Sunday, October 26, 2014

MLB's African-American Pitchers -- A Dying Breed?

A Philadelphia middle-school little leaguer has a higher public profile -- what do they call it, Q factor or something? -- than any MLB starting pitcher over the past several seasons or so who happened to be, like Mo'ne Davis, African-American. I'd even speculate that she's more widely recognized than any black big-leaguer since Barry Bonds.

Friday's Straight Line looked back at the season that broke Baseball's "color line" and initiated the "ajarring" of a good many other societal doors.

Today's "take" actually better fits the theme of my blog, as it involves an ironical consequence that seems to have played out over the decades of aftermath to this historic breakthrough. While the initial period of integration -- with more than its share of bush-league resistance, mind you -- enabled the emergence of Mudcat Grant's Black Aces, the flow of African-American athletes (particularly pitchers) to the National Pastime has slowed to a trickle.

Football and basketball teem with Black American athletes, the NHL seems to feature more players of color than ever before -- but the diversity in baseball in these global times stems from south (the Caribbean) and east (Asia).

Consider these numbers -- Since Opening Day of 2011, nearly 500 different pitchers have started a regular-season game, 291 in the 2014 Season of Debilitating Arm Injury alone. A whopping nine of these pitchers are African American, one of them a military kid who was actually born in Germany. That's over 9,700 regular season games, of which 616 were started by these nine men.

Five of the nine have drawn a starting assignment in each of these four seasons. How many do you think you can name? All but one played for multiple teams during that stretch. The easy answers are David Price, now with Detroit, and the Yankees' CC Sabathia (though the slimmed down CC's 2014 was derailed after just eight starts). German-born journeyman Edwin Jackson gave his employer, currently the Cubs, 30 starts for the eight consecutive year. San Diego's Tyson Ross along with Jerome "Rent-Don't-Own" Williams (who threw for three teams in 2014) round out this quintet.

James McDonald (who hasn't worked since April of 2013 and dwells on the Cubbies' DL for now), Chris Archer (a full-time starter for the Rays this year), the Mariners' young Taijuan Walker and old war-horse Dontrelle Willis (thirteen 2011 starts for Cincinnati) complete the list.

African-Americans on the World Series Mound: A Little Quiz

Since Jackie Robinson entered the Major Leagues in 1947, there have been 34 African-American pitchers who have worked in the 68 subsequent Fall Classics. Exactly half of these players have been awarded at least one starting assignment.

Some of the questions alone are likely to "make you go Hmm" -- and the answers may make you look like this. (A mystery-resolving link is provided.)

Here we go ...

Who was the last African-American pitcher to earn a winning decision in a World Series game?

Who was the first African-American ever to pitch in a World Series game?

Which African-American pitcher has appeared in the most World Series (5)?

Name the Hall of Fame manager who started African-American pitchers in Games 6 & 7 of the same World Series.

Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe threw a five-hit complete game in his 1949 World Series debut. What five-time Yankee All-Star out-dueled him in that memorable Game1?

Who was the last African-American starting pitcher to earn a winning World Series decision for a National League team?

True or False? Vida Blue earned a 7-out save in his initial World Series appearance.

Who is the only African-American to pitch in the World Series for a National League team in the 1990’s?

Which African-American pitcher has appeared in three World Series for three different teams?

Which was the first MLB team to utilize two African-American pitchers in the same World Series?

Since Dwight Gooden started Game 5 of the 1986 World Series for the Mets, who is the only African-American pitcher to start a World Series game for a National League team?

Answers available here.