Last week, The New York Times’ writers Michael S. Schmidt and Andrew Keh shook the Major League Baseball diversity tree. What fell out was a disparity between the number of third-base and first-base coaching positions held by minorities. Only 23 percent of third-base coaches were minorities compared to 67 percent of first-base coaches.
One could envision the third-base coach wind-milling his arm wildly, willing the runner toward home plate while the TV announcer screams “He’s waiving him home!” The third-base coach is 33 percent likely to be a minority, but what about the wailing announcer? The voices telling us safe or out at home, the voices of a Major League Baseball world which is 40 percent minorities, are predominantly the voices of white males.
Major League Baseball play-by-play announcer is a position unlike any other in sports. It’s more than a position; it’s a relationship with a community of baseball fans. It’s a full-time position held by a total of three minorities. he Angels’ Victor Rojas, the Blue Jays' Buck Martinez (who became play-by-play in 2010 after years of color) and the Mariners’ Dave Sims.
Add the 30 teams’ play-by-play announcers, analysts and studio hosts, there are 137 personalities (according to MLB.com broadcast pages and not including Spanish broadcasts) there are 17 which are either Black or Hispanic or about 12.4 percent. Only Gary Matthews, Tony Gwynn, Ken Singleton, Dave Nelson, Eddie Murray, Rod Allen and Frank White hold the authoritative color-analyst position. Keith Hernandez is the only Hispanic color-analyst.
Major League Baseball made serious efforts over the past 10 years to ensure minority candidates get their chance on the field and in the front office. MLB received a grade of A for racial hiring by the University of Central Florida’s Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The league received an A in the league office and A- for professional administration at the team level. In the MLB diversity report, a single paragraph notes that four percent of broadcasters (both radio and TV) are Black and 17 percent are Hispanic (presumably including Spanish broadcasts).
The NBA features 18 percent Black announcers and nine percent Hispanic between TV and radio, the NFL has 14 percent Black and 18 percent Hispanic (also likely including Spanish broadcasts). The NFL’s numbers went up more than 10 percent from 1998-2008, in Major League Baseball, the numbers for Black announcers have been stagnant, even dipping to three percent at times since 2002.
How do national broadcasts stack up?
National in-studio broadcast teams such as Baseball Tonight on ESPN feature strong diversity, using Hispanic, Black and white broadcasters such as Eduardo Perez, Dave Winfield and Aaron Boone respectively. ESPN lists Chris Berman, Bob Carpenter, Dave O’Brien, Dan Shulman and Gary Thorne as play-by-play, all are white. Two of the six current ESPN TV color analysts are black, none are Hispanic.
FOX Sports featured several guest analysts for their playoff coverage over the past few years including Ozzie Guillen and Luis Gonzalez, but their regular lineup lacks diversity. FOX Baseball’s A-team is Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, and studio group is headed by host Chris Rose along with analysts Eric Karros and Mark Grace – all white.
MLB Network has limited broadcast teams, usually with the legends Bob Costas and Jim Kaat calling the games, but their in-studio analyst crew of 24 includes two Black analysts and no Hispanic analysts. Comparatively, of the 35 NFL Network personalities, 11 are Black, one Hispanic, more than 30 percent minorities.
Causes for a lack of minority representation across baseball broadcast booths could be the language barrier for former Hispanic players or a simple drought in black players in Major League Baseball. But, Blacks are underrepresented by five percent (nine percent players, four percent broadcasters) and, many of today’s Hispanic players are American-born or speak fluent English.
Another explanation could be that once play-by-play announcers gain their position, they don’t leave. Jon Miller (Giants) and Vin Scully (Dodgers) are prime examples; both have been calling games longer than most players have been alive.
Slim opportunities play a role; many teams hire part-time play-by-play announcers from other teams or from their triple-A team, presumably after many years of experience. Teams don’t fire play-by-play announcers like they do managers, GM’s and coaches. Nonetheless, other major sports leagues have achieved gains in minorities in prominent play-by-play and color-analyst positions.
Matthew Coller is a senior staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter
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