Sports World Silent on Elite Talent Rejecting College

There was little to no surprise in the Major League Baseball Draft last week when high school phenom Hunter Greene was selected second overall by the Cincinnati Reds. Greene is so wildly talented that he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated a couple of months ago despite only being 17 years old. His fastball has been clocked at 102 miles per hour. He is said to have hit balls up to 450 feet in batting practice.

As a result of entering the draft, Greene will not be playing baseball in any capacity at the collegiate level. According to the Sports Illustrated article, he was offered scholarships to both UCLA and USC when he was just 14. Yet he will never play for them or any other college team. Knowing he would be drafted as highly as he was, this decision seems to make sense.

But what has been the reaction from the sports media and sports fans throughout the country as a result of Greene’s opting to forgo college and pursue a professional baseball career? Has there been a national hand wringing and asking of why Greene would choose against college? Is there a lamenting of how college baseball’s quality will suffer as a result of not having someone of Greene’s talent there to make those baseball games better and more entertaining? Is there a clamoring for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to “do something” with regard to keeping players from going to the professional level too soon and making them more likely to go to college and stay there longer?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no.” Sports fans who know who Greene is are largely not bothered by the fact that he won’t be playing college baseball. There is no effort that I am aware of to raise MLB’s age limit in order to get players of Greene’s caliber to play collegiately. There is virtually no lamenting over how the level of play in college baseball is hurt by Greene (and other high schoolers like him) opting to enter the draft instead.

Contrast this attitude with what we hear about college basketball seemingly every year. Sports fans and talking heads all over the country can’t stop complaining about how the “one and done rule” (the stipulation that basketball players entering the NBA Draft must be one year out of high school and be at least 19 years old) is ruining the college game. Many fans desperately want elite players to stay at their universities longer in order to improve the sport’s quality. There has recently been talk about raising the age limit even higher.

So why is there such a contrast in the desire to see elite athletes to play at the college level in one sport but not another? Well, take a look at the interest level and attention paid to college basketball versus college baseball. March Madness captivates the nation every year for about three weeks to the point that there are even medical procedures scheduled so that people can watch more of it. Whereas college baseball is barely a blip on the radar for most American sports fans. Seriously, how many people even know that the College World Series is currently entering its final two weeks?

If this seems a bit unfair, there’s a good reason. Simply because of people’s personal sports preferences, athletes coming out of high school in baseball and basketball who would easily be signed to a professional contract are treated in vastly different ways. Hopefully one day the sports world can put aside their individual tastes and allow elite basketball players coming out of high school the same freedom to professionally contract that their baseball counterparts of the same age enjoy. Let’s all hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Diversity Surging in Baseball Despite Lack of Black Americans

In response to the protests of the National Anthem by NFL players like Colin Kaepernick, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones stated his opinion as to why there aren’t baseball players taking part in similar social activism.

Jones told USA Today, “baseball is a white man’s sport.”

He later told the Baltimore Sun, “Baseball is numbers. It’s 8 percent black. I didn’t make that up. In football, basketball, the numbers are in the 60s and 70s. These aren’t made up numbers. It just is what it is. I’m part of the 8 percent.”

Jones is correct that the number of American blacks playing Major League Baseball is at roughly 8% (but remember that these are American blacks). This percentage has also been declining for most of the past 20 years after being at over 17% in 1994. But do declining numbers of African Americans necessarily mean that the organization as a whole has gotten whiter? Let’s take a look at who the rest of the Major League Baseball players are.

 

Although the percentage of African Americans playing professional baseball has been declining, the percentage of Latino players has been holding steady at above 25% since 2001. Many times these Latin players are just as blackas their African American counterparts having been descended from African slaves brought to the west. Therefore, MLB players like Edwin Encarnacion, David Ortiz and Francisco Lindor would be categorized as Latino despite people likely identifying them as being black based on their appearance. Add these foreign born black players to the number of American born blacks in the league and their percentage would look far less depleted.

 

Asians are another minority group who has seen significant growth in the number of Major League players. As recently as 1993 there were no Asian players competing at the big league level. But their numbers grew steadily throughout the next decade and have been sitting consistently around 1%-2% throughout the 21st century. Obviously this isn’t a huge percentage, but it does show a significant increase.

 

But what about all of those white players? Surely a “white man’s game” like baseball has seen an impervious level of white participation at the highest level, right? Well, not exactly. The percentage of whites in MLB hasn’t been above 70% since 1989 and has been below 65% since 1995. The past two seasons have seen the percentage of white players at just below 60%.

 

So how do these percentages correlate to the racial composition throughout America? As it turns out, non-Hispanic whites comprise about 63% of the American population (according to 2012 numbers). This has been roughly similar to the percentage of that same race in Major League Baseball. Blacks are now underrepresented in the sport as they are about 12.5% of the population and only 8% of professional baseball players. But with the decline of American blacks in MLB, the Hispanic percentage has become overrepresented considering their US population is at around 17% and they comprise over 25% of Major League players. Asian players are underrepresented still, standing at between 1% and 2% of big league ballplayers and being about 5.5% of the American public. But again, that race was nonexistent in the game before the number of American blacks began to decline.

 

What’s interesting about the current racial makeup up Major League Baseball is that it isn’t any “whiter” than the American population in general. If one simply observes it with regard to whites and non-whites, baseball at the professional level doesn’t seem to be quite the “white man’s game” that Jones seems to be insisting that it is. Yes, baseball is certainly whiter than the NFL (about 68% black) and the NBA (about 75% black). As a result, the leagues which have more blacks are more likely to have members speak out against things which negatively affect the black community in America (like police brutality, etc.). But to jump from being considerably more white than two other professional leagues to being a “white man’s game” seems to be a bit of a stretch.

 

What’s more, the American populace in general is often celebrated and championed as a result if its diversity. If you were to ask Americans what their definition of diversity is, many would define it as “looking like America.”  So an entity reflecting the country’s diversity would have many different races and ethnic groups represented in similar fashion to their percentages in American society (even though no entity exists which looks exactly like America percentage wise). The funny thing is, baseball does reflect a white population percentage similar to that of the rest of the country. The non-white portion of the Major Leagues (also a similar percentage to the non-whites in America, naturally) is comprised of American born and foreign born blacks, a growing Hispanic population and a newly established Asian contingent. Sound a whole lot like America to me.

 

So the decline of American blacks playing Major League baseball has resulted not in those blacks being replaced by whites, but by other minorities who are talented enough to play the game. Thus, one could argue that rather than getting less diverse as a result of depleted numbers of African Americans, baseball is actually just as diverse or even more diverse than it has ever been. If people are to take pride in the diversity we have in this country, then baseball should be embraced for exhibiting the percentages which in many ways reflect the different races and ethnicities that the country has. Rather than being the exclusive game of the white man that it used to be many decades ago, baseball has become a game featuring a various array of races, ethnic groups and nationalities of those who are able to play it on its highest level.