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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Medium: The System was a Steroid: Race, Performance Enhancement and the Baseball Hall of Fame

Confronted with the argument that maybe Williams, DiMaggio, and especially Babe Ruth wouldn’t have been as good had they been required to play against black players, most fall back on the argument that Bonds, Clemens and their steroid-enhanced contemporaries broke the rules, while Ruth and company merely played within the boundaries of the rules as they existed at the time.

In other words, while shameful, segregation was “just the way it was.” The implicit argument here is that we shouldn’t lower our estimation of white players due to segregation since they weren’t the ones who enforced the color barrier, but rather, just played by the rules as they found them.

But this argument is morally problematic on a number of levels. First, it suggests that if the rules themselves codify unfairness and cheating they are acceptable, and that it’s only when one cheats by breaking a rule that something is amiss. Additionally, to say that segregation was “just the way it was,” implies that we are under no obligation to challenge injustice unless we ourselves created it, and that if we collaborate with it, we bear no moral responsibility for its perpetuation. But what kind of moral standard is that?

Interesting thoughts from Tim Wise.

DanG Posted: February 11, 2018 at 01:30 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: babe ruth, barry bonds, color line, hall of fame, peds, racism, roger clemens

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   1. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 11, 2018 at 07:36 PM (#5623311)
Wise's point is well taken, but given that in both cases the victims were victimized by the mores that put them at a disadvantage,** I'm not sure what the point is of addressing their victimization by honoring one set of the victimizers. A more appropriate and positive step would be to enshrine more Negro Leaguers.

And while it's true that the Negro League players were far more victimized than the clean players of the steroid era, who at least weren't barred from competing, it's also true that Ruth and Gehrig didn't consciously choose to ban black competitors,*** whereas steroid users made a conscious decision to use steroids.

** Near universal segregation throughout society in one case; the unwritten code of silence about reporting steroid users in the other case

*** In fact there were surveys of MLB players taken in the late 30's that showed a clear majority sentiment in favor of letting black players in the Majors
   2. Booey Posted: February 11, 2018 at 07:45 PM (#5623313)
it's also true that Ruth and Gehrig didn't consciously choose to ban black competitors,*** whereas steroid users made a conscious decision to use steroids.


While the decision to use steroids was a personal choice, of course, the league allowing players to make that choice without fear of consequences was just as much a systematic problem as the color barrier was.

*** In fact there were surveys of MLB players taken in the late 30's that showed a clear majority sentiment in favor of letting black players in the Majors


I'm guessing the majority of players in the 90's would have said they were in favor of a PED crackdown, too (even if it wasn't really true).


Edit: In both cases, it was just plain a different culture than it is now. You can't judge 1990's players by 2018 attitudes towards PED's any more than you can judge 1920's players by modern standards of equality.

And it will always boggle my mind that there are actually fans (lots of them) who think that PED records are tainted and invalid, but records set during segregation are totally legit. The color barrier was a much, much greater injustice than steroids could ever be and likely altered the record books far more.

But yeah, I think all these points on both sides may have been made a time or two before. ;-)
   3. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 11, 2018 at 08:12 PM (#5623318)
And it will always boggle my mind that there are actually fans (lots of them) who think that PED records are tainted and invalid, but records set during segregation are totally legit.

I think a better way of putting it would be to say that both sets of records were attained under a less than level playing field, though in both cases the exact degree of the tilt is hard to quantify. Obviously segregation tilted the field much more in favor of its beneficiaries, but there's something about using pre-1947 segregation as an argument to boost 1990's steroid users that strikes me as more than a bit untoward.

The color barrier was a much, much greater injustice than steroids could ever be and likely altered the record books far more.

Totally agree. What bothers me isn't the back-and-forth about the records set during the steroid era; it's the way some people try to downplay the quality of the Negro Leagues, and studiously ignoring or trying to rationalize the fact** that in interracial competition between Negro Leaguers and Major Leaguers, the Negro Leaguers more than held their own.

But yeah, I think all these points on both sides may have been made a time or two a hundred or two hundred times before. ;-)

FIFY (smile)

** My favorite of these arguments is that the Major Leaguers "weren't really trying" during those games, as if white players in the Jim Crow era would've wanted to go back home and explain to their friends how they got beat by a bunch of nigggers.

   4. ptodd Posted: February 11, 2018 at 09:25 PM (#5623334)
Baseball really was not fully integrated till the 60's, especially in the AL, so the same holds true of AL players into the 50's
   5. ptodd Posted: February 11, 2018 at 09:35 PM (#5623336)
#1. The decison to ban black players in 1887 was due in part to white players refusing to sign or play with teams that had black players. Throughout the 20's and 30's light skinned blacks were allowed to play claiming spanish decent. Guys like Jeter and Judge would have played

There were other issues as well. Fans, travel difficulties, etc

Interesting enough many more blacks were interested in the game when the negro leagues were at their height. Tickets were cheaper too. When MLB integrated blacks were always a minority unlike NBA and NFL and interest in the sport has declined as MLB focused on importing Latino players coupled with declining black (US) rates

   6. BDC Posted: February 11, 2018 at 10:32 PM (#5623340)
In terms of ranking baseball players, anybody thinking seriously about the issue takes segregation into account (as Booey suggests). To that extent, this article isn't written for Primates – it's written for people who never even considered that batting .370 meant something quite different when Babe Ruth did it from when Barry Bonds did it.

I don't hold with the notion that we have to wring our hands or hang our heads every time we think about segregated baseball. The black press of the day routinely decried segregation. But they also thought that sports were fun, and they recognized that sports offered a venue for apolitical heroics, a showcase for black abilities. Sport was one of the better things about segregation times, and presented one of the leading venues for integration. We should appreciate Negro Leaguers and their efforts both behind the color line and in moving across it; and we should appreciate the many white ballplayers who played exhibitions against black players, and who welcomed integration when it came.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: February 11, 2018 at 11:04 PM (#5623344)
Interesting enough many more blacks were interested in the game when the negro leagues were at their height. Tickets were cheaper too. When MLB integrated blacks were always a minority unlike NBA and NFL and interest in the sport has declined as MLB focused on importing Latino players coupled with declining black (US) rates

In the one study I know that tried to look at this (with all the obvious perils of trying to categorize "race" by photos), it was primarily white players that were replaced by the first wave of Latin American players then African-Americans. In addition to cost-effectiveness, the large influx of Latin players roughly coincides with the low point of the size of the US labor pool and expansion.

A quick count of the debut of Dominican-born position players (total 708) and pitchers (total 387)

pre1980:. 62 21
1980-84:. 30 10
1985-89:. 24 14
1990-94:. 60 27
1995-99:. 96 48
2000-04: 106 60
2005-09: 107 75
2010-14: 124 76
2015: ... 24 15
2016: ... 27 18
2017: ... 38 23

The pattern for Venezuela looks fairly similar at about half the amount. Hmmmm .... grrr .... of course most/all pitchers appear in the "batters" table so that is mostly total players followed by the number that are pitchers (plus the occasional pitching position player). So in recent times, about 60% of the players have been pitchers so the number of position players has been steadier ...

90-94 33
95-99 48
00-04 46
05-09 32
10-14 48
15-17 33
   8. Sunday silence Posted: February 12, 2018 at 03:32 AM (#5623355)
, it was primarily white players that were replaced by the first wave of Latin American players then African-Americans.


Umm maybe I am missing something; but wouldnt that be patently obvious from any activity that's being integrated? I am not sure what you're pt. is there.
   9. Rally Posted: February 12, 2018 at 08:30 AM (#5623366)
Throughout the 20's and 30's light skinned blacks were allowed to play claiming spanish decent. Guys like Jeter and Judge would have played


I don't think Jeter would have been allowed to play. It probably would not have been difficult for someone to track down that one of his parents was black. I could be wrong on this, what players pre-1947, born in the US, played MLB while claiming to be Hispanic but actually were bi-racial?

As far as Judge goes, he was adopted so his true parentage probably would not have been known. He could claim to be half Ogre, half Stone giant, and people would have believed. While there had never been a Ogre/Stone giant player in MLB, there also was not society wide desire to ban them.
   10. Rally Posted: February 12, 2018 at 08:58 AM (#5623371)
Read the article and wish I had not. Here's the conclusion:

"Either Bonds and Clemens belong in the hall, or none of those who played before 1947 do. Take your pick."

While I would vote for Clemens and Bonds, and have no desire to kick out pre 1947 players (at least the great ones), this is not a logical conclusion.

In an integrated league Ruth's numbers would not have been as eye-popping as they are now. At the very least the adjusted numbers. Either the great pitchers like Satchel would have kept him in the park more than the low level white pitchers they would have replaced, or else the addition of other great hitters would have increased overall offense. In which case Ruth still hits .340 with 50 homers, but his OPS+ is not as dominant.

The park is mentioned a few times in the article, but Ruth hit more homers on the road than home over his career. While that is due to his start in Fenway, it's pretty close to even for his time with the Yankees.

I think had they played at the same time, Aaron tops Ruth in homers hit, but Ruth has better overall batting numbers. Especially from the sabermetric viewpoint. Partially due to a longer career and better durability, part due to more walks from Ruth. I think a reasonable comparison is Mays to Mantle - Mays has the counting stats but Mantle wins the rates.

Steroids are different. To some people they are an automatic disqualification for HOF on the same level as betting on baseball games. I don't agree with that, but such people are entitled to their opinions.

For players who played pre 1947, they played in an inferior league compared to what integration could have been, and later was. That doesn't mean they weren't great, but greatness is relative to the competition. The competition was obviously weaker, so the OPS+ or ERA+ is certainly inflated.
   11. BDC Posted: February 12, 2018 at 09:13 AM (#5623374)
Another correction I'd like to suggest, gently, is that there's not much epochal about 1887. Baseball had been segregated from its origins, like so much in American life. The brief integration of the AA in 1884 (one club, two Walker brothers), and the more fluid situation in some lower leagues, especially the International League, might give the impression to some modern observers that there was some pre-1887 integrated Utopia that Cap Anson singlehandedly destroyed. But the early NL was segregated, the NA had been segregated, the original Reds and their opponents played segregated ball, the various earlier city clubs and associations tended to be segregated. Immediate post-Civil-War baseball was less integrated than immediate post-Civil-War political life.

I'm mainly responding to this contention from TFA:

From 1887, when blacks were run out of white-dominated professional baseball leagues, until 1947, when Jackie Robinson first stepped onto the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, every white baseball player for six decades had been protected from black competition


But that protection had been in overwhelming force long before 1887.


   12. stevegamer Posted: February 12, 2018 at 09:35 AM (#5623380)
He could claim to be half Ogre, half Stone giant, and people would have believed. While there had never been a Ogre/Stone giant player in MLB, there also was not society wide desire to ban them.


In a D&D game right now with a half ogre/half giant. they'd have banned him quickly, but frankly, one would be be awful at baseball. Huge strike zone, and ump can't call crap.
   13. winnipegwhip Posted: February 12, 2018 at 10:21 AM (#5623424)
It seems like the guy watched Ken Burns Baseball on MLB Network recently and has taken the second rate storyteller to heart.

BTW - Burns is now going to be doing a documentary on Country Music. It will probably be a lament about the vacuum in Country Music until Charlie Pride was able to cut a record and make the charts.
   14. Rally Posted: February 12, 2018 at 11:07 AM (#5623455)
Speaking of Charley Pride

That's not just a coincidence of names, he did play.
   15. BDC Posted: February 12, 2018 at 11:11 AM (#5623459)
In his 80s now, Charley Pride still sings the National Anthem for the Rangers once or twice a year.
   16. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: February 12, 2018 at 11:21 AM (#5623465)
Pass.

   17. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 12, 2018 at 11:25 AM (#5623469)
Interesting enough many more blacks were interested in the game when the negro leagues were at their height. Tickets were cheaper too. When MLB integrated blacks were always a minority unlike NBA and NFL and interest in the sport has declined as MLB focused on importing Latino players coupled with declining black (US) rates.

The relative rise of blacks in the NFL and NBA, and their decline in MLB, has mostly to do with the integration of college athletics in the South in the 70's, and the dramatic increase in the number of athletic scholarships awarded since then.

When southern college teams were lily white up through the late 60's, and when there was mostly token integration in the North and West, that's when African American participation peaked in MLB. Once large numbers of black football and basketball players started showing up in colleges all over the country, that's when African American percentages in the NFL and NBA skyrocketed, and the percentage of African Americans in MLB began its slow but steady dropoff.

There are other factors involved, like the ease of finding pickup basketball games, but there's nothing like that for football, and yet the percentage of African Americans in the NFL is almost the same as their percentage in the NBA, somewhere around 70% to the NBA's 75%, with the difference accounted for by the overwhelming percentage of white punters and place kickers. The switch over time has less to do with inherent cultural shifts and more to do with disproportionate economic incentives, not just in professional sports but in the fields where a college degree is of immense incremental value.
   18. The Good Face Posted: February 12, 2018 at 11:34 AM (#5623475)
Confronted with the argument that maybe Williams, DiMaggio, and especially Babe Ruth wouldn’t have been as good had they been required to play against black players, most fall back on the argument that Bonds, Clemens and their steroid-enhanced contemporaries broke the rules, while Ruth and company merely played within the boundaries of the rules as they existed at the time.


They do? Who are these people? Because pretty much every reasonably serious baseball writer I've read has no difficulty acknowledging that Williams, DiMaggio, Ruth, etc. didn't play against the best available competition (and their stats benefitted accordingly from that) and can do so without whatabouting the steroid era into the conversation.

In other words, while shameful, segregation was “just the way it was.” The implicit argument here is that we shouldn’t lower our estimation of white players due to segregation since they weren’t the ones who enforced the color barrier, but rather, just played by the rules as they found them.


I think he's attacking strawmen here, or perhaps a small coterie of idiots. Again, every serious baseball analyst does lower their estimation of pre-segregation players compared to post-segregation players (in terms of their value as players) because they didn't face the best available competition.
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 12, 2018 at 11:47 AM (#5623485)
and yet the percentage of African Americans in the NFL is almost the same as their percentage in the NBA, somewhere around 70% to the NBA's 75%,

Of course, in reality, the NFL and the NBA are the outliers that need to be explained, not MLB. The proportion of blacks from the US in MLB is right in line with the proportion of the population. The NBA is particularly weird in that a disproportionate number of white players are Europeans.
   20. SoSH U at work Posted: February 12, 2018 at 11:47 AM (#5623486)
There are other factors involved, like the ease of finding pickup basketball games, but there's nothing like that for football, and yet the percentage of African Americans in the NFL is almost the same as their percentage in the NBA, somewhere around 70% to the NBA's 75%, with the difference accounted for by the overwhelming percentage of white punters and place kickers.


I think two things work in football's favor. There's not a strong travel culture around it as there is around baseball, so there's not a strong barrier for lower-income kids. And you can pick it up much later and still excel. You don't see a lot of guys who start playing baseball in high school/college make it professionally, which happens with some frequency in football.

   21. BDC Posted: February 12, 2018 at 11:57 AM (#5623493)
This fellow Tim Wise has accomplished the extremely impressive feat of getting me to agree with The Good Face on something that involves race :)
   22. dlf Posted: February 12, 2018 at 12:22 PM (#5623527)
I think two things work in football's favor. There's not a strong travel culture around it as there is around baseball, so there's not a strong barrier for lower-income kids.


FWIW, to participate at the high school level here in the Atlanta suburbs, each player has to pony up for school mandated fees that are close to a thousand bucks per player. We have similar, but smaller fees for the non-athletic extra-curricular activities my daughters were involved with.
   23. SandyRiver Posted: February 12, 2018 at 12:27 PM (#5623531)
The relative rise of blacks in the NFL and NBA, and their decline in MLB, has mostly to do with the integration of college athletics in the South in the 70's, and the dramatic increase in the number of athletic scholarships awarded since then.

When southern college teams were lily white up through the late 60's, and when there was mostly token integration in the North and West, that's when African American participation peaked in MLB. Once large numbers of black football and basketball players started showing up in colleges all over the country, that's when African American percentages in the NFL and NBA skyrocketed, and the percentage of African Americans in MLB began its slow but steady dropoff.

This should be required reading for all those who bemoan the lowered proportion of African Americans in MLB and who also attribute that fact to intransigent white front offices or other nefarious causes. What also must be attractive to those who see little "conventional" opportunity is that college grads can go directly to significant roles in the NFL and NBA, without several years apprenticeship (unless you're Bryce Harper or Mike Trout) at little more than minimum wage.
   24. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 12, 2018 at 12:29 PM (#5623532)
There are other factors involved, like the ease of finding pickup basketball games, but there's nothing like that for football, and yet the percentage of African Americans in the NFL is almost the same as their percentage in the NBA, somewhere around 70% to the NBA's 75%, with the difference accounted for by the overwhelming percentage of white punters and place kickers.

I think two things work in football's favor. There's not a strong travel culture around it as there is around baseball, so there's not a strong barrier for lower-income kids. And you can pick it up much later and still excel. You don't see a lot of guys who start playing baseball in high school/college make it professionally, which happens with some frequency in football.


Those are also good points, even though I think the one I made about college football's and basketball's changing demographics is the more important factor.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

and yet the percentage of African Americans in the NFL is almost the same as their percentage in the NBA, somewhere around 70% to the NBA's 75%,

Of course, in reality, the NFL and the NBA are the outliers that need to be explained, not MLB. The proportion of blacks from the US in MLB is right in line with the proportion of the population. The NBA is particularly weird in that a disproportionate number of white players are Europeans.


My explanation concerned the relative NFL/NBA numbers to those of MLB. You can try explaining why African Americans are overrepresented in fields like professional football and basketball, and underrated in the realm of the FORTUNE 500, but those are separate topics.
   25. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 12, 2018 at 12:32 PM (#5623534)
This should be required reading for all those who bemoan the lowered proportion of African Americans in MLB and who also attribute that fact to intransigent white front offices or other nefarious causes. What also must be attractive to those who see little "conventional" opportunity is that college grads can go directly to significant roles in the NFL and NBA, without several years apprenticeship (unless you're Bryce Harper or Mike Trout) at little more than minimum wage.

And unfortunately this will be hard to change as long as the heart of the baseball season coincides with the months that colleges aren't in full session. The economic incentives for colleges all work to the advantage of football and basketball.
   26. Rally Posted: February 12, 2018 at 01:00 PM (#5623570)
For multi-sport athletes, college baseball does not compete well with other sports because baseball programs, for the most part, are only able to offer partial scholarships. Minor league baseball is competitive but only for the first few rounds of the draft, then the bonus money runs out.
   27. SoSH U at work Posted: February 12, 2018 at 01:18 PM (#5623595)
FWIW, to participate at the high school level here in the Atlanta suburbs, each player has to pony up for school mandated fees that are close to a thousand bucks per player. We have similar, but smaller fees for the non-athletic extra-curricular activities my daughters were involved with.


Wow. That's not the case in Indiana, I don't think. (I can't say for sure, as my two boys thankfully had no interest. But I can't imagine the families from Gary spending that kind of dough on football.

Those are also good points, even though I think the one I made about college football's and basketball's changing demographics is the more important factor.


Sure, but if lower income kids were priced out of football at the lower ends, in the way they are in some sports, or if the sport required a lot more skill development at a younger age than it does, then the scholarship opportunities wouldn't be as significant. There is no single factor.

Basketball is nice because, even though there is an absurd travel network, you really can develop your skill on your own.
   28. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 12, 2018 at 05:09 PM (#5623812)
For multi-sport athletes, college baseball does not compete well with other sports because baseball programs, for the most part, are only able to offer partial scholarships. Minor league baseball is competitive but only for the first few rounds of the draft, then the bonus money runs out.

Yep.

Those are also good points, even though I think the one I made about college football's and basketball's changing demographics is the more important factor.

Sure, but if lower income kids were priced out of football at the lower ends, in the way they are in some sports, or if the sport required a lot more skill development at a younger age than it does, then the scholarship opportunities wouldn't be as significant. There is no single factor.

Basketball is nice because, even though there is an absurd travel network, you really can develop your skill on your own.


Yeah, in terms of how kids at any income level are able to acquire advanced skills, basketball is the real outlier at a very young age.



   29. -- Posted: February 12, 2018 at 07:43 PM (#5623904)
They do? Who are these people? Because pretty much every reasonably serious baseball writer I've read has no difficulty acknowledging that Williams, DiMaggio, Ruth, etc. didn't play against the best available competition


Well, except it's -- shocking, I know -- not that simple. When those guys played baseball, there was really no basketball or hockey to siphon great athletes away and football was far less appealing relative to baseball than it is now. Given the appeal of a bunch of sports other than baseball now, today's players don't really play against the best available competition either.

I look at the Negro Leagues era more like the era of the ABA or the WFL/USFL, where the NBA and NFL talent levels were diluted by the presence of real competitor leagues. The so-called GOAT '85 Bears defense played in a year in which a ####-ton of great players weren't even in the NFL.

This way of looking at things, of course, doesn't permit the various soapboxes people just love to climb on in our time -- but that shouldn't deter the rational thinker.

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