Tidbits – July 10
Thanks to the tech people at UNC, my virus problems have been resolved.
In this issue:
1) Peter Gammons finds a new way to bash Title IX
2) Amy Lawrence, of ESPN radio, confirms what we already know: talking about sports for a living on the radio does not require that you know what you’re talking about.
On July 4, Peter Gammons spoke with Bob Valvano on ESPN radio (thanks to MB for the tip). A few minutes into the conversation, the subject turned to the declining number of African Americans in major league baseball. Gammons and Valvano touched on the remarks made a few weeks back by Gary Sheffield and Torii Hunter on the subject. Gammons also observed that baseball has “become very much an elitist sport…you want to play AAU ball, it costs a lot of money. The inner city and the small school baseball programs are not very active.” Then Gammons said: “I don’t mean this to sound sexist at all…but…Title IX eliminated the opportunity for poor kids to play college baseball because you have ten scholarships for thirty players. You get seventeen women’s volleyball scholarships, but you get ten baseball scholarships. So, there aren’t full scholarships anymore in college.” Gammons went on to recount a conversation he had with Harold Reynolds a couple of years ago, when Reynolds was covering the college world series and among the eight teams and roughly 240 players, there were no African Americans.
Did Gammons offer any evidence as to the racial and income composition of the typical college baseball player today compared with thirty years ago? Of course not.
Did he mention that college football requires 85 scholarships, and that that might have something to do with the number of baseball scholarships? Silly question. Did he make any attempt to demonstrate that there are a flood of African American baseball players in high school just dying to play college baseball who can’t because of the limited number of scholarships? Or, about why it is that none of those baseball scholarships that do exist are used on African Americans and what conceivable relationship that has to do with Title IX? No, and no, naturally.
Linking Title IX to the lack of Black players (or poor ones) in the majors simply makes no sense. Think about it: college programs are going to offer scholarships to the best players out there. If you are not good enough to earn one of ten scholarships at any of the NCAA schools that offer baseball scholarships, what are the odds that you are a potential major league ballplayer? I’d estimate roughly zero. In other words, whether they’re poor, or African American, or both, players coming out of high school who have major league potential and go to college are, even with the reduced number of scholarships, certainly going to be among those who receive a free ride to play college baseball. And, to put it another way, the odds that there are any players on any college baseball roster who are somewhere between the eleventh and thirtieth best player on the team and have big-league potential are, essentially, zero.
In other words, as an insight into why kids from poor areas, including African Americans, are not playing major league baseball (and, while we know it’s true that few African Americans play in the bigs, Gammons offered no evidence about the class background of contemporary big leaguers more generally), invoking the specter of Title IX is wholly irrelevant.
And, yet, it was the most significant reason Gammons offered to Valvano.
Just another day in the life of mainstream sports discourse, where Title IX is responsible for an endlessly expanding range of social ills and injustices and no evidence is required to make the point. (For more on Title IX issues, click here).
2) Sunday Night, Amy Lawrence and Ryan Russilo, of ESPN radio’s game night, discussed the Seattle Mariners’ surprising season so far, and whether they were “for real.” Both agreed that they were, and Lawrence touted, in particular, their “big sluggers” Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. Which begs the question: has she read anything about either player since the press releases announcing their free agent signings after the 2004 season?
Let’s start with Beltre. OK, Beltre’s not having a bad season. He’s got a crappy on-base percentage, .327, but he’s hitting for decent power, with a .488 slugging percentage. And, in fairness, he’s playing half his games in Safeco field, a pitchers’ park. In fact, Beltre’s slugging percentage is over 150 points higher on the road, than at home. Overall, Beltre’s been a good player this year, though not half the player Ichiro is, and less important so far to the team’s success than the closer, J. J. Putz, who is quietly having a season for the ages. I am willing to bet that Lawrence has no idea what Beltre is doing, other than having seen highlights of a few of his homeruns on sports center, but we’ll give her a pass on this one.
What about Sexson? Put it this way, compared to Sexson, Adrian Beltre is Alex Rodriguez. Sexson has hit fifteen homeruns this year. But, that’s about all he’s got going for him and he’s still below the league average in slugging percentage. He’s also got an on-base percentage below the OBP Mendoza line (.300). This from a first baseman who’s value to his team will consist largely of his offensive contributions. In fact, even accounting for the park in which he plays, according to Baseball Prospectus, Richie Sexson is worse than a replacement level first baseman in 2007. Not just below average – mind you, but worse than a typical bench player would be.
Look, if some guy in a bar blurts out that Sexson is a slugger who’s powering the Mariners’ success, because all he knows is that Sexson has fifteen homers, and that sounds like a decent number, who cares? But, a full-time professional sports commentator? Please. I am picking on Lawrence at the moment, because I just heard this the other night. But, this kind of sloppiness goes on all the time, not only in ESPN’s universe but in sports talk generally. And, maybe that is, in part, a consequence of the fact that the airwaves are being filled round-the-clock 365 days a year with sports chatter, virtually guaranteeing that, at some point, the conversation is going to venture into areas about which the commentators are ill-informed. But, relative to his position, Richie Sexson is the worst regular on the Mariners. And, Lawrence is identifying him as one of the keys to his team’s success. Can’t we do any better than that?