Thursday, October 27, 2011

Big-Leaguer Demography

Jersey City, New Jersey, 1946, Montreal Royals versus Jersey City Giants. The man in the photograph wearing that awesome Royals uniform is Jackie Robinson. The next season Robinson will become the first black man to play US major league baseball. As almost everyone knows, that barrier-breaking opened the doors of big-time baseball to a population rich in talent and ambition. But as baseball nuts can tell you, that influx has gotten smaller over the past two decades. African-Americans constituted twenty percent of major league rosters in 1990 but only ten percent in 2011. In the general US population, African-Americans make up twelve percent of the total. So it's not as if some grave injustice is at work here; it's just that the percentage of American black men in major league baseball percentages contrasts so starkly with comparable figures for the National Football League (73%) and the National Basketball Association (80%).

But here's a twist. Latin American big-league ballplayers of African descent are turning up in ever greater numbers. Among all Latin American players, who now constitute 30% of major league rosters, I would estimate that at least 60% would be considered African-American if they had been born in the US and didn't speak Spanish. Unlike most young black American athletes nowadays, a typical young black Dominican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban kid is still fixated on beisbol. So the percentage of MLB rosters filled by men of African descent is at an all-time high.

But maybe not for long. The next big demographic influx seems to be coming from East Asian: Japan, Korea, Taiwan. Keep 'em coming. I love it.

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