Tag Archives: Jackie Robinson

Black Players Were Held to a Higher Standard After Jackie Robinson Broke the Colour Barrier

In (unintentionally) keeping with one of the themes from the last post — let’s talk about baseball after Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier. Most people will tell you that even after Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in 1947, black players had to be that much better than white players before they were given a chance to play. Having not been alive in 1947, many might take the word of those that were. However, we don’t have to! Let’s take a quick detour.

In the mid-90s and especially the 2000s, sabermetrics began making its way into the fold. In short, sabermetrics is a more sophisticated way to analyze baseball statistics. From Fangraphs:

Sabermetrics is about trying to evaluate the sport more accurately. For decades, statistics like home runs, runs batted in, batting average, wins, and earned run average were all we had to determine which players were good, which were bad, and which were in between. But as gathering, collecting, and sharing information became easier, a group of baseball teams and analysts started to develop statistics that were slightly harder to track and disseminate, but ones that were a much better reflection of talent or performance.

The most obvious example of this is the difference between batting average and on-base percentage. A walk is a positive outcome for the batter, and while it isn’t as valuable as a single or a double, it is much better than making an out. Batting average completely ignores walks, meaning that it is failing to capture important information about the hitter. Beyond that, batting average and on-base percentage assume that each hit or time on base is equally valuable, when we know that extra base hits lead to more runs than singles and walks. So there needs to be a way to credit hitters for getting on base, but also for how much their particular way of reaching base is worth. Sabermetrics, at its heart, is about making sure we capture as much of that as possible.

One of the statistics to come out of sabermetrics is called “Wins Above Replacement.” Once again, from Fangraphs:

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic. WAR basically looks at a player and asks the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a minor leaguer or someone from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?” This value is expressed in a wins format, so we could say that Player X is worth +6.3 wins to their team while Player Y is only worth +3.5 wins.

Now that we know a bit more about sabermetrics and WAR, let’s get back to the 1950s and the colour barrier. As I said earlier, many might rely on the perceptions of those who were alive to witness baseball in the 1950s. However, we have a statistic like WAR that can help us better understand — empirically — whether black players really did have to play that much better to earn their spot on a team. From research published recently:

The data presented here provide support for anecdotal observations about racial bias in the major leagues. For decades, Black players who were promoted to the major leagues turned out to be more valuable players than White ones promoted at the same time.

Now that we know that there’s data to support the idea of this injustice, when do you think it ended? That is, when do you think that black players had to stop being that much better than white players? Before I read the research, I’m not sure what I would have guessed. Why don’t you take a second and think about what’s happened since 1950 and when you think this injustice has fallen away (or whether you think it’s still going on?) Again, from the research:

[Research] indicates that at least through 1975 (28 years after major league baseball was first integrated), Black players were still held to higher standards: simply put, they had to be better to reach the majors. After that point in time, the difference in eventual performance between White and Black players promoted to the major leagues was no longer significant.

So, it seems that in 1975, twenty-eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier, the goal was finally realized. Of course, as the last sentence in the above-quoted research says, ‘no longer significant.’ That doesn’t mean that there still wasn’t an prejudicial effect, but just that in measuring that effect via WAR, it was no longer significant after 1975.

The Society for American Baseball Research (the same group behind sabermetrics) put together some helpful visualizations of the baseball demographics from 1947 to 2012. In reviewing some of them, there isn’t any ‘obvious’ reason for why the prejudicial effect is no longer significant post-1975. I’ve included one of the graphs and encourage you to read the whole article as it talks about the decline in black players in MLB.

ResearchBlogging.orgNewman, L., Zhang, L., & Huang, R. (2015). Prejudice in Major League Baseball: Have Black Players Been Held to a Higher Standard Than White Players? Journal of Sport & Social Issues DOI: 10.1177/0193723515594211

Visualization and Sports: Accounting for Errors in Performance

There was a great article in Pacific Standard magazine last month that I really enjoyed called: “The Game Slowed Down.” It talks a great deal about visualization and sports. In reading through it, I was somewhat amazed at just how mainstream the idea of visualization has become.

“Mental rehearsal” isn’t a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but as I think back to my brief time as an elite athlete, visualization was hardly spoken of and certainly not openly encouraged by coaches or teammates. Lucky for me that it was something my parents taught me, so I had that early exposure to it, but I certainly think I would have benefited (and my teammates would have benefited) from group sessions where we all sat down as a team and went to “practice” by closing our eyes and visualizing our successful outcomes.

On that note, there was one passage in the article that pleasantly surprised me:

During the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, 18-year-old Shiffrin was asked if she was nervous about participating in her first Olympics. Her response was, well, these aren’t my first Olympics:

I’ve envisioned this moment for quite a while. I’ve visualized myself on the top step of the podium, and on the third step of the podium. I’ve envisioned myself crashing, because I know what mistake I (would have) made to crash, and I know I’m not going to do that in the race.

Running reps through her head—every sliver of ice on every turn, every scenario in which something didn’t go exactly right—prepared her for the biggest event of her life. When she made a mistake halfway through her second run, causing both of her skis to leave the ground—a big no-no in downhill slalom—she didn’t panic, over-correct the error, and tumble into the snow. Instead, she stretched out those vital milliseconds through practiced over-cranking, shifted her body back into the correct position, and quickly got back on track for the rest of the run.

That’s brilliant. When I used to visualize my performances, I don’t remember accounting for “errors” in my performance, but it certainly makes sense that one would want to be prepared for all scenarios and to do that, one would want to prepare for “errors” in one’s performance.

This reminds me of the study (that I can’t seem to find at the moment) about positive self-talk. Most people think that before a performance (be that sports, musical, or even a job interview), it’s best to tell one’s self that one is awesome or that one is great and that undoubtedly, they’re going to perform well. However, this study found that, instead of pumping one’s self up in this manner, it’s actually better if one asks one’s self how one is going to perform well. That is, if you’re applying for a job, instead of saying to yourself that you’re awesome and that you’re a perfect fit for the job, it’s better if you ask yourself how you’re going to get this job or how you’re going to do well in the interview to get the job. The research showed that by asking yourself these questions, it prompts your brain to come up with strategies or ways to do perform well.

“42” Demonstrates how Racism Persists 50 Years After the Civil Rights Act

During my self-imposed hiatus from writing, I saw “42.” This is the movie based on the life of the first black baseball player to play in Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson. As I was a baseball player, I knew the story, but there was still one scene that I wanted to mention here. If you haven’t seen the movie, me talking about this one scene probably won’t spoil the movie for you. It doesn’t have anything to do with the “plot,” but I thought it was really important.

The scene I’m talking about is after Jackie is already on the team with the Dodgers. He had played with the team for some time now and there was a road trip to Cincinnati. Cut to the scene in Cincinnati and we’re shown a father and son. The son is talking to the dad about being excited to see his favorite player (Pee Wee Reese) do well today. The dad is encouraging about Reese doing well today, too.

Jackie and the rest of the team take the field. Immediately, the demeanor of the dad changes and he starts hurling racial epithets at Jackie. The dad wasn’t the only person to be acting in this way. The other fans in the stands started following suit.

The part I want to focus on is the child’s perspective. In the scene, the child looks up at the dad as the dad continues his barrage. The child then looks back at the fans behind to see that they’re doing exactly the same thing. Social learning. The kid then begins saying racial slurs about Jackie. It’s enough to make your stomach turn.

If you ever wondered how racism has persisted in the US even though the Civil Rights Act passed almost 50 (!) years ago, this scene exemplifies it.