April 4, 2007

Where are the African-American baseball players and golfers?

April 2007 is the sixtieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking into the major leagues (the subject of my 1996 National Review article "How Jackie Robinson Desegregated America") and the 10th anniversary of Tiger Woods monumental 12 shot victory in the Masters.

Ten years and counting
By Michael Arkush, Yahoo! Sports

Tiger Woods' 12-shot triumph at the 1997 Masters was about more than one man conquering a golf course and his competition. It was about a member of a race long mistreated capturing one of the sport's most prized possessions - the green jacket - for the first time. It was also about hope.

The Masters, which did not have an African-American participant until Lee Elder in 1975, would never be the same. Nor, presumably, would the game itself. Soon there would be other blacks to join Woods on the PGA Tour, surely within 10 years.

Well, it has been 10 years since Woods' historic win, and he is still the only black golfer on the PGA Tour.

Here are my two articles from April 2003 explaining this historic non-trend:

The Decline of the Black Golf Pro

The Decline of the Black Caddie

Similarly, African-American participation in baseball is constantly declining. As I explained in my 1996 National Review article "Great Black Hopes:"

Similarly, a group can tire of a career or pastime even if its members tend to be better than their rivals, if they enjoy more glittering opportunities elsewhere. This helps explain the strange tale of blacks and baseball over the last few decades. Within pro baseball, integration has caused segregation by position. The Negro Leagues starred legendary pitchers like Satchel Paige and catchers like Josh Gibson, but African-American Major Leaguers now concentrate primarily in the outfield, where their edge in speed counts most.

Even more unexpectedly, after African-Americans fled Southern segregation, they began specializing in basketball and football at the expense of what had long been their favorite game. Pundits often blame a shortage of baseball diamonds in the inner city. Yet, immigrants from rural Mexico haven't forsaken fastballs for free throws. More astute observers point to the decline of patriarchy in the black ghettos, since a love of baseball is best passed on by fathers playing catch with sons. Perhaps most important, however, is that black Americans have found baseball, with its straight-line baserunning, less suited for expressing their creativity than basketball or football.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

like many of your arguments, Steve, when you really try to take this one out to unfamiliar contexts it starts looking a lot weaker. Ok, baseball. What are the Latin American countries that play baseball? Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican Republic: some of the blacker Latin American countries. Is it that blacks in those countries don't have other more creative and athletically oriented outlets, where they can more effectively dominate? Well, no. Soccer is somewhat popular in all those countries, and massively popular in the region. But despite heavily black and mulatto populations, kids don't take to soccer nearly as much as they do beisbol.

Anonymous said...

golf: the only thing going on here is sportswriters deliberately ignoring that woods is 50% asian and only 25% black. woods is not really black. at best he's part black.

there are several asian pros, but no black ones. it's clear which group is more interested, or simply better, at playing golf, but sportswriters are going out of their way to identify woods as 100% black.

of course i'll put in my usual disclaimer that golf is not a very competitive sport, and that we only even talk about woods because middle aged men who could never play any serious sports can still swing a golf club badly, so they turn on the television and to watch younger men playing "The same sport that I play! These guys are so good!"

yeah, imagine that. men in their 20s and 30s who have played 2 rounds of golf every day since they were 12 are better at golfing than you. just like, oh, any other sport, except nobody played golf in high school so the talent pool in competitive golf is very small and limited to rich white guys in wealthy nations.

Anonymous said...

baseball: this is another example of two things that annoy me.

1) total media spin in favor of black athletes. to the point that we are now "in a crisis" because only 8% of the players in MLB are black americans.

if they don't want to play baseball, it's not a crisis, it's freedom of choice. but more than that, the media would NEVER run a similar series of stories for other races in other sports.


i'd say baseball is almost 50% black judging by what i see on television. the majority of players from latin america are either just plain black, or part black. there are really not that many mestizo players.

Anonymous said...

Here's a thought: who cares?

I swear, the racial bean-counters are tedious, especially when it comes to things that aren't really that important. I just saw a little blurb in the WSJ summarizing a piece about the lack of black pitchers in baseball (part of the excuse was that when baseball integrated, black players didn't want to be in danger of hitting white players and causing reprisals)--ok, but are there lots of black catchers? No? How about third basemen? How about "why should I care?"

For crying out loud.

Anonymous said...

What Steve and many other including the talking head at ESPN are missing is that it is hard to identify the talented when it comes to sports like Golf, Tennis, Swimming, etc. When you are 6'5" in sixth grade it is easy for people to tell you to be a basketball player. When you outrun everyone in the 50 yard dash in sixth grade, everyone will tell you to play football.

There is no equivalent for golf, swimming, tennis, or even pitching in baseball. The few black athletes who have broken through in these fields had fathers who pushed them into it (Earl Woods or Richard Williams).

Golf, tennis, swimming, and gymnastics are not sports that can wait until sixth grade for the students to become interested.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that Tiger is successful bc. he combines asian focus and discipline with black athleticism. Baseball is another sport that requires practice and focus to excel. These aren't sports you can be good at w/out tons of talent.

The father scenario ie., Woods, Williams, also may account for some of the dearth of blacks in golf and baseball.


Anonymous said...

golf: the only thing going on here is sportswriters deliberately ignoring that woods is 50% asian and only 25% black. woods is not really black. at best he's part black.

Woods isn't even the darkest-skinned of the top golfers. Vijay Singh is actually quite a bit darker.

Anonymous said...

This is boring. Can we go back to talking about Jews? Why aren't there more Jewish baseball or golf players? Is it because the nepotism that they use to win Nobel Prizes doesn't work as well in the true meritocracy of sports?

Put the focus back on the kikes. The darkies are boring.

Anonymous said...

Sailer, check out Yglesias's website. He's got a video of his girlfriend on there. Looks like he fell for a blonde shiksa. She's not bad looking for a policy geek.

Anonymous said...

To the above guy:now the owners are more and more likely to be jews! Sam zell,that old crook,has bought the Tribune. he will sell the Cubs.I will guarantee that he will sell to a jewish guy.The jews are doing their usual thing,taking over OUR sports. jerry reinsdorf complains about players salaries;has he noticed that his bar mitzvah buddy,Bud Selig is pulling down 14 Large?!?! Bud Selig?? Are u happy now,satirical guy?? :) PS: I hate the Cubs anyway! :0

Anonymous said...

This is yet more proof of how clueless sports writers are. Back when they started writing this tripe about Tiger inspiring a future wave of black golfers, it was all too easy to see it wouldn't come to fruition. Did any of these writers even attend an integrated high school? I did and it doesn't take a genius to see which sports blacks are attracted to. If the good black athletes at my HS had gone out for golf, they would have been vilified for selling out to whitey. It was football, basketball or the sprint events in track for them. (only uncool Africans and whites ran the distance races)

And to those who pose the argument that this wouldn't be true at a prep/private school where the influence from fellow African Americans would be less prevalent, then why did Barack Obama feel the same "compulsion to be black" while attending a prep school in the far away Hawaiian Islands? It's a very strong force. I don't fully understand it but I've sure witnessed it a lot.

Seeing a mixed race Tiger Woods walk up the 18th fairway at the Masters in front of thousands of cheering white people is not going to change that.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:58:

That made me laugh.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Tiger is ashamed of his afro? I mean not only does he act white, have a blonde girlfriend, but his Nike cap seems to be welded to his head?

Anonymous said...

Follow the money. If you're a poor or working class Black kid, what sport are you going to pursue knowing that the chances for success are fairly poor anyway (not that many successful pro athletes in any sport) ???

Basketball salaries are enormous, followed by glamor positions in football. Baseball salaries are large, but comparatively not as large. And as noted require more than anything skill and reflexes rather than pure athleticism. Golf is the same.

Then there's the money required to play each sport. Basketball requires shoes, that's about it. Football the equipment is provided. Baseball requires shoes, bats, gloves etc and shoes and gloves need to fitted exactly. Baseball also requires specialized coaching early on while football and basketball early on don't. Same with golf.

So Golf and Baseball require more of a social infrastructure, not just fathers playing catch or putting but lots of male coaches specializing in things like pitching or putting etc.

Then there's greens fees, or field rentals, etc.

Things like swimming and such are even worse. They're mostly white because the payoff is so deferred into the future that only middle class relatively wealthy white kids can pursue that, supported by their families. Same with coaching in Football. USC Football Coach Pete Carrol lived in near-poverty levels for years as a low level assistant; only those with good support systems (spouse working, family support) can afford to go into coaching because success only comes after perhaps 7-10 years.

More than anything IMHO economics explain why African-Americans with less support systems migrate to quicker payoff sports, where you can go pro quickly (Bryant was a pro at 18 earning millions) with little upfront capital investment. While their relatively better economic standpoint vs. Eastern Europeans has led them to abandon sports that consist of getting hit in the head (.e. Boxing).

Anonymous said...

Is the aspiration to play a sport professionally really that important in explaining its popularity amongst the young? Especially, in basketball with the height thing.

Re. blacks and swimming, is there a legitimate physical reason why they tend not to be as good as whites? Weak ankles was one theory I heard long ago. Denser bone is another. I won't do the lips one.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Tiger is ashamed of his afro? I mean not only does he act white, have a blonde girlfriend, but his Nike cap seems to be welded to his head?

His hairline's receding, so he likes to keep it covered with his hat.

And maybe Nike pays him to wear a Nike logo'd cap.

Anonymous said...

"Re. blacks and swimming, is there a legitimate physical reason why they tend not to be as good as whites?"

The only "legitimate" physical reason I can think of is that meso-ecto-morphic blacks would be less bouyant because muscle is denser than fat.

As far as cultural reasons, I can think of two:

1) Public pools in black neighborhoods tend to be crowded and not suited for actual swimming.

2) Black women do not like to get their hair wet.

That said, I don't think there is any sport blacks couldn't dominate with effort. They are the physically superior race in many ways.

Anonymous said...

The only "legitimate" physical reason I can think of is that meso-ecto-morphic blacks would be less bouyant because muscle is denser than fat.

But black bone density is also greater.

Adjusted bone density at various skeletal sites was 4.5–16.1% higher for black than for white men and was 1.2–7.3% higher for black than for white women. We concluded that racial differences in bone mineral density are not accounted for by clinical or biochemical variables measured in early adulthood.


rcocean said...

Unless you think blacks are somehow "Supermen" there is no reason they should be represented in same percentage as the general population.

Which is now the case. The whole "crisis" seems to based on a belief in genetic superiority.

IMO, the reason the blacks dominate the Football/Basketball is a slight edge in speed/jumping ability.

Speed/jumping ability is much less important in Baseball. Pitchers, infielders except SS, and the catcher don't have to do much running, so whites dominate those positions. Outfielders/SS which were dominated by blacks in the 60s/70s are now open to competition from Latinos.

The other factor is the attraction of other sports.

As for golf and tennis, if you don't start playing in a very serious manner by the time your 14-15 years old, your chances of being a pro are slim.

Tiger was playing golf when he was 6 years old. And he's just as Asian as he is black.

To me the more interesting question is, why aren't there more black tennis stars? Ashe and Noah are the only 2 I can think of.

Anonymous said...

There's James Blake, of course, but his background is decidedly non-ghetto:

Blake was born in Yonkers, New York, United States to African-American father Thomas Sr. and White British mother Betty. He has a brother, Thomas Jr., who is also a professional tennis player, and three older half-brothers, Jason, Christopher, and Howard, and a half-sister, Michelle.

Blake started playing tennis at age 5 alongside his brother Thomas. When 13, he was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and for five years as a teenager, he had to wear a full-length back brace for 18 hours a day, though not while playing tennis. Blake attended Fairfield Warde High School, in Fairfield, Connecticut. He went to school with musician John Mayer. Blake was inspired to pursue tennis after hearing his role model, Arthur Ashe, speak to the Harlem Junior Tennis Program. Brian Barker was his first (and current) coach. He dropped out of Harvard University after his sophomore (second) year to pursue a career in tennis.


Anonymous said...

His hairline's receding, so he likes to keep it covered with his hat.

No, this isn't a recent development. I think it's because his hair makes him look more like a little black boy. He looks better in the cap.

Anonymous said...

"IMO, the reason the blacks dominate the Football/Basketball is a slight edge in speed/jumping ability."

A slight edge? Blacks dominate all athletic events which require speed and jumping ability.

"Outfielders/SS which were dominated by blacks in the 60s/70s are now open to competition from Latinos."

This would be a compelling point if by "Latino" you weren't referring to players who are essentially Spanish-speaking blacks.

"why aren't there more black tennis stars? Ashe and Noah are the only 2 I can think of"

You are unfamiliar with the Williams Sisters?

Anonymous said...

Steves essay about the death of the black caddie was excellent. Read the reminiscences of the guys who wrote 'Caddyshack'(Doug Kenney,Brian Doyle Murray,and others were caddies),as well other stories of working/middle and upper class whiteguys who caddied. Caddying for a young guy is a dream job.Wouldnt young black guys be thrilled to earn money this way?? Is the "I aint no slave" theorem really in effect here? :0

rcocean said...

Upon reflection, well after a couple beers, I think the lack of great black tennis male tennis stars is due to following reason.

In tennis, one needs a certain amount of footspeed to play at professional level after that the key factor is hand-eye coordination.

Further, serving and recieving a serve have little to do with footspeed.

OTOH, in basketball/football being slightly faster than your opponent is an incredible advantage. In tennis your trying to cover the court and hit the tennis ball.

Given that the territory to be covered is fixed and the ball can only go so fast, you only need to fast enough. Further, the black advantage in speed decreases in tennis since the playing area is much smaller.

Anonymous said...


I am contacting you on behalf of KCET’s Life & Times Blog (a Los Angeles area PBS station). We have launched this site to foster a venue where people can express their views and engage in a dynamic and educated discussion about provocative issues of the day going on in Southern California. We have posted a link to your website (http://isteve.blogspot.com/2007/04/where-are-african-american-baseball.html) as a link to our “Kitchen Table: Blacks and Baseball” story (viewable here: http://www.kcet.org/lifeandtimes/blog/?p=187). We are in the process now of generating more traffic to our blog and creating more buzz in Southern California and were hoping that you could post a link to our blog on your site so that both of us can give our readers more resources on the web. Please let me know what KCET needs to do to have our Life & Times Blog posted as a link on your site. Thanks for your time.

Brianna Riggio
Editorial Intern
KCET, PBS Station

Anonymous said...

Yous guys are funny! It's only natural that a person would want to be around another that they can relate to without having to 'splain things to them all the time or try to figure out where the other person is coming from. The black guys go where there are other black guys cause they are more comfortable and what's available to them in their environment. It's just like the guy who commented about the jews and nepotism in baseball (no different than other ethnicities). The white kids whose dad's grow up in the burbs and play ball and pass that on to their sons who grow up in the burbs. It takes a lot of years to become a good baseball player. And it takes a lot of focus and coaching as well...... There is real trouble brewing on the baseball scene though. And that is the threat of the globalization, especially from the Latin American countries. Those guys are good and talented but their presence really threatens the majors due to the fact that they don't have to follow the same regulations and rules to get to the MLB as the americans, canadians and puerto ricans. Meaning that they don't have to go to classes to play in high school (don't even have to go to high school), they don't have collecting bargaining agreements, etc. How long is it going to be before we start seeing the US, Canadian and Puerto Rican players salaries and bonuses diminished as a result of the poor regulation of the Dominican and Latin American players? Not Fair!!!

Anonymous said...

Why do fewer blacks play baseball? It’s Illegitimacy Stupid!!! You need a father to teach you how to play the game. Since black men no longer feel the need to be fathers there is no one there to teach little Jamal how to play baseball.