It took a good fight, but eventually, blacks were welcome to play alongside whites in American professional baseball. Exactly a week ago, on April 15th (the day that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier many years prior), the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport told the press that the percentage of blacks on Major League rosters hit a 20-year low at 8.2 percent in the 2007 season. That’s the negative, and Emmett Jones of Sports Business Digest thinks that it might make baseball’s title of America’s pastime extinct. The positive is that in the same study, MLB’s overall diversity appeared strong. 40.1% of all players in the 2007 season were non-whites. While Jackie Robinson would not necessarily be pleased with the amount of blacks playing ball, he most likely would be content with the overall diversity that the league now displays.
There are many different theories on why black participation is low. I will not get into those reasons. Instead, I would like to focus on why the diversity rate remains rather high while the black percentage of that rate remains sub-par. Huge advancements in scouting, recruitment, and development in countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, etc. have enabled GMs, scouts, and agents broader access to the best players in those countries.
The Dominican Republic is having $80 million+ thrown at its economy each year by scouts from professional teams and agents from companies like Scott Boras Corp. In return, Dominicans have given the poachers a label: buscones (translation: searchers). Last year, 511 Dominicans were signed to professional MLB organizations. The supply and demand seem to be in coinciding at the high ends of the spectrum. And the buscones are ensuring that those players get more money than their predecessors received from MLB teams. The presence of scouts and agents may bring along unfortunate consequences as well. The rise of specialized baseball academies have taken many children destined for baseball away from developing a normal education.
You can expect agents and scouts to continue to entrench themselves in the talent rich countries of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and others. In fact, the diversity of MLB may continue to grow because of those efforts. However, we should not forget that somewhere in the background, baseball is losing a vital element of its game: the black ballplayer. It is not a dying breed. There are tons of extremely talented black players continuing to develop, and many sports agents that may be wrongly directing their eyes elsewhere.