Moneyball Is Whiteyball? 

Cranky SF Chron columnist Bruce Jenkins writes today about the disappearance of the African-American professional baseball player. From comprising 25 percent of all MLB opening day rosters in 1975 to 10 percent this year, African Americans are becoming scarce on pro diamonds.

This is not a new trend. But Jenkins puts an interesting spin on it. He posits that if more black men played baseball, Billy Beane's sabermetric "Moneyball" approach -- high on-base percentage and home runs = good; stolen bases, defense and speed = overrated -- wouldn't work. Because walks and home runs are white people's thing, while stolen bases and defense are black people's thing, Jenkins implies. He cites a number of black NBA and NFL stars and wonders what would happen if they all had grown up playing baseball. Then he quotes an anonymous scout to back up his musings.

"There would be heavy emphasis on speed and quickness," said one American League scout. "We'd be back to the days when guys like Maury Wills, Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson had such a huge impact. Billy Beane (preacher of patience and station-to-station ball) would go out of business, because he wouldn't want any of those guys."

This is such baloney. First of all, extra base hits are not "station to station ball." They are "express train to victory ball."

Second, if Billy Beane had a team full of Rickey Hendersons, I think he'd not only stay in business, but business would be real, real good. (Whether he would want a team full of Lou Brocks or Maury Wills, neither of whom could hold a candle to Rickey, is another matter. But certainly Beane wouldn't sneeze at either of those two, at least in their primest of prime years, leading off his batting order. One further aside: compared to nostalgia, Maury Wills wasn't really that good. Only once in his career did he have a season OBP higher than .350.)

What Jenkins, whose anti-stathead, good-old-days stance seems at times so cliched I wonder if it's just his columnist persona, doesn't understand (or perhaps refuses to understand) is that Billy Beane's philosophy is a product of limited resources. When you can't afford a team full of A-Rods, Vlads, Bondses, etc, etc, you have to choose ballplayers with skills that are undervalued so you can get them on the cheap. Until recently, skills such as on-base percentage were undervalued by most.

The declining number of African American players and fans is a problem for MLB, to be sure. To paint Billy Beane as a white man stuck in and benefitting from a boring white man's strategic world is silly.


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