The Race Card

added 11/3/2005 by Darrell Pittman

During the recent World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros, Hank Aaron and Joe Morgan decried that the Astros had no African-Americans on their playoff roster, the implication being that the Astros were somehow racist, and the national media found something it could make sound bites out of.

While they were right to point out that the lack of black participation was regrettable, there were a few facts they overlooked. First, other MLB clubs had no black players. It's just that the Astros were the only ones in the World Series.

On Opening Day 2005, blacks accounted for only 9% of Major League players, down from the mid-teens in the 1970s. Given that, you'd expect that on a 25-man roster, there would be about two African-American players. However, randomness being what it is, the standard deviation across 30 teams would also be about two players, so zero on the Astros would not be unexpected.

In an October 26 interview in the Washington Post, Hammerin' Hank said "That's part of it because the numbers aren't there. We don't have enough players. But I think each club needs to look at that carefully. The Astros need to address that. It's a thing where the way the game is played today you would think there is no excuse for an African American not to be on this club."

No excuse? What if qualified black players don't show up at the door, Hank? Evidently, Aaron's solution to the problem is to impose a quota system, an affirmative-action program.

I didn't notice Aaron chastising any NBA team for their dearth of white players, or NHL teams for lack of Asian-Americans.

To impugn the Astros as racist is to dishonor their proud history and that of great players like Don Wilson, J.R. Richard, Jim Wynn, Bob Watson, and Kevin Bass, to name but a few. Oh, and Joe Morgan too.

The real problem, which has been on MLB's radar scope for a few years, is declining interest in baseball in the African-American community, which is why MLB started programs like RBI (Returning Baseball to Inner Cities).

The bottom line is this: any baseball team owes it to its fans to put the best nine players available to them on the field, irregardless of race, color, or creed. Anything less would dishonor minority trailblazers like Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Hank Aaron, himself. Isn't that what it was all about, that sheer merit should prevail, or did I miss something?

I should think that the goal would be to raise all boats by insisting on the highest quality of play possible, rather than lowering expectations to accommodate one group or the other for the sake of political correctness.

-- Darrell Pittman