The Social Significance of Sport

And its Implications for Race and Baseball

 

                      Doris R. Corbett                                           Wayne Patterson

      Associate Professor, Sports Studies               Senior Fellow, Graduate School

                    Howard University                                        Howard University

 

Abstract

 

The purpose of this paper is to examine the social significance of sport and its implications for African-Americans’ involvement in baseball. Particular attention is paid to the critical events that have influenced the status of African-American athletes in general and specifically in the sport of baseball. Despite tough racial policies, African-American baseball players overcame racial barriers to compete in the predominantly White organized sport. Previous research examining the issue of race and sport has typically failed to examine social, economic, and political changes in the larger society. These variables serve as determinants of positional segregation, also known as stacking, and will be utilized in this discourse to explain the phenomenon of stacking as it relates to baseball, and will focus on baseball as an example of American values in action. In doing so, the paper explores six interrelated issues and themes.

 

1.                   The Rise of the National Game for African Americans and Immigrants

 

As with many sports, baseball has --- at different times, and in different places --- served as a vehicle, for economically disadvantaged persons and groups, for economic advancement, for recognition of their achievements by society as a whole, and for the development of role models within the minority community itself. So it was in the early part of the twentieth century with players who emerged from recent immigrant communities such as the Irish, the Jewish, and the German communities.

Contrary to popular belief, Jackie Robinson was not the first African-American player in major league baseball. In the 19th century, there were numerous African-American players of considerable stature in organized professional baseball. Perhaps the best known of these was Moses Fleetwood Walker, a catcher, who, along with his brother Welday Walker (an outfielder), played for Toledo in the American Association (then considered a major league) in 1884.

Unfortunately, at that time, Cap Anson was the manager and star first baseman of the Chicago White Sox. Anson was opposed to the presence of Black players in baseball, and, given his tremendous influence in the game, was able to force a ban on Black players in 1884 that lasted for 63 years.

It is one of the better demonstrations that character is not a qualification for the Hall of Fame, in that Cap Anson was voted into the Hall in 1939.

It should be remembered that for most of the first half of the 20th-century, baseball was the only professional team sport that attracted any following. The owners in major league baseball came to understand that the acceptance and promotion of members of ethnic groups in the game could lead to substantial followings by members of those communities and the consequent support at the box office.

This has been well documented, for example, in the case of the Jewish community and the 15-year career of a journeyman catcher, Mo Berg, whose history is far more fascinating outside of baseball than inside.[1]

Nevertheless, only in the case of skin color was a group systematically excluded from major league baseball. And, given the prominence of the sport, and the impact on American society of members of other ethnic groups such as Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio, one wonders whether America’s transition to a legally desegregated society would have been advanced more rapidly had Black players been able to compete with their White counterparts in the first half of the 20th-century.

African-American ballplayers, however, did not put the game aside. Parallel professional leagues—separate but equal? —evolved and were generically called the “Negro Leagues.” Many writers and commentators have argued passionately about the caliber of baseball in the Negro Leagues. Without entering into the debate, it is clear from the number of Negro Leaguers in the baseball Hall of Fame, the number of Negro Leaguers who made the transition to the desegregated major leagues after 1947, and the many statements of White Major Leaguers of the caliber of Black players when they barnstormed together in the offseason, that the Negro Leagues enjoyed a very high caliber of baseball.

Baseball also developed outside of the United States, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America in the early part of the 20th century. It may have been the best contribution of American imperialism to that part of the world. Without slighting other countries, is fair to say that baseball was also played at a high level in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela.

Baseball’s so-called “color line” extended beyond the borders of the United States into the Caribbean and Latin America. Just as in the United States, baseball gained popularity in these countries across racial groups.

In a conversation with former major leaguer Julio Becquer[2], a Black Cuban who played for the Washington Senators in the 1950s, he noted that Black and White Cubans did not compete against one another, but the White Cubans were generally speaking amateurs, while the Black Cubans were professionals or semi-pros. But the earliest major leaguers from Cuba were all White – or at least classified that way. Several of them had also played in the Negro leagues!

In a parallel fashion, in part enforced by the same segregation practices of “organized baseball,” baseball developed to a very high level in many countries in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. But only in the past thirty years has the development of outstanding ballplayers in these regions had its impact on Major League Baseball, and from no country more than the Dominican Republic, which now supplies almost 10% of major league baseball players.

In the Dominican Republic, where virtually all of the best players are Black, the major leagues did not see its first Dominican player until the 1960s—and today, the Dominican Republic contributes more major league baseball players per capita than any other country by a wide margin.

In addition, in Latin American countries without a substantial number of persons from the African Diaspora—for example, Mexico and Venezuela—players began to be selected for the major leagues in a much earlier era.

Today, Major League Baseball at least gives lip service to its international diversity. With players from several Asian countries, Australia, the Netherlands, the Dutch-speaking Caribbean as well as the Spanish- and English-speaking Caribbean in the major leagues, and the first players from Africa wending their way through the minor leagues, baseball’s international appeal is becoming more and more evident. Last year, Major League Baseball’s official website noted that there were currently players from 24 countries playing in the majors. Unfortunately, these web pages have been disabled.

 

2.                  The Social Impact of Black Baseball

 

Black baseball in the United States, through the first half of the twentieth century, reached its acme in the Negro Leagues --- principally the Negro National League and the Negro American League. Debates have raged for the better part of a century as to whether the caliber of play in the Negro Leagues was inferior to, equal to, or superior to, the Major Leagues, or “white baseball.” No definitive answer can ever be given to that proposition. Nor does one need to be. It is very clear from the record that Black players, once they were allowed again to compete beginning with Jackie Robinson in 1947, were among the very best players in the game --- and almost all from the 1950s had their roots in Negro League baseball.

Just as Major League Baseball was the “national pastime” for the nation as a whole (including for many Blacks), Negro League Baseball was a pre-eminent activity in the African-American community. Negro League players were household names throughout the Black community, they were celebrated as heroes, and their teams were by and large well-supported. Thus baseball --- Negro League baseball --- played a critical role in African-American society, and many scholars have placed the event of Jackie Robinson's desegregation of Major League baseball as being among the most important events of the last century in advancing the cause of civil rights.

 

3.                  The Impact of Race, Physical and Demographic Characteristics

 

That African American athletes and particularly male athletes dominate the sport scene is obvious to the casual observer. Sports, which are characterized by high-intensity anaerobic elements such as track and field, football, baseball, basketball, and boxing, tend to be disproportionately represented by African American athletes who are outstanding participants. The athletic successes are even more extraordinary when they are juxtaposed against the list of sporting activity in which African Americans have had little or negligible contributions: rowing, cycling, skiing, swimming, gymnastics, tennis skating, golf, hockey, and fencing. There are several prominent schools of thought for the accounting of this successful representation in some events but not in others. Included among these are biological, genetic, sociological, and psychological explanations. This allegation that African American athletes have some type of physiological advantage over other races of people has been reported for many years. Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder, said: “The Black is a better athlete to begin with, because he’s been bred to be that way. Because of his high thighs that go up into his back. And they can jump higher and run faster because of their big thighs…. The Black is the better athlete because this goes all the way to the Civil War, when, during the slave trading, the owner, the slave owner, would breed this big Black woman so that he would have a big Black kid.”[3]  Al Campanis[4] suggested that African Americans had less buoyancy and thus were not suited for swimming. Unfortunately, these types of declarations were made based upon informal and experiential observations, not on scientifically based evidence or solid reproducible data. This review will focus on the body of literature regarding race and athletic performance.

Research meant to measure race-related physical and performance differences has been contentious. Martin Kane in a 1971 article in Sports Illustrated[5] cited research findings that indicated that Blacks have longer and leaner arms and legs, broader and denser bones, and narrower hips than Whites. Kane claimed that such differences explained the dominance by Blacks in sports such as sprint racing and basketball. Himes[6] (1988) reported that that Blacks have a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers (which conveys power) and lower percentages of slow-twitch muscle fibers (which is related to endurance) than Whites[7], and that Blacks exhibit advanced motor development as early as the first two years of life[8].

Research studies such as these have been viewed with much concern and reservation because of the complexity of related variables as well as methodological difficulties. The lack of control for racial purity, fitness level, and environmental factors are just some of the variables addressed in the debate as to whether the concept of race is scientifically useful when discussing the issue of Black superiority in sport.

One explanation used to explain the overrepresentation of Blacks in sports such as baseball, basketball, and football is that the best White athletes are dispersed across many sports[9] [10] while Black athletes are concentrated in the more popular professionally oriented team sports. According to Samson and Yerles[11], the appearance of Black athletic superiority is an illusion created by the large numbers of Blacks participating in the three major team sports, boxing, and track.

Research studies examining race and athletic performance have focused on race and human genetic variation[12] [13], anthropometrics and morphology[14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20], skeletal muscle physiology[21] [22] [23], aerobic and anaerobic power[24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29]; and nerve conduction velocity[30] [31] [32] [33].

As a result of many of these studies, social scientists have proposed a number of theories based upon environmental factors as a rationale for the sports participation of African Americans. Edwards[34] has suggested that because the American society emphasizes skin color, access to power, prestige, and money are greatly influenced by race. Blacks continue to be directed toward socially acceptable career paths such as sport and entertainment. Edwards further proposes that African Americans seek out career paths that have proven to be achievable.

Phillips[35] and Corbett and Johnson[36] indicated that African Americans have excelled in sport activities for which coaching, facilities and competition are provided in the public school system. African Americans are less visible in those sporting activities usually reserved for private clubs. The results are that African Americans are believed to be superior because they excel in the most visible sports (basketball, football, baseball).

Although there have been numerous reports of scientific comparisons of race and physiology as it relates to athletic performance, in general, results suggest either no differences or small differences between African American and Caucasian groups.

One must be cautious about seeing dominance or superiority in sport performance in black and white terms. Skiers from Austria and Switzerland have won many more World Cup championships than U.S. skiers. Yet, although this occurs year after year, the media and the public in general have not looked to race-based genetic ancestry to discover why the Austrians and Swiss are such good skiers. We already know that it is because they live in the Alps, and learn to ski before they go to preschool, and they grow up in an environment that values skiing. Similarly, there have been no claims that White Canadians should attribute their success in hockey to naturally strong ankle joints, instinctive eye-hand- foot coordination, or an innate tendency not to sweat, so that they can conserve body heat in cold weather. (It should be noted, however, that in the 2001-2002 National Hockey League season, the leading goal scorer was a Black Canadian, Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames.) In speed skating, White men and women dominate the sport, yet race-related genetic ancestry and racial similarity of the skaters is not studied from a racial perspective. However, when Black athletes excel in certain sports, many people seek to explain their success in terms of natural or instinctive qualities or weakness, rather than experience, strategy, motivation, and intelligence.

In summary, psychological and physiological differences are not sufficient explanations to account for Black participation and excellence in sports. A more complete explanation would include sociological factors such as geography (which would eliminate ice hockey for many Blacks), access to individual coaching (especially for sports such as golf, tennis, swimming, figure skating, and gymnastics), finances (e.g., the cost associated with sports such as golf, tennis, and skiing), and a lack of socialization to certain sporting opportunities, and the availability of role models in certain sports. This does not mention the fact that the potential financial rewards are substantial in the sports of baseball, football, and basketball.

 

4.                  Baseball: An Example of American Values in Action

 

Sport plays a role in articulating the moral identities of diverse people, and is more than a stereotypical instrument. Modern sport articulates distinctive moral identities, belief, and values of a nation. The patriotic refrain runs deep in baseball. Sport in general, and baseball in particular functions as a moral community for its fans and team members. The ethos of baseball reflects rituals and symbols to communicate a certain moral character. The sport of baseball communicates a character that is reflective of society as a whole. The role minority groups play in the sport of baseball are played out in society as well. The chief role sport plays in the modern world is enshrined, for example, in many of our global sporting events such as the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, and the World Cup. In all of these events, stories unfold reporting on the lives of individual people in connection with different cultures and nations to which they have allegiance. This infuses their lives with a moral sense of purpose and meaning they might not have otherwise had. In the context of this paper, it is important to understand the value and social significance of sport, and the moral implications for race and baseball.

The season of 1887 signaled a turning point for race relations in baseball. Setbacks occurred in the International League, a first-rate minor league in which six of its ten teams fielded Black players. “How far will the mania for engaging colored players go?” was the question raised in the Sporting Life[37]. The league was confronted with protest from some of the White players, so in July of that season, the league prohibited the admission of additional Blacks into the circuit. Days later Cap Anson refused to allow his Chicago White Stockings to take the field against Newark in an exhibition contest unless George Stovey, Newark’s star Black pitcher was kept out of the game. Newark gave in to the challenge.

After 1887, the sporting situation for Blacks in baseball only got worse culminating in the complete exclusion of Blacks from White professional teams. The restriction of Blacks matched the times in that more general racial segregation practices were taking place in the United States. Legal segregation and “Jim Crow” policies was the result of intensely entrenched racism in the 1890-1950 period. The ban on Blacks in the major leagues and its affiliates remained until 1946 when Jackie Robinson joined the Montreal Royals, a minor league club owned by the Brooklyn Dodgers.[38]

Blacks were forced to slice out a separate place for themselves in sport. There is some evidence of Blacks organizing clubs in the larger cities immediately after the Civil War. As early as 1867, the Excelsior’s of Philadelphia and the Uniques of Brooklyn played a game cited by the press as the “colored championship of the United States.” [39]

Social scientists have made the argument for integrated sport with the expectation that inter-racial teams and events promote better race relations. Without question, there is some element of truth to this position, albeit ephemeral and not easy to confirm. Conceivably the primary social value of integrated sport, and the reason sport hold such a prominent role in the public arena may well be to keep alive the idea and hope that racial integration can actually be achieved. If integrated sport enhances the morale of a diverse society, then it may pave the way for more significant bridge-building actions or measures to occur.

Academics studying sport were slow to examine the social implication of the integration of sport because conventional thoughts about the virtue, purity and simplicity of the sports arena placed it beyond the realm of social and political conflict. Today we know that sport, as any other social institution is submerged in hypocrisy about it values, and the sport of baseball has not been excluded.

Optimistic and untested assumptions about the effects of integrated sport have encouraged the belief that the sports world is a kind of racial utopia. The social and political value of promoting integration within the sports world varies by historical periods, but the desire to accept the idea that sport has a transforming power has persisted.[40]

 

5.                  Stacking in Baseball at the Collegiate and Professional Sport Levels

 

In professional baseball, the impact of Jackie Robinson in “breaking the color line” has been extremely well documented as an important step in the advancement of the African-American community. But now, 55 years after Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, a strange pattern of re-segregation has emerged in Major League Baseball. That is, a positional segregation (often referred to as stacking) has emerged.

Stacking is one of the persisting patterns of discrimination in collegiate and professional athletics. Stacking is a form of positional segregation whereby a disproportionate number of ethnic minorities (particularly Blacks) are found in specific team positions. Sport sociologists have found that stacking limits and restricts access to other team positions. As a result, competition occurs between members of the same ethnic and racial group. For example, in football, the players who compete for quarterback positions tend to be White, whereas those who seek defensive back positions tend to be Black.

According to Best[41] there appears to be several significant consequences of stacking:

 

According to the stereotyping hypothesis, stacking results from management’s stereotypes about the physical, social and personality characteristics of minority and majority group athletes and the skills necessary for those playing the different positions.

Among major sports baseball is the one that is historically blinded to physical characteristics. In the 1992 film, “Mr. Baseball,” Tom Selleck, as Jack Elliot, proclaims, “I’m not an athlete --- I’m a baseball player.”

Of course, professional baseball players are in general finely-tuned athletes, but undoubtedly the reason the movie line rings true is that baseball players have in large measure escaped the tyranny of size. Whereas a center in the National Basketball Association must necessarily graze 7 feet, and a National Football League interior lineman exceed 300 pounds, baseball players have historically come in all shapes and sizes.

The following are names one can see on the tour of the members of Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame: Frank (Home Run) Baker, Mordecai (Three-Finger) Brown, Yogi Berra, Lou Boudreau, Lou Brock, Roy Campanella, Roberto Clemente, Whitey Ford, Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby, George Kell, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Joe Morgan, Mel Ott, Jackie Robinson, Honus Wagner. In addition to their Hall of Fame membership, one characteristic they all shared is that none of them ever managed to top six feet in height.

The knowledgeable reader will also note that among the players mentioned above are players of every position.

This past history of baseball suggests that the skills necessary to play at the highest levels are far less dependent on size than on other factors.

Despite this history, one can discover numerous anomalies in today’s lineups that taken together, suggest at the least reliance on mythology and at the worst an unacceptable prejudice in the player development process.

In particular, as it pertains to this article, we will examine the following facts:

On opening day 2002, 13.82 % of the starting players (as listed on a depth chart at ESPN.com) were African-American. Yet,

This is the phenomenon of “stacking” or “positional segregation” as described above. It is certainly not unique to baseball --- consider the myth that for many years Blacks could not play quarterback in the NFL. Nor is it unique to African-Americans: the nickname for San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, “the cradle of shortstops,” masks another type of stacking with Dominican players. Furthermore, in a previous paper presented at the Cooperstown Symposium[42] (Williams and Patterson), it was noted that almost every Canadian major leaguer from World War II until the arrival of Larry Walker, a period of over forty years, was a pitcher. (To fans of Terry Puhl, it should be noted that we said “almost.”)

The difference in the stacking of African-Americans at outfield positions in baseball is that it constitutes, in perhaps the only example, a “re-segregation.”

After Jackie Robinson broke into the major leagues in 1947 (at first base initially and later second base), Black players appeared at every position in approximately an equal distribution. For example, here is a table of Black players in 1960, 1970, and last year:

 

 

Table I

Distribution of African-American Major League Baseball Players 1960-2001

 

In the early days of the African-American player in the major leagues, players were recruited at every position, in reasonably equal numbers. African-American stars of 50 years ago in the major leagues included pitchers (Don Newcombe, Joe Black, Satchel Paige) catchers (Roy Campanella, Elston Howard), first basemen (Bill White), third basemen (Hank Thompson), middle infielders (Robinson, Ernie Banks, Jim Gilliam), and outfielders (Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Billy Williams, Frank Robinson).

The pattern whereby African-American players were found in roughly the same numbers at all positions persisted into the 1970s, at which time a dramatic shift began to take place. Today, the percentage of African-American players is much lower than it was 30 years ago, and predominantly, African-American major leaguers today are found patrolling the outfield. With a few notable exceptions such as James Baldwin, Charles Johnson, Jerry Hairston, Jr., and Derek Jeter, African-Americans are not found in the battery or in the middle infield positions. And virtually all of the most prominent African-American players—Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield, David Justice, Ken Lofton, Brian Jordan—are outfielders.

This paper will examine the reasons behind this shift. It will be contrasted with similar phenomena in other professional sports (the myth of the Black quarterback, for example), and analyze it also in the light of two relevant and related phenomena: the rise of the Latin American ballplayer, and the decline of baseball in the inner city in general and in inner city high schools in particular.

It is certainly true that, in baseball as in other sports, certain skills are associated with certain positions. However, it is our thesis that although some skills are fairly attributed to types of positional play, others are not. And, furthermore, assumptions are often made that the skills that sought is characteristic of a certain race, region, nationality, or physical body type.

For example, in reference to the “stacking” described above, a wise baseball coach once pointed out that to be a good third baseman took a strong arm and a strong chest. Centerfielders must be speedy, but they don’t have to be able to hit. Right fielders have a great arm, left fielders have none.

Catchers are slow, have a good arm, and have the intelligence to be able to call a game. First basemen don’t have to do much except to hit with power (an exaggeration).

The question has been raised as to whether the stacking observed above can be explained by the emergence in the last generation of players from Latin American and Caribbean countries, and US players with roots in those countries.

The following table (compiled from Major League Baseball teams’ depth charts as of June 22, listing a player at each position, five starting pitchers, and a closer) shows that African-Americans are stacked at the positions described earlier in both circumstances: (a) when considered only among all American players; and (b) when considered among all players.

 

1B

2B

3B

SS

LF

CF

RF

C

SP

CL

DH

Total

United States (excluding PR)

27

22

20

14

24

24

20

20

115

15

12

313

African-Americans

5

6

0

4

11

16

5

1

3

0

5

56

Spanish-surname Americans

1

3

1

4

3

0

0

1

5

0

2

20

Dominican Republic

0

3

6

7

2

0

4

0

9

5

1

37

Puerto Rico

1

4

1

3

2

2

1

5

2

1

1

23

Venezuela

0

1

1

3

1

0

3

3

6

3

0

21

Japan

0

0

0

0

0

2

1

0

4

2

0

9

Cuba

0

0

0

1

0

1

0

0

4

1

0

7

Mexico

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

4

1

0

7

Canada

0

0

1

0

0

0

1

0

1

1

0

4

Panama

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

1

1

0

0

3

Colombia

0

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

Curacao

1

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

2

Korea

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

0

2

Aruba

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

1

Australia

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

1

Nicaragua

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

1

Total

29

30

30

30

30

30

30

30

150

30

14

433

 

Table II

2002 Major League Baseball Players by Country of Origin, Race and Position

Chart I

Percentages of African-American Players Compared to All US and All Players

However, this data does make another point. It is generally agreed by most scientists that race is not a genetic or biological concept. Nevertheless, players from the Dominican Republic and others who are from the African Diaspora could be compared in terms of the stacking phenomenon. In this comparison, Dominicans appear at these “missing” positions of pitcher, catcher, and third baseman in proportions that look more like White Americans. This tends to add to the speculation that the reasons for the stacking relate more to cultural factors in African-Americans’ training, selection, and promotion.


 

6.                  The Globalization of Baseball and its Impact on the US

 

Globalization in this context consists of the long-range practices utilized to bring about social change that involve relationships between nation-states and the use of power and sport on an international level. The content will focus on the use of talent as a means for migration for work, and the exploitation of workers primarily in poorer countries to maximize profit. 

Governments throughout time have used sport to promote certain values and ideas among its fellow citizens and women. For example, countries have a strong interest in promoting the ideals that success in sport reflects a government’s success, discipline, determination, loyalty, value for hard work, competition and individual achievement, and the ability to keep working during difficult periods. Sports continue to be used to promote these values.

However, as sports have become more commercialized, and national boundaries have become less important in the global marketplace, athletes have become global migrant workers. In the United States, sporting scouts are heavily recruiting athletes from around the globe. Athletes from impoverished backgrounds, and war torn countries are anxious and willing to play their sports where they can earn a living and find a new, different, and perhaps rewarding cultural experience. The global migration of athletes delimits the opportunities for American athletes, and has significant financial and cultural implications. Some international athletes experience culture shock, loneliness, some experience racial and ethnic bigotry, while others are socially accepted and make good friendships.

Geographer John Bale and sociologist Joe Maguire[43] have noted in their research on athletic talent migration that athletes move from state to state and region to region within nations, as well as from nation to nation within and between continents. They have indicated that these geographical moves raise questions concerning the 1) personal adjustment of migrating athletes, 2) the rights of athletes as workers in various nations, 3) the impact of talent migration on the nations from and to which athletes migrate, and 4) the impact of athletes migration on patterns of personal, cultural, and national identity.

Sporting migration has an impact on the nations that lose their elite talent to other countries. For example, many Latin American nations have lost their best baseball players to major league teams in the United States. Certainly, this diminishes the talent available in the home country.

The impact of global migration by athletes is felt in many sports. European soccer teams recruit players from around the world. Hockey, track and field, and basketball all have high rates of athlete migration.

The question of the status of African-Americans in baseball over time and until today takes on added importance as we see the evolution of the sport in the 21st century. Despite some of the language of baseball being distinctly Xenophobic (why, for example, was a World Series held for 90 years before a single game was played outside of the United States?), the game will become more and more global, but the United States will continue to be considered as the game's birthplace and center.

The role of baseball internationally would not be so important, except that we have seen numerous examples in recent years where sport has played a dramatic role in ameliorating (or aggravating) one of the major global problems, that of racial and ethnic conflict. There can be no question that, at present, football (or soccer in its peculiar American designation) is the sport that creates a common link between the citizens of almost set of nations around the globe. FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the international governing body of the sport, has 204 national member associations, thus exceeding the membership in, for example, the United Nations. The World Cup this year in Japan and Korea will be challenged to surpass the audience in France four years ago. “An accumulated audience of over 37 billion people watched France 98, including approximately 1.3 billion for the Final alone, while over 2.7 million people flocked to watch the 64 matches in the French stadia.” [44]

The impact of football on the global condition has been seen over the years: in one case, precipitating war[45] between Honduras and El Salvador, with a loss of an estimated 3,000 dead and 6,000 wounded. In another recent case, the intervention of the French soccer hero, Zinedine Zidane (himself of Middle Eastern heritage), in the Presidential election, helped defeat the racist, anti-immigrant appeal of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

There are many other instances where the professional baseball player has played an important role in civil society. Of course, the influence of Jackie Robinson on the civil rights movement and on race issues in society has been addressed amply over the years. Similarly, Hank Greenberg’s role in ensuring greater acceptance of Jews in US society has also been discussed.

Today, there are citizens of more than twenty countries laboring in the Major Leagues, and more and more countries where the game is flourishing and whose citizens will have an impact on the global nature of the game. The phenomenal increase in the number of players from the Dominican Republic has already been cited; in 2001, the stereotype that Japanese position players were unable to play at major league levels was irrevocably shattered (by Ichiro Suzuki). Other countries not felt to have a baseball tradition are also becoming prominent (Australia, South Korea). The first African players are bubbling up through the minor leagues, and one of the authors discovered recently that even soccer-mad Brazil has many professional baseball players in the minor leagues --- although they are exclusively of Japanese heritage.

The globalization of baseball will proceed, and baseball’s role in the world society will be influenced by how players are viewed in this international context. Thus it is even more important to look at the role of the African-American ballplayer today, and to look at what has happened in the context of one of the most important steps in the game’s history, the first steps that Jackie Robinson took to the field on that day in 1947.

However, the greater understanding between cultures that baseball could bring to the world as it expands to many cultures will be frustrated if we do not have a sufficient understanding of the role race can play in a multicultural society. In particular, where sports officials allow for the development of a concept such as stacking or positional segregation, the understanding that can be developed through good sportsmanship is likely to be degraded.

Consequently, it is important for baseball as a sport to examine the phenomenon of stacking and to understand why it came about, and why its perpetuation ultimately detracts from the sport and does not serve to advance society nor baseball’s role in society.


 



Endnotes

 

[1].  Nicholas Dawidoff, The Catcher Was A Spy, (New York: Vintage Books, 1995).

[2].  Julio Becquer, interview by author, Washington, District of Columbia, 17 September, 2001.

[3].  L. Shapiro, “’Jimmy the Greek’ says Blacks are Bred for Sports,” The Washington Post, 16 January 1988, sec. A, pp. 1, 10.

[4].  Al Campanis, ABC Nightline Interview. American Broadcasting Company, New York, NY, 6 April 1987.

[5].  Martin Kane, “An Assessment of Black Is Best,” Sports Illustrated, 18 January 1971, pp. 72-83.

[6].  J.H. Himes, “Racial Variation in Physique and Body Composition,” Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences 13 vol. 2 (1988): 117-126.

[7].  M.R. Boulay, P.F.M. Ama, and C. Bouchard, “Racial Variation in Work Capacities and Powers,” Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences 13 vol. 2 (1988): 127-135.

[8].  R.M. Malina, “Racial/Ethnic Variation in the Motor Development and Performance of American Children,” Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences 13 vol. 2 (1988): 136-143.

[9].  J. Phillips, “Toward an Explanation of Racial Variations in Top-Level Sports Participation,” International Review of Sport Sociology 11 vol. 3 (1976): 39-56.

[10].  Harry Edwards, Sociology of Sport (Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press, 1973).

[11].  J. Samson and M. Yerles, “Racial Differences in Sports Performance,” Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences 13 vol. 2 (1988): 109-116.

[12].  T. E. Reed, “Caucasian Genes in American Negroes,” Science 165 (1969): 762-68.

[13].  M. Nei and A. Roychoudhury, “Genic Variation within and between the Three Major Races of Man, Caucasoids, Negroids, and Mongoloids,” American Journal of Human Genetics, 26 (1974): 421-43.

[14].  T. W. Todd, “Entrenched Negro Physical Features,” Human Biology 1 (1928): 59.

[15].  E. Metheney, “Some Differences in Bodily Proportions between American Negro and White College Students as Related to Athletic Performance,” Research Quarterly 10 (1939): 41-53.

[16].  J. H. Himes, “Secular Change in Body Proportions and Composition,” in Secular Trends in Human Growth, Maturation, and Development, ed. A. Roche, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 179 (1979): 28-58.

[17].  W. Ross and R. Ward, “Proportionality of Olympic Athletes,” Medicine Sport Science 18 (1984): 110-43.

[18].  J. Tanner, Physique of the Olympic Athlete (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964).

[19].  Genetic and Anthropological Studies of Olympic Athletes, ed. A. L. DeGaray, L. Levine and J. E. L. Carter, (New York: Leisure Press, 1974).

[20].  S. H. Cohn, C. Abesamis, I. Zanzi, J. Aloia, S. Yasumura, and J. Ellis, “Body Elemental Composition: Comparison between Black and White Adults,” American Journal of Physiology 232 (1977): E419-E422.

[21].  P. F. M. Ama, P. Lagasse, C. Bouchard, and Simoneau, “Anaerobic Performances in Black and White Subjects,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 22 (1990): 508-11.

[22].  B. Saltin, C. Kim, N. Terrados, H. Larsen, J. Svedenhag, and C. Rolf, “Morphology, Enzyme Activities and Buffer Capacity in Leg Muscles of Kenyan and Scandinavian Runners,” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 5 (1995): 222-30.

[23].  B. Saltin, “Exercise and the Environment: Focus on Altitude.” Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 67 (1996) Supplement to No. 3: S1-S10.

[24].  C. T. M. Davies, C. Barnes, R. Fox, R. Ola Ojikuta, and A. Samueloff, “Ethnic Differences in Physical Working Capacity,” Journal of Applied Physiology 33 (1972): 726-32.

[25].  C. H. Wyndham, N. B. Strydhom, J. F. Morrison, C. G. Williams, G. A. Bredell, and A. Heyns, “The Capacity for Endurance Effort of Bantu Males of Different Tribes,” South African Journal of Science 62 (1966): 259-63.

[26].  C. H. Wyndham and A. J. Heyss, “Determininants of Oxygen Consumption and Maximum Oxygen Intake of Bantu and Caucasian Males,” Internationale Zeitschrift fur Angewandte Physiologie 27 (1969): 51-75.

[27].  P. E. DiPrampero and P. Cerretelli, “Maximal Muscular Power (aerobic and anaerobic) in African Natives,” Ergonomics 12 (1969): 51-59.

[28].  D. W. Hunter, R. L. Bartels, and R. R. Lanese, “A Comparison of Anaerobic Power between Black and White Males,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 21 (1989): S52.

[29].  P. F. M. Ama, P. Lagasse, C. Bouchard, and Simoneau, op. cit.

[30].  O. P. Schureman, “The Phrenic and Accessory Phrenic Nerves in American Whites and Negroes,” Anatomical Research 58 (1934): 86.

[31].  T. W. Todd, W. H. McGraw, and W. M. Kuenzel, “Measurement of the Brachial and Lumbro-Sacral Plexuses in Man,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 8 (1925): 281-91.

[32].  J. R. Williams and R. B. Scott, “Growth and Development of Negro Infants,” Child Development 24 (1953): 103-21.

[33].  R. E. Thies, J. R. Billinghurst, and H. D. Richardson, “Motor Nerve Conduction Velocities in Healthy Young East Africans,” Journal of Applied Physiology 23 (1967): 321-23.

[34].  Harry Edwards, op. cit.

[35].  J. Phillips, “Toward an Explanation of Racial Variations in Top-Level Sports Participation,” International Review of Sport Sociology 11 vol. 3 (1976): 39-56.

[36].  Doris Corbett and William Johnson, (2000). “The African American Female in Collegiate Sport: Sexism and Racism,” in Racism in College Athletics: The African-American Athlete’s Experience, 2nd ed., ed. D. Brooks and R. Althouse, (Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology), 200-225.

[37].  G. Rader, Baseball: A History of America’s Game, (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 51.

[38].  Ibid., 51.

[39].  Ibid., 51.

[40].  J. Hoberman, Darwin’s Athletes - How Sport has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race, (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 28-30.

[41].  Clayton Best, “Experience and Career Length in Professional Football: The Effects of Positional Segregation,” Sociology of Sport Journal 4 no. 4 (1987): 410-420.

[42].  Savanah E. Williams and Wayne Patterson, “Trois Balles, Deux Prises: The Influence of Canada on Baseball and the Influence of Baseball on Canada,” (5th Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and Society, Cooperstown, NY, 1993).

[43].  The Global Sports Arena: Athletic Talent Migration In An Interdependent World, ed. J. Bale and J. Maguire, (London: Frank Cass. 1994).

[44].  FIFA website, www.fifa.com.

[45].  Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Soccer War, (London: Vintage Books, 1991).

 

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