I am currently reading Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid To Talk About It and came across a small section in the beginning of the book talking about black-white differences in baseball. It appears I am horribly, horribly wrong and it looks like I may need to retract my article HBD and Sports: Baseball. However, I don’t take second-hand accounts as gospel, so I will be purchasing the book that Entine cites, The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1987 to look into it myself and I may even do my own analysis on modern-day players to see if this still holds. Nevertheless, at the moment disregard the article I wrote last year until I look into this myself.
Baseball historian Bill James, author of dozens of books on the statistical twists of his favorite sport believes this trend [black domination in baseball] is not a fluke. In an intriguing study conducted in 1987, he compared the careers of hundreds of rookies to figure out what qualities best predict who would develop into stars. He noted many intangible factors, such as whether a player stays fit or is just plain lucky. The best predictors of long-term career success included the age of the rookie, his defensive position as a determinant in future hitting success (e.g., catchers fare worse than outfielders), speed, and the quality of the player’s team. But all of these factors paled when compared to the color of the player’s skin.
“Nobody likes to write about race,” James noted apologetically. “I thought I would do a [statistical] run of black players against white players, fully expecting that it would show nothing in particular or nothing beyond the outside range of chance, and I would file it away and never mention that I had looked at the issue at all.
James first compared fifty-four white rookies against the same number of black first-year players who had comparable statistics. “The results were astonishing,” James wrote. The black players:
* went on to have better major-league careers in 44 out of 54 cases
* played 48 percent more games
* had 66 percent more major league hits
* hit 93 percent more triples
* hit 66 percent more home runs
* scored 69 percent more runs
* stole 400 more bases (Entine, 2000: 22-23)
Flabbergasted at what he found, James ran a second study using forty-nine black/white comparisons. Again, blacks proved more durable, retained their speed longer, and were consistently better hitters. For example, he compared Ernie Banks, a power hitting shortstop for the Chicago Cubs, and Bernie Allen who broke in with Minnesota. They both reached the majors when they were twenty-three years old, were the same height and weight, and were considered equally fast. Over time, Allen bombed and Banks landed in the Hall of Fame. (Entine, 2000: 24)
In an attempt to correct for possible bias, James compared players with comparable speed statistics such as the number of doubles, triples, and stolen bases. He ran a study focused on players who had little speed. He analyzed for “position bias” and made sure that players in the same eras were being compared. Yet every time he crunched the numbers, the results broke down across racial lines. When comparing home runs, runs scored, RBIs or stolen bases, black players held an advantage a startling 80 percent of the time. “And I could identify absolutely no bias to help explain why this should happen,” James said in disbelief.
James also compared white Hispanic rookies whom he assumed faced an uphill battle similar to that for blacks, with comparable groups of white and black players. The blacks dominated the white Latinos by even more than they did white North Americans, besting them in 19 of the 26 comparisons. Blacks played 62 percent more games, hit 192 more home runs, drove in 125 percent more runs, and stole 30 percent more bases.
So why have blacks become the stars of baseball far out of proportion to their relative numbers? James eventually concluded that there were two possible explanations: “Blacks are better athletes because they are born better athletes, which is to say that it is genetic, or that they are born equal and become better athletes. (Entine, 2000: 24-25)