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?

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10 Responses to “Tidbits – July 10”

  1. Nice job here. Way to not play the homer and call out a Carolina alum for an exceptionally short-sighted argument. There’s a lot of reasons that there are fewer Black players, but you make a good case for Title IX not being one of them. And that was definitely a “swing-and-a-miss” by Lawrence on the Mariners. Good analysis.

  2. Sportsdiva Says:

    Regarding pro’s in sports media with momentary lapses of credibility…

    I’ve never heard her or that show and I wonder if there is a free style aspect to their show where its hard to tell what will come up at any given moment and so you just do the sports-bar blurbs that may not be based on much relevant knowledge. And I’m talking about the others who occassionally show the same ineptness when it comes to certain topics.
    Or maybe these people just don’t prep at all??
    And would it be that taboo to pull yourself out of the part of discussion where you’re proffering knowledge and maybe question the others who are more knowledgeable in an attempt to help those like you, including your listeners, understand more?
    There’s got to be a better way than just talking for the sake of talking, ya know.

  3. Is there any good that come from a comment that begins:

    “I don’t mean to sound sexist, but….”?

  4. Ken – yeah, there can never be any good coming from that. If you have to preface your statement with that disclaimer, then you’ve just invalidated your statement.

  5. Yeah, in general I get tired of the argument that I hear in various media forums, and it seems, everywhere…that all kids need is freedom. Well, I know from teaching, that, as you say dwil, most of the kids I teach are whip-smart. What distinguishes them is opportunity. I teach in a poorer area and school budgets are crap. But don’t tell me that kids in Orange County or Palos Verdes or something are smarter than my kids because otherwise that just suggests that my kids just don’t want it enuff….which is bullshit. It’s heartbreaking seeing these kids get older, grow up, and knowing what few opportunities are available to them as largely black and Latino young people. But I can’t tell ‘em too much and I just have to do like Bill Cosby said and say “I want them to get a running start….before they hit the wall.” That’s not to say, of course, that many won’t succeed…but when I think of the stupid rich kids I went to school with and how many of them got cushy jobs and then how much talent is being squandered…….well, let’s say that anger would make Lewis Libby’s sentence, had he served it, very unpleasant.

  6. Oh, I’m sorry…jweiler…my bad. And yeah, Beltre just blows. Sorry, I’m still a bitter Dodger fan for whom that guy was a hell of an infielder but he had one monster year during his contract year…not saying definitively he was gaming for that big deal but…..his home run numbers, average were always .270, 20 HRs, 80 ribbies…..and one could see such potential. Then he comes thru wit’ .330, or whatever it was, 48 HRs, about 900 ribbies. I don’t judge the guy coz I don’t know the reason and he always seemed like a good guy, a gamer…but….his numbers have returned to their pre-’04 levels with the Ms.

  7. What?! Are you expecting sportscasters to actually talk intelligent sports? Come on now. You don’t expect basketball players to be able to shoot, or baseball players to be able to catch do you? How about a little realism here. Oh wait…

  8. “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”

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Dan Patrick was replaced with Kim Kardashian…that’s where the sports media is headed…..its all one big entertainment arena, information be damned.

  9. Sportsdiva Says:

    Miranda,
    LMFAO!!! At Dan Patrick being replaced with Kim K.
    But the laughter is followed by a sigh because these are indeed strange times…and the media is broken in so many ways.

    I am just completely embarassed by the AJC.

  10. You are right on about Amy Lawrence. You know who else is horrible? Linda Cohn. She was working the Dan Patrick slot last week. SHe needs to stick to READING sports news on SC.

    However, I disagree with much of your discussion about the lack of african-american/poor players in college and MLB.

    I can see how the lack of baseball scholarships could be a INFLUENCED by Title IX. If there are a shortage of scholarships available, why would a gifted, two-sport athlete go with baseball over football? Or maybe a parent/coach/mentor might steer a young athlete where there is more opportunity. Much more opportunity.

    And where have you seen facts that support, this statement… “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?” I admit, I DO NOT know numbers of african-american/poor baseball players in high school. However, I am VERY cynical that there is anything resembling a “flood” of them. I see baseball at lower levels locally and on tv… not many african-americans, AT ALL. I’ve seen plenty of high school baseball and the Little League World Series is on presently and these are pretty good indicators, I think. I cannot, admittedly, know the economic situation of a player, but I am pretty sure I generally can tell if someone is black. (Again, that’s not 100%, but I can usually tell.)

    Again, my point is that I think it IS POSSIBLE that Title IX could be a factor. Albeit, probably small. Much more influential… I think a players economic situation CAN influence whether they play baseball at a high level. It generally DOES cost a lot of money to travel with elite teams.

    Also, I think that baseball, more than football and basketball utilize “learned” skills. Yes athleticism is great and hand-eye coordination is imperative, but the latter can be developed. Hitting and throwing is a learned skill. Instruction costs money. Football relies mostly on athleticism. Running, leaping, tackling, etc, is not a “learned” skill. OF COURSE these skills can be enhanced with instruction, but if you run a 5.9 40 in high school, you are not going to play WR in college and you are not going to ever run a 4.3. In basketball, the only real skills that you can teach is how to properly shoot and handle the ball. (And clearly these aren’t always prerequisites for succeeding in the sport). Again, I’m not saying that football and basketball players don’t need to be smart or that instruction/coaching is not necessary. It is simply an observation that baseball requires more learned skill and very few players are born with the ability to hit a curve ball.

    I know I got long winded and nobody is probably reading, but it’s just my thoughts. Bottom line, I think you are wrong about the “flood” of African-Americans in high school baseball. And I don’t live in Iowa or Idaho.

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