Race and College Baseball

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an interesing article examining the lack of diversity in college baseball. Indeed, 86% of college baseball players are white. Of particular concern to the author is the relative paucity of Latin players: they make up just 5% of college rosters, whereas Latinos constitute 29% of the major-league population.

The reasons for this are many. As the article points out, college baseball teams must spread 11.7 full scholarships across a roster of 35 student-athletes. That means a healthy majority of college baseball players are paying at least a portion of their own tuition. Needless to say, this is going to impact the less-affluent Hispanic community. As well, there’s the fact that Caribbean and Latin American players outside of Puerto Rico can sign professional contracts as young as age 16. Obviously, this sets baseball apart from the NFL, which requires all draftees to be out of high school for at least three years, and the NBA, which requires draftees to be at least 19 years of age and to allow at least one NBA season to pass after they’re graduated from high school. As well, the NBA and NFL, unlike MLB, don’t exclude foreign players from their draft (although this makes no difference with regard to the NFL’s talent pool).

In baseball, the vast majority of international signings in the Western Hemisphere come from impoverished nations like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Panama. As a result, the signing bonuses dangled in front of them at age 16 are, in many instances, crucial to the survival of their families and impossible to resist. For these reasons, college recruitment abroad approaches nil. Take that in tandem with baseball’s cultural descendancy among American blacks, and you’ve got a sport at the college level that’s both white and the province of the economically enfranchised. As the WSJ piece puts it:

What bugs many coaches most is that baseball, a sport that has a legacy of integration dating back to Jackie Robinson, has become at the college level a game for the privileged — a country-club sport. To be noticed by college recruiters, they say, players must participate in travel leagues and showcase tournaments, attend camps and work with well-known trainers and coaches. Only the families of wealthy kids can afford this, coaches say.

This is indeed regrettable, but it’s not a situation of college baseball’s making. Instead, the peculiar nature of MLB’s signing rules are largely to blame, as are the scholarship constraints placed upon baseball programs. Insofar as Latin players are concerned, even more factors are in play. The Hispanic population in the U.S. comprises a significant percentage of illegals, and another, not entirely overlapping group isn’t fluent in English. Obviously, membership in either group makes attending college in the States somewhat problematic.

In any event, if the NCAA is genuinely troubled by the racial makeup of college baseball teams, then about the only thing it can do is finagle more scholarships for that sport. Failing that, they must agitate for changes to MLB’s policy toward international talent. Neither is likely to happen.

(For further reading, drop in on Craig and his commenters and the wizened gang of posters over BBTF.)

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Race and College Baseball

  1. Fantastic post. I hope you don’t mind if we link to it our our blog?
    Hyatt

  2. Pingback: COLLEGE BASEBALL AND RACE–GREAT POST HERE . . . « The Williams and Hyatt Show Blog

  3. daynperry

    No problem at all, Hyatt.

  4. Gary

    Not sure if changing MLB’s international signing rules would address the issue. Many of these players are extremely poor and the opportunity to make a big bonus and come play professionally in the states is probably in the best interest of both them and their families. Not signing at 16 and going to an American college would force them to wait an additional five years before starting their professional career. I do agree that increasing scholarships would definitely be a move in the right direction in terms of attracting more multi-cultural Americans to the college game

  5. daynperry

    Gary-

    A good point, and that certainly could be true. On the other hand, all but the elite international prospects in the Western Hemi. get jobbed by the system in terms of signing bonuses. The only safe bet is that nothing is going to change.

  6. Great article.
    The problem is going to exist even if colleges offered more scholarships. Many of the latin american countries are poor. Players will still sign with pro teams and then support their extended family at home. Education has not been shown to be a high priority with the common person. The colleges must find a way to support the players family so that he may attend the college in the states but the NCAA rules strictly forbid compensation. Some kind of sponsorship program needs to be setup. Also keep in mind the players who would take advantage of this type of program would not be the superstar caliber talent.

  7. David

    Awesome post.
    It’s a sad truth that the higher up in baseball need to face. Baseball is such an amazing game but the diversity starts way before college. I don’t think it’s racial diversity as much as it is economic diversity. By the time your 12 or 13, summer baseball teams are divided into the richer teams and the less well off teams. When bats cost $450 dollars, the edge automatically goes to the richer guys. And it’s not like you can get a copy cat bat for $100 or anything. The expensive bats give you a distinct advantage when hitting. It’s really sad but unfortunately true. I think it would be interesting to do research on all the public high schools in america that won state championships or reached the finals and find out how that city’s financial status is. Just a thought.

  8. nearlynormalized

    $’s….cost to much to maintain a baseball field then to put up hoops. Land value is the bottom line to greed. Why build baseball fields when the big leagues can get minorities from all over the third world. You can count on your hand how many baseball fields are in any inner city. Local communities take control, have the city build the field but have the community maintain it–personal touch and pride.

  9. Great post. I think this further illustrates how MLB needs to be restructured from the bottom (draft rules) up (salary cap). Until baseball is organized in a way that promotes equality on every level, it will lack competiveness and continue to lose its fan base

  10. My biggest pet perv has been a personal one. I have a 30 year relationship with baseball coaching from tee ball to college BB.

    My youngest son shown the most promise in the family. While in high school in Philadelphia pa, he progressed to the level of All Public Allstar status 4 yrs running. I watched him pitch back to back games with 18-20 strike outs and the coach new he was over pitching him acording to the league rules. So in the sports pages he would not print Ronalds name for fear of being found out. They made the playoffs . The inner city high school had never made the playoffs, and all sorts of records were set by Ronald.

    When it came time for the coach to direct and advise the youth on selecting colleges to continue their dreams, he told my son in particular, you will never play pro ball and at the last minute Ronald attend a 4 year colleg with no baseball department.

    The white coach continued to use up the black players and cast them aside.

    When my son made the traveling teams in south philadelhia, while riding to games in south jersey he had to endure racial jokes, that made him uncomfortable, and never told us about it.\

    So institutionalize racism is alive and well in the inner cities, black youth numbers have hit rock bottom in the entry level of the sport

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  12. Jose Stretch Martinez

    I think changing the international rules is irrelevant. There are millions of americans of latino decent,asian decent, and african american decent playing baseball here in the U.S. Something is wrong with the recruiting facet of college baseball. I believe its a combination of people taking care of their own. who are the coaches? Most of the those kids playing are probably coaches kids from all over the country. I cant comprehend why people choose to say that rbi baseball in the inner cities will improve the numbers of minorities in college baseball. The inner city kids have been playing for yearss without RBI. But were overlooked. Why come to the inner city to recruit? If you can give ur friends kid a full ride. Its shocking and so obvious when u watch the college world series.

  13. Elsie

    Sky blue
    I nearly fell off my seat when I came across this article and it’s blogs! I thought I was alone. This is not about the recruitment of international or Caribbean players this is about what is happening here in America’s colleges and home front, with our hispanic,Latino, and African American kids. Kids with amazing resumes and talent; some willing to play college for free for the love of the game, yet these kids are sifted to the waste side because of their race and ethnicity! Unfortunately, it always starts at the top with the adults, with reasons like rmship1 and J.Martinez described. Authoritative Coaches with decision power perpetuating racial discrimination and favoritism which is reinforced and resonates through the economic segregation and steering of financial disparity. When you look at a picture of a college team you can immediately recognize what the Head Coach identifies with and the type of player(talented or not) he is most comfortable with. So yes thank you all for making this issue more transparent, and something I’ll have to share with my son & extremely talented American PuertoRican baseball player.

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