The Nub

‘Cool’-ness: What Baseball Lacks and U.S. Military Has in Excess

(Posted: 9/16/13; e-mail update 9/17)

The post-season heroics of David Price, ambulance Andrew McCutchen, generic Marlon Byrd, Delmon Young, Desmond Jennings, et al, suggest that the African-American presence is alive and well in baseball. We know that’s not the case: American blacks account for only eight percent of major leaguers. That so many of our best athletes (proportionally) are absent from the national pastime while they stand out in basketball and football, is more than just a sports-related anomaly. The absence speaks to the national scandal involving allocation of resources, part of the mega-problem of inequality.

Of more crucial concern to Baseball people, the comparatively few blacks in their sport diminishes its popularity – and therefore its profits – in the competition with the NFL and NBA. In last Sunday’s NY Times, Jonathan Nailer noted that the NFL’s TV ratings “exist in a whole other stratosphere” from those of MLB. Furthermore, the 2012 NBA ratings on ABC “were nearly double those of MLB on Fox.” Viewers like to see home-grown stars – like LeBron James and Adrian Peterson – performing in sports that are more physical, and often more violent, than baseball. As for the role of blacks on a broader popular basis, Nailer has this to say:

“Much has been made of the declining participation of blacks in baseball. Less has been said about the trickle-down effects of this in an era when hip-hop is such a powerful tastemaker in American culture. Baseball is not cool.”

What can be done? Instant replay next season will help generate a bit of new interest. In the long run, to get cool young blacks involved, Baseball must be prepared to help bridge the inequality gap. How? The commissioner, the owners and the union must be prepared to provide money to support baseball programs at underfinanced public schools, including arrangements for places to play. African-Americans in low-income urban areas have, we know, much readier access to hard-top basketball courts and confined strips of touch football space at local playgrounds. Baseball is doing a little of that work now. But the current aid it offers through the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner cities) system is spotty, and far from adequate, given the scope of the challenge.

There’s your game plan, Bud Selig: Make it happen – as your prime legacy – before you retire in 2015.

The U.S. military has an opposite problem involving blacks: their number – 20 percent – exceeds the percentage of African-Americans in our population. The title of a column by Al Hunt on points to the problem: “THE WIDENING GULF BETWEEN AMERICANS AND THEIR MILITARY.” Economic inequality has filled the services with low-income men and women – Latinos and whites, as well as cool blacks – who joined the military for a paying job. Hunt quotes General Stanley McChrystal lamenting how “unrepresentative of the population” are members ot the volunteer army. A return to the draft would be a remedy, but that, like a proportional raise in taxes, Hunt notes, is a “non-starter.” In the meantime, the attitude of many of us toward the military, as described by author and Vietnam vet Andrew Bacevich: “cordial indifference.”

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Intimidated: It was only NLDS openers for the Pirates and Braves, but they both looked outclassed by the Cardinals and Dodgers. Adam Wainwright and Carlos Beltran propelled the Cards over the Bucs, 9-1; Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez played similar roles with the Dodgers. On the basis of the first meetings, both winning teams seem to have more of two key assets – talent and depth – than their opponents.

Unintimidated: Rays Skipper Joe Maddon (quoted by the Times’ Tyler Kepner), on the positive rush his team gets, playing as visitors before charged-up home-town fans: “We like playing in front of big crowds. I think our guys are really good at breathing in the moment.”

Debacle: There was lots of disbelief to go around last Monday night, when both the Rays and Rangers had rosters of 37 players for their wild card tiebreaker. The rationale: It was the 163d regular-season game, so the stupid September call-up rules applied. Each year, press box people and broadcasters express the hope “that’s going to change.” When, Bud Selig, when?

Plain to See: John Smoltz (on TBS) on one seldom-mentioned way a manager knows it’s time to yank his pitcher: “Facial expressions. They can tell when a pitcher has lost confidence.”

Quiz: The most beautiful park east of San Francisco,” Wash Post columnist Tom Boswell (among others) calls it. Which baseball stadium is he referring to? No, not Busch Stadium, Camden Yards, Chase Field, CitiField, Citizens Bank Park, Nationals Park, Target Field, Turner Field, nor Yankee Stadium. Answer: PNCPark, Pittsburgh.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to, as well as requests for e-mail updates, are welcome. Note that only e-mailed comments can be addressed by the skipper. PreviousNubs may be found by scrolling below.)


About Richard Starkey

Dick Starkey handled media for former NY Governor Mario Cuomo, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and many other office-holders and candidates. He was sports editor of the Paris-based Herald Tribune. Perfect Pitch partner Robert Sullivan was the first to adapt focus groups to politics and has been called by Cuomo and others one of the "best" pollsters in the country.