seems things are heating up.


    That’s what they told me. You mean that’s not really true?

    1. I see a fair number lot of African-American mail-carriers, so ….

      1. In my city, they’re all Filipinos.

  4. I think a compare/contrast of the personalities and attitudes of Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson is just fascinating. Three completely different characters all converging on the same stage in baseball history.

  5. Hey, Hank Aaron: your home run record was broken by a black man who cheated in order to do it. Would you call that type of athletic achievement progress?

  6. Maybe the fact that one of our major parties depends on the existence of racism to remain competitive has something to do with race relations getting worse?

    If ever 40% of black voters started voting Republicans the Democrats would be toast. Yet, there is no ideological reason why 90+% of blacks vote Democrat. The black community is ideologically diverse. They tend to be more in favor of big government than whites but no universally and there are a lot of big government Republicans. The only reason why blacks vote 90% Democrat is because the Democrats and the media have convinced them that the Republicans hate them.

    Maybe that is true and the Democrats and the media are just doing their public duty informing black voters of the truth. Perhaps, the Democrats depending so much on not just getting a majority of black voters but a huge majority of black votes has caused Democrats and their media enablers to lie and intentionally inflame race relations so that they are in no danger of ever losing their monopoly on the black vote.

    1. Well, Lyndon Johnson did say that he’d have them voting Democrat for over 100 years and by God, I think that tall Texan will probably be proven right. But hey, if you’re going to be given free shit just to vote D, then why stop?

    2. That works for the Dems on the city/county level. But I don’t think it works on the national level. Outside of cities/urban areas, even 90% of the black vote is statistically insignificant. Which is why maybe the GOP should really start to focus on local elections?

      1. At the national level blacks are 12% of the population. Right now the Dems get 95% of that 12% voting black. So the black Democratic vote represents 11.4% of the entire vote share. The Republicans get .6% from the black community.

        Lets say blacks voted like Hispanics and went 60% Democrat. That is still going Democrat by 20 points. That would mean the Democrats would get 7.2% of the national share thanks to black voters and Republicans would get 4.8%.

        That is a 4.2% swing, which is effectively an 8.4% swing when applied to a two way election (Dem vote going down 4.2% and Republican vote going up by 4.2%). The Democrats would have not won a Presidential election since Johnson in 64 if you swung the votes that much.

        The country is still pretty evenly divided at the national level. That swing would be devastating the Democrats. More so at the national level than the local level since a lot of those local elections the Democrats win 80% of the vote anyway.

        1. I would be interested to see what % of the black population are active voters, especially when The First Black Presidential Candidate isn’t running. I’m too lazy to Google it, but did John Kerry get that 11.4%? I think that your number of 11.4% of the entire vote share is way over estimating black voter participation rates.

          Likewise, in 2016 I don’t foresee blacks packing the voting booths to vote for some white woman, even if she is The First Native American Presidential Candidate.

          1. According to this blacks voted at a 66.2% rate in 2012 and were 17.8 million votes.


            Obama got 93% of that vote. There were around 126.9 million votes in 2012. That means Obama got 16.5 million votes from blacks or a 13% of the total votes available were black voters who voted for Obama.

            If blacks had gone forget 40% even 30% for Romney, that means Obama would have received 70% of the black vote or 12.46 million votes. That would have been a net loss of over 3.5 million votes and a loss of 4.2% of the vote total (13% before but only 9.8% now). Take away 4.2% from Obama and add it to Romney and the election ends with Romney winning the popular vote 51.4% to 46.9%.

            The Democrats are not competitive nationally without close to 90% of the black vote. This is why racism is such an essential part of every Democratic campaign.

            1. According to this WaPo article, black voter turnout for the 2004 election was 60%. Obama’s run obviously mobilized the black vote, and gave a 10% bump in turnout. It will be interesting to see what level of black voters turnout for 2016.

              Thanks for doing your Google-fu, by the way.

          2. God help us if She Who Runs With Scissors is their nominee.

        2. So the black Democratic vote represents 11.4% of the entire vote share. The Republicans get .6% from the black community.

          Maybe of the potential vote, but thanks to low voter turnout (Obama election years aside) and felony disenfranchisement (something that Rand Paul has beaten the drum about, the first politician I can recall to do so), the actual percentage of black votes as a percentage of the total electorate is in most elections likely under 5%.

          1. See above Sudden. I did the actual math for 2012 and I actually under estimated the black vote. In 2012 it was 13% of the total not 12%.

            So, the black vote is still really significant.

            1. I’d recommend doing it for the 2004 election, as I think the Obama elections naturally skew the results by a wide margin. And it’d be worth examining the participation rate during off POTUS cycle elections as well.

              1. Bush pushed his share of the Black vote from 9% to 11% in a year with proportionately higher black turnout. Considering the demographics of the 2004 swing states, it’s possible that doing so pushed him over Kerry, though his success with Hispanics was probably a larger factor.

                1. KDN,

                  In 04 blacks were 11% of the total and Kerry won them 88 to 11. Bush won the election 50.7% to 48.3% If Bush had won 30% of the black vote in 2004, instead of getting 1.32% of the total vote from blacks he would have gotten 3.3% of the total votes from blacks. That is a net plus of 2% and a total gain versus Kerry of 4% leaving the election at 52.7 to 46.3% or nearly as big of a landslide as Obama’s wave election in 08.

                  The national numbers for the Democrats are just brutal if they don’t completely dominate the black vote like they do.

              2. Even a wave election like 08 was still only 52 to 45. Remember, a loss of a single percentage of black votes to the Republicans is effectively a two percent loss since the Dem goes down one and the Republican goes up.

                Lets say black voter participation had been a more reasonable 50% in 08 instead of the 66% it was. That means the black vote drops by around 25% to around 10.5%. But, the total vote drops with it. So the percentage of the total is now over a lower total than before. That means that the black vote is around 11% or so. Again, give McCain 30% of that total rather than the 5% he got and McCain wins.

          2. Blacks were ~10% in 2000, 11% in 2004, 13% in 2008, and 13% in 2012 per the Roper Center at UConn.

    3. Race baiters are gonna bait. What else can they do?

      1. They’d starve without racism.

        Why do you hate Jesse and Al?

    4. In a previous job, my work-wife was a black lesbian former sergeant in the Army with a masters degree from Harvard Divinity School.

      Once, after drinking a few mojitos, she confided to me sadly that she thought she was a republican, except for being a lesbian.

      I suggested she check out the Log Cabin Republicans. She had no idea they existed. She thought I was making a cruel joke by claiming that there was a gay wing of the Republican Party. Once she realized I was serious she got even more depressed.

      Her socially conservative family had come to terms with her being a lesbian. They would never forgive her for voting Republican.

      Which is funny considering that historically the Republicans were the party supporting civil rights for blacks, and it was only when Democratic opposition to civil rights dropped below a high threshold that the civil rights act became law.

      1. I have spent years in the Army with all kinds of black people that were much closer culturally and socially to me than any of my white liberal friends. Blacks, especially the middle class, tend to be pretty damned conservative as a group.

        1. The US Army (probably the whole US military, but I was army, so) might be the most successfully racially integrated entity on the entire planet.

          1. Yes – When I joined the USMC in ’89, they were fanatical about being a colorblind meritocracy. Young, naive me at the time thought that was the goal of the Civil Rights movement.

      2. I’m not surprised by that one bit. I went to grad school with a black guy who is also gay and one day I asked him what it was like to grow up being gay and black. He said it was harder being gay in the black community than being black in the entire community. He said it was due to the fact that most of his family and friends were very SoCon and didn’t want to accept the fact that he was gay. It was a very interesting conversation, to say the least.

    5. Yet, there is no ideological reason why 90+% of blacks vote Democrat.

      “FREE STUFF” isn’t an ideological reason?

  7. Also, maybe spending five years calling everyone who criticized Obama a “racist” hasn’t helped race relations. Calling people with honest criticisms racist is bound to make them a bit resentful. And if you call people racist enough, at least a few black people might believe you and not be too happy that so many whites are racists who are attacking the first black President.

    The media will use “well we can’t inflame racism” as an excuse to ignore any story they don’t like. Yet, they will happy print the most vile lies about white racism never worrying that doing so might cause the races to dislike one another.

  8. During undergrad there were people bemoaning how the university had to do something to promote a more diverse environment because “only” 10% of the school was black. This was in Vermont, where the 2010 census had the population at 95% white (and only 1% black).

    1. I think it may be the standards that have changed.

    2. 10% is approximately the proportion of the national population that is black. Seems like pretty good racial diversity for VT.

      1. It’s extremely overrepresented diversity for Vermont.

        1. Well, yes. That assumes that “good” necessarily means fewer white people.

  9. We need to look at the NBA — only 17% of professional basketball players are white!

  10. “African-American” players wouldn’t count such black guys as Yasiel Puig or David Ortiz as “African-American” would it? Because beisbol is a lot blacker than that stat shows when you start counting Cuban and Dominican blacks.

    Also, how come no one talks about beisbol being the only sport that extends its diversity into the latino and asian markets with large success?

    1. Because actual successful diverse outcomes are not good for people who make their living exploiting racial tension?

    2. Because they aren’t “real” blacks?

    3. I wouldn’t be surprised if a larger share of the NBA than MLB is east Asian in 25 years. Stern made a huge point of pushing the sport in China over the last few years, but those efforts take a while to bear fruit.

    4. Yes, I attempted to make that point in the post. The national rate of black-skinned folks is (more or less) 13%. In baseball, I reckon it’s more like 18%.

    5. At least they make the distinction. I hate it when people use “African-American” because they are afraid to say “black”.

  11. It’s almost as if sub-cultures have dominant interests affecting the paths individual members of that sub-culture pursue and that sometimes these interests change over time.

    Nah, that’s crazy talk.

  12. Not that I really care how “diverse” professional sports are, but what’s the market share for black players in the NBA and NFL? Something tells me that as those two sport grew in popularity, athletic people of all ethnicities began to flock to them over baseball.

    1. The real comparison should be NCAA football and basketball as those avenues were pretty much closed off until the 1960’s. A black athlete was more likely to sign a minor league baseball contract in Hank Aaron’s day because the likelihood of getting a scholarship to play football or basketball was significantly lower than it is now.

      Also notice that Aaron seems to skip right over the fact that that MLB had no black coaches or managers in his day and now every team has at least one.

      By singling out one statistic and ignoring all the others that refute what the single statistic purportedly signifies, Aaron et al come off as nothing but the race-baiting assholes they are.

    2. Baseball is weird too. Football and basketball aren’t all that popular outside of the US and have college leagues instead of minor leagues. Baseball has a very large foreign talent base and has a lot of players who have never done anything but baseball.

  13. My theory for why African-American participation is so low in baseball is simply because basketball and football are much easier sports to get into as a youth.

    Shooting a basketball and catching a football are much easier tasks than learning how to hit a baseball or pitch. And you aren’t required to purchase a glove or cleats to play.

    That and baseball is the second most popular sport in Latin America, where millions of children play it year round because of the weather. There is simply a lot of competition for MLB spots.

    So no, it really has nothing to do with a lack of racial progress

    1. I’m pretty sure most kids playing football wear cleats.

      1. And it’s not so unusual for kids to play baseball with improvised equipment. Or at least it wasn’t when I was a kid.

    2. Actually–it does–it’s just not the “right” race for the complainers. Too much diversity, apparently.

  14. Color bar in baseball broken – women, minorities hardest hit, lol

  15. “When I first started playing, you had a lot of black players in the major leagues,” Aaron said last month. “Now, you don’t have any. So what progress have we made? You try to understand, but we’re going backward.”

    Hammering Hank said that? He must not have been watching too much baseball lately. Last night, the starting nine for the Phillies had only two white players. How Hank figured the rest are not authentic blacks is beyond me.

    1. They are not counting Caribbean or South American blacks in the same category as African-Americans. There are a lot of black players in MLB, they just are not black American players.

      1. Oh, that’s good–like the African-American community “leaders” who want their own “affirmative action” separate from the Somali immigrants in Minnesota.

    2. It’s stupid. Maybe the fact that football and basketball are so popular with American blacks has something to do with it too?
      I guess black people aren’t allowed to have changing tastes and preferences.

  16. Probably more on topic than off topic…

    Another example of DC idiocy enabling criminals because of stupid policies like “sanctions” – the story of how Yasiel Puig needed the assistance of criminals in order to get hired by MLB.…..he-dodgers

  17. blacks played in the majors in the late 1800s until they were banned in 1884.

  18. Waiting for the “progress” in the NBA.

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