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MLB, MLK, and the XX Chromosome

Martin Luther King Jr., if he were still alive today, would have some things to say about baseball. I don't know exactly what he would have to say, but he'd have something to say. His birthday is an ideal day to pause and take a look at Major League Baseball from more of a social justice perspective. Steroids are a hot topic again in the wake of the great Hall of Fame non-vote, but there are other uncomfortable truths in the game today.

One thing King would certainly have something to say about is the shrinking black population in the majors. Only 8.5% of MLB players on opening day rosters in 2012 were black, which is half the rate that were black in 1959 when the Red Sox became the last team to integrate after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier (source of that fact is in the hyperlinked USA Today story).

I have it in my mind to investigate the shrinking black population in some depth one of these days, but for now I will just say it is an interesting, and I believe complex, trend. My hunch is that whatever is contributing to the modern disappearance of black baseball players happens before MLB scouts ever get eyes on players*. This doesn't diminish or dismiss the problem, but it changes the nature of the discussion. I have no idea if MLK would agree with my line of thinking, and it is too bad that he isn't around to weigh in.

*I know this is cryptic, but unpacking this idea really is a post of its own.

I will link to a good MLK post about black ballplayers if I find one. I am actually more interested in talking about women with this post. There is a gender barrier in baseball that simply should not exist at this point.
This might seem like a non-sequitor, but I believe MLK's vision for America has plenty to say about women in baseball. Here is a brief refresher on what MLK said in one of the most oft-quoted sections of his famous I Have a Dream speech:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I suppose a literal reading of this quote would suggest MLK has nothing to say about women, but I would (safely) argue he is simply quoting the U.S. Constitution here. The larger point being made is that we should all start on equal ground, and then get what we deserve based on our actions. At least that's my interpretation of MLK's vision, based in part on things like the quote above, and other snippets from the I Have a Dream speech, such as the one below:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King Jr. had two sons and two daughters, if that fact matters to you. His vision has something to say about women.

The modern MLB front office has morphed and expanded in ways unthinkable in previous generations. There are new pathways into the game the simply did not exist until the 1990s. Computers and sabermetrics have unlocked previously unreachable baseball information. Scouts are still valuable, but there is a whole new gold mine of information available through modern analysis.

Moreover, the people best qualified and equipped to handle sabermetrics do not need to have any previous ties to baseball. Skills in computer programming, math, statistics, economics, and business are more salient to success in newer branches of baseball analysis. Anecdotal evidence backs this logic up. A number of guys with minimal baseball experience have risen all the way to general manager posts. I'm talking about guys like Theo Epstein, Josh Daniels, Josh Byrnes, Ben Cherington, Jed Hoyer, Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, and Jeff Luhnow - enough to say that this is a trend.

The baseball "nerd invasion" is still all about the guys though, even though playing baseball is not a prerequisite. Data suggests that there should also be qualified women for many modern front office positions. Per the National Center for Education Statistics, here are some numbers for degrees obtained by men and women in 2010-2011:

  • Master's degrees in computing and information services (i.e. database skills): Men - 13,956, Women - 5,490.
  • Master's degrees in mathematics and statistics: Men - 3,453, Women - 2,390.
  • Master's degrees in business: Men - 101,450, Women - 85,763.

These numbers don't give a perfect picture (the categories I picked are somewhat broad), but they give enough of a picture to serve my point. The kinds of qualifications that modern front offices look for are in fields still more populated by men, but not monopolized by men.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are highly qualified women in the workforce right now that would be assets to MLB front offices. A team that gets serious about attracting women to their leadership will be happy with the results. Women comprise a significant pool of skilled workers that seems to be going unnoticed. I would expect the first franchise to aggressively recruit and hire women into front office positions to have the most talented front office, until other teams take note and copy their lead.

So who will be the progressive team that aggressively pursues women for their front office positions? They will likely be heralded as champions for social justice. They would also gain a competitive advantage. That's the real genius and power behind MLK's dream of a society that honestly reaps what it sows. The cream actually rises to the top.

No matter what lens we use to look at the world, we like what we see better if we challenge ourselves to make MLK's dream a reality. In Major League Baseball, MLK's dream likely includes more black baseball players. It must include more women in front offices too, plain and simple.