Where's the Diversity?
For these Boston Bland Sox
Their Color is Mainly White
By Edward Shanahan
More than a few hours this summer squandered in tracking the Red Sox on television yields up a few thoughts, that are more socio-economic than sports-based.
Any viewer of capacity crowd after capacity crowd – until a record of 450 plus was set a few weeks ago - comes away with the sense that almost without exception Sox fans are apparently corporate, suburban and seemingly well off financially given the prices of tickets. The fans are also young, and most apparent of all is that the crowds are very white.
In addition, except for those upwardly mobile singles, Sox fans have lots of children and despite the cost of tickets parents are easily able to spring for pricey seats for children as young as 2 and 3 and keep them at night games sometimes as late as midnight, even as the kids struggle to stay awake. Much of this night baseball for young families is a consequence of the lack of day games, even on weekends, driven by the demands of television and the club’s lust for increased revenue.
What also is striking about the televised view of the games is that in many ways the face of the audiences, at least in Boston’s Fenway Park, is mirrored by the increasingly white and Anglo face of the home team itself.
While Latino and black players dominate the lineups of most of the teams around the Major Leagues, Boston’s team seems to be going in just the opposite direction. If Coco Crisp does not get the call in centerfield and Alex Cora at shortstop, the Sox more often than not will field an all-white team.
This would be a team that looks very much like the Red Sox players of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, when it was believed that Boston fans would much prefer to see white players perform on the hallowed Fenway turf. And at that time, there was some political pressure exerted on Sox ownership and management to introduce a little diversity into the composition of the team.
The fan pressure to diversify was not so much based on humanitarian or civil rights sentiments, but on the recognition that the team was doing poorly because it was not aggressive enough in signing better players because they might be a different color or speak a different language.
There was a hint that hiring policies of many of the Boston sports teams were traditionally dictated to some degree by the perceived racist views of local sports fans, maybe an unfair charge but one that persists even today.
Over time, more African-American and Latino players wore Boston uniforms, but still only in token numbers, and only if they were superstars, such as Luis Tiant, Mo Vaughn, Pedro Martinez, or Manny. Not many minority players stayed with the team for any length of time, but were replaced by other minority players. As the number of African American players in the Major Leagues has declined, the increase in the Latino players has exploded, but not to any measurable degree in Boston, except at shortstop where four or five different Latino players have been rotated through for only a season at a time.
Of course, despite the lack of player diversity, the Sox record of baseball success in the last few years has been impressive, unlike the barren years of the 1950s and 1960s and beyond. But, it should also be noted that it was the performances of Martinez, Ramirez and David Ortiz in recent years that had a huge impact on the overall team results.
As the playoffs begin, there is not much vitality to the bland, virtually all-white Red Sox team that will compete for the prize, but that, apparently, is the way the management of the team seems to like it, and maybe that satisfies the well-heeled suburbanites and corporate seat holders who fill up the park game after game, year after year. So why worry about diversity, because most of those who do can’t afford the price of a ticket anyway.
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