A. Statistics Painted White: The Dominate Narrative
Major League Baseball's history, more so than any other sport, is told through box scores and statistics.[i] Debates over the greatest players of all time frequently hinge on these supposedly objective historical numbers.[ii] Of course, these debates do not end with a simple comparison of numbers.[iii] Disagreements over the effects of the length of the season, performance enhancing drug use, the size of ballparks, and even the composition of the baseball muddle the supposed clarity of the record book.[iv] Much like the law, subjectiveness inevitably enters the process of deciphering baseball's history and current state.
Baseball Reference.com[v] is embarking on a community-based project to determine who the greatest baseball players of all time are.[vi] The "Elo System" is implemented to determine who voters believe the greatest baseball players of all time to be.[vii] By having voters (fans who log onto the site) choose whom they believe the better of two statistically similar players, the rating system clearly reflects who baseball fans believe to be the greatest players.[viii] Fans are free to use any subjective analysis they choose, however the system mitigates inaccuracies resulting from inaccuracies such as fans choosing players from their favorite teams.[ix]
The results on the MLB EloRater support the notion that there exists a white-dominated narrative of baseball's greatest players. First and foremost, because there are MLB statistical minimums in order to placed in the rankings, Negro League players are completely disregarded.[x] However, pre-integration white players are very well represented on the list.
Predictably, despite never playing a single non-exhibition game with blacks, Babe Ruth is the highest rated positional player on the list.[xi] Ruth's former teammate Lou Gehrig, who also played their entire career in segregated baseball, places second, ahead of the batter's list highest rated black player, Willie Mays.[xii] Fourth place belongs to another white player, Ted Williams, whose career was played both in segregated and integrated baseball.[xiii] Fifth on the batter's list is a second black player, Hank Aaron.[xiv]
A few trends emerge after a study of the remaining members of the top 30 batters on the EloRater. Over one third (11/30) of the top 30 are white players who played their entire careers before integration in 1947 (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, Tris Speaker, Mel Ott, Eddie Collins, Hank Greenburg, Charlie Gehringer, and Al Simmons).[xv] Including the four players (Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Johnny Mize, and Joe DiMaggio) whose careers spanned across integration, half of the fan-voted top 30 batters of all time played at least part of their career before African American players were allowed to play.[xvi] There are only six African American players (Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Ernie Banks) and one Latino (Roberto Clemente) in the top 30.
The MLB EloRater top 30 pitchers of all time list displays an even greater discrepancy between white and African American players. The top five pitchers are all pre-integration white players (Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Pete Alexander).[xvii] The is only one African American (Bob Gibson) and one Latino (Pedro Martinez) pitcher listed.[xviii]The EloRater reflects the fans buying into the dominant group narrative. That narrative tells the story of the greatness of white players, especially pre-integration players. Further, many pre-integration players and managers vile racism is masked, as only their achievements are highlighted. This narrative is supported by two flawed ideals. First, there is no "asterisk" to tarnish inflated pre-integration records or to bolster statistics for African American players subjected to racial abuse. Second, modern day advanced statistics incorrectly equate pre-integration statistics with post-integration statistics.
[i] Baseball: 1st Inning
[v] Baseball Reference.com is a popular online baseball statistical database.
[vi] MLB EloRater, BaseballReference.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com/about/elo.shtml (Last visited April 5, 2014).
[vii] Id. (A complete explanation of the complicated mathematics used to determine which players are paired against one another is outside the scope of this article.)
[x] Id. (Although this omission is not mentioned in the description of the rating system)
[xi] MLB EloRater ratings, BaseballReference.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com/friv/ratings.cgi#ratings (Last visited April 5, 2014).