The Persistent Color Line: Specific Instances of Racial Preference in Major League Player Evaluation Decisions after 1947. (Articles)

Article excerpt

You are in charge of a Major League baseball club. You are the decision maker responsible for determining which players will be included on the active big league roster and which ones will be farmed out. The measure of your success would seem to be exceedingly simple: how many games the team wins. It would stand to reason, then, that your motivation in deciding which players to assign to the regular season roster would be equally simple: you will choose the best players available to you to comprise your team.

The ball club you're responsible for is a particularly good one: you won the National League pennant last year. Your lineup features a host of young power hitters, which is your team's central strength; your pitching staff was good enough to win with last year, but fundamentally, yours is a ball club that wins by overwhelming the opponent with offense. Your team has starcaliber players--excelling both offensively and defensively--at six positions: catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, right field, and center field. Your third baseman isn't much of a hitter, but he's a terrific fielder. The one position, other than pitching, that could stand an upgrade would be left field: you used a motley platoon there last year, with five guys seeing action in more than 25 games, and with no one getting as many as 225 at bats.

Your farm system offers you three outfielders to choose from to add to the big league roster this year:

Player A: A twenty-five-year-old left-handed hitter. A strong arm but otherwise below average defensively in either left or right field; certainly not a center fielder. Average speed, good power. Hit very well last year at the double-A level (.328, 28 home runs), but has seen only 20 games of triple-A action in his career as well as 64 Major League games over two previous seasons, in which he batted .265.

Player B: A twenty-six--year-old left-handed hitter. A below-average arm but otherwise a decent defensive outfielder in left or right, capable as a backup center fielder. Good speed, not much power. Has shown excellent on-base capability throughout his Minor League career, hitting for average and drawing many walks; last year he hit .336 with 3 home runs in double-A. Has never played triple-A ball; has 8 games of Major League experience, in which he hit .083.

Player C: A twenty-eight-year-old switch hitter. Good enough defensively to be a regular Major League center fielder. Blazing speed and very good power. Has played the past season and a half at the triple-A level and has simply torn it up: last year he batted .326 with 17 homers, with a league-leading 154 runs scored, a league-leading 207 hits, a league-leading 19 triples, and a league-record 89 stolen bases. Base stealing is so devastating that, seven times last year, the opposing team employed the bizarre strategy of walking the pitcher intentionally ahead of his lead-off spot in the order as a means of blocking his path. Described as "the greatest attraction in the history of the International League." (1)

Which of these three players do you choose to help with your team's leftfield situation? If your choice is to get player C into your lineup as quickly as you possibly can, and to tell players A and B to get out of his way, then your choice is eminently logical.

However, if your choice is to sell player C to another National League team (where he will go on to win the starting center-field job and be named Rookie of the Year, hitting .273 with 18 homers and leading the Major Leagues in stolen bases), and if your choice is to keep both players A and B and give both of them a shot at your left-field job (in which both will struggle, batting .207 in 34 games and .205 in 38 games, respectively), then you will have made precisely the same choices as did the actual team in this historical situation.

Having made these choices, this ball club-getting another year of mediocre performance from its crew of left fielders-failed to repeat as National League champion, winning 8 fewer games than in the previous year. …