On Jackie Robinson Day, April 15, 2016, Fewer Blacks, More Overseas Players

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

April 14, 2016

Tomorrrow, Jackie Robinson Day, Major League Baseball will celebrate the anniversary of the first African-American player to break the color line in 1947. As MLB Commissioners and team owners have done in past years, they publicly bemoan the diminishing number of black Americans in baseball, and vow to work overtime to restore them to their once prominent position. Today’s rosters have only a few black players who in total represent about 8 percent of all players.

MLB systematically displaces black American players.

The truth, however, is the owners, with the blessing of the commissioner’s office, have systematically displaced American players with Dominicans who they can sign more cheaply, and bring to the U.S. on a P visa which has no numerical cap. The P visa was created during the George W. Bush administration. Bush, a former Texas Rangers partner, was sympathetic to appeals from his owner buddies for the freer flow of international players, and he promoted the P with Congress.

Now American players face another threat, Cubans. While Cubans have long had a presence in major league baseball, President Obama’s commitment to normalize, as he calls it, relations with the Communist country will mean more players from the island.

Few fans think of playing baseball as a job, but that’s exactly what it is. Players sign contracts, have reporting times, answer to their managers, and have specific responsibilities to carry out. And baseball is not just a job; it’s the best job in the world. The minimum annual salary exceeds $500,000; the average is above $4 million; experienced bench players can earn $10 million, and the game’s best player hauls in $34 million. That’s not all. Even though the team feeds them before and after games, players get $100 day in meal money. They travel on charter flights, have outstanding medical benefits, and are members in America’s most powerful union.

Defaulting such great jobs to overseas players from not only the Dominican Republic and Cuba, but also Korea, Japan and Taiwan, is inexcusable. But it certainly has lined the owners’ pockets. Baseball is a $9 billion industry. About 27.5 percent of all players are foreign-born.

Owners insist that these players are the cream of the world’s baseball crop, a claim similar to Silicon Valley’s that the H-1Bs they sponsor are the best. In truth, the imported baseball players are outstanding talents, but no one really knows if they’re better than Americans. The average fan can’t tell the difference between the Fresno State starting shortstop and the Caribbean player.

If baseball owners were sincerely interested in helping black Americans get back into baseball, then they’d have player camps in the U.S. to develop their skill sets. Instead, those camps are found exclusively in the Dominican Republic where, of the 30 MLB baseball franchises, 29 have a presence.

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