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Black & White Study Follow-up
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Following up on James’ 20 year old study in which he found “black” baseball rookies outperformed and had longer careers than the most similar “white” rookies of the same era (‘50s and ‘60s). I have tried to reproduce that study for the 80s and surrounding years to see if the results would even be the similar.


Using Baseball Reference I went back to their lists of positional regulars for each American League team (including Milwaukee) 1980-1994. For each player who began his career as a regular in that time, I checked Baseball Reference’s list of 10 most statistically similar players at the age he reached 500 career at bats. These similarity lists are based on Bill James’ similarity scores. For each of these players I took the most similar player at the same age of the opposite skin color and who played in the same era (extending it to anyone who started their career as a regular from 1970-1995) and added these players and their career stats to my list of matches. Many players did not have such matches in their top 10 most similar list, so they were omitted. Some players matched the same player. I chose not to use the same player for more than one match-up, so I looked for the best alternative whenever there was one. I also threw out cases where one of the players matched was still going strong as an active player, yet was still behind statistically to his pairing. Manny Ramirez and Will Clark was one such pairing. Ivan Rodriguez and Robbie Alomar was another. Pete Incaviglia’s best match was Manny, so he gets included anyway.


The players match-ups did include some National Leaguers – quite a few, in fact. If the player started his career in the 80s or early 90s and later played regularly for an AL team before 1995, I looked for a match-up. Of course, if any match-up was a National Leaguer, he was included. I didn’t go through each of the NL teams looking for match-ups, however, because I thought 108 pairings were enough – and I like to pretend I have a life.


The mental image I had of all these players wasn’t always accurate. I never recall realizing Bobby Meachum, for example, was “Afro-American”, so I had to double check most players. It isn’t so easy sometimes to determine what someone’s ancestral background is. Apparently, most “Afro-Americans” do not have pure 15th century African ancestry to begin with. For more background you can check out this transcript of Prof. Joseph Graves PBS interview on the illusion of race. Some players – particularly some Latin-American players have a light brown skin tone that makes them too indeterminate for this study. My tool for finding the player’s looks comes mostly from Google Images. However, if a player has a common name – and most Latin players particularly have common names, it was necessary to go straight to a site called Baseball Almanac that has an unbelievably thorough collection of autographed baseball cards for viewing. It is not complete, however. Sometimes I had to resort to my old Who’s Whos.


If we roughly measure current performance by OBA + Slg.A, then, perhaps, it is fairest to measure career performance for the sake of facility by times on base + total bases or H + BB + TB. Let’s call it TOPS: Total On-base Plus Slugging. In James’s study the “blacks” of the 50s and 60s had overwhelmingly superior careers to “whites” of the same era and who had the most similar rookie seasons. In this follow-up study, the white guys - comparing first 500-1000 at bats - actually came out ahead in TOPS  (H+BB+TB) by the very modest margin of 328,542 to 325,778. However, if you add 1 point for a stolen base, the margin almost completely disappears: 336,652 to 336,552. Besides stolen bases (10,774 to 8,110), the “blacks” ended their careers with more home runs (13,680 to 12,788). The whites had the edge in hits (109,457 to 108,552) and a more significant advantage in walks (46,446 to 43,882). The two groups were almost dead even in total bases with the “blacks” “winning” by less than one half of one percent (173,344 to 172,639). I don’t dare attempt to make any conclusion from this – other than to make the obvious claim that whatever differences there may be, they are miniscule. Those are the results, decide what you may.


Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff – depending on your idea of fun. Let’s look as some of the specific match-ups:


The biggest difference in career TOPS I found was:


Bernie Williams (7161) / Rick Sofield (402) – What happened to this guy? He looked like an excellent prospect as a 20 year old at the high A level. He was promoted a little too aggressively for his lackluster journey through AA and AAA. He wasn’t terrible for a 23 year old rookie playing for Minnesota – hitting as well as 23 year old Bernie Williams in his first season. Then suddenly at 24 - Sofield couldn't hit whatsoever! Then, he quit pro baseball! The end!


Other big differences in career H+BB+TB I found (in order):

Steve Finley (7523) / Mike Felder (1461)

Barry Bonds (11086+*) / Tom Brunansky (5041)

Fred McGriff (8253) / Greg Walker (1287)

Rick Henderson (5725) / Rick Manning (3612)

Rafael Palmeiro (9756) / Rondell White (4300+)

Omar Vizquel (5153+) / Curtis Wilkerson (1486)

Brady Anderson (5384) / Stan Jefferson (516)

Jay Bell (5892) / Andres Thomas (1255)

Mark McGwire (6582) / Kal Daniels (2150)

Greg Vaughn (5210) / Melvin Nieves (958)

Jeff Bagwell (7928) / Alvin Davis (3783)

Harold Baines (8532) / Jeff Burroughs (4707)

Manny Ramirez (7089+) / Pete Incaviglia (3300)

Jay Buhner (4539) / Roy Foster (812) 3727

Eric Young (4778) / Scott Leius (1078) 3700

Tony Phillips (6305) / Kevin Stocker (2607)

Roberto Kelly (4315) / Bruce Bosclair (657)

Julio Franco (7067+) / Robb Thompson (3486)

Jorge Orta (4521) / Glen Hoffman (1377)

Larry Walker (6977) / Dave Henderson (4024)

Brian Jordan (4154) / Matt Miske (1202)

Dante Bichette (5444) / Henry Rodriguez (2518)

Jim Edmonds (5787+) / Ivan Calderon (2670)

Brett Butler (6580) / Lance Johnson (3993)

Kirk Gibson (4957)/ Jeff Hammonds (2476)

Chad Curtis (3162) / Rich Coggins (750)

Lee Mazilli (3296) / Milt Cuyler (902)

Brook Jacoby (3491) / Chris Brown (1127)

Lou Whitaker (7217) / Steve Sax (4988)

Mike Devereaux (2745) / Joe Wallis (629)

Kevin Mitchell (3813) / Butch Hobson (1907)

Chipper Jones (6508+)/Danny Tartabull (4619)

Frank Thomas (7773+) / Don Mattingly (6042)

Jim Rice (7251) / Kent Hrbek (5563)

Johnny Ray (3882) / Tim Teufel (2432)

Toby Harrah (6033) / Mark McLemore (4587)

Cecil Fielder (4490) / Glen Davis (3073)

Sammy Sosa (7710+)/Jack Clark (6344) – yes, Clark was once a speedy outfielder 1366


The closest match-up where both players had over 2000 Total Bases was:


Albert Belle and Tim Salmon. The had very different career arcs, but they started off very similarly and ended up with very similar totals with Belle edging Salmon by 5709 to 5602 TOPS.


The next closest battle of big careers was squeaked out by:

Joe Carter (6621) over  Paul O’Neill (6438), followed by a battle of Latin-Caribbean stars Cuban:

Jose Canseco (6414) over Puerto Rican Juan Gonzalez (6069)


Here are a few other 2000+ TB pairings in order of career TOPS closeness:

Pedro Guerrero (4815) / Kevin Seitzer (4360)

Tino Martinez (6054) / Mo Vaughn (4521) – surprising, but a long career can rack up the points

Devon White (5553) / Kevin McReynolds (4387)


+ and counting (sometime in April ’07)

* could pass Cobb and Musial into third on the all-list list in TOPS this year. If Bonds keeps playing Rose could be passed in 2008. Hank Aaron is comfortably in no. 1 in TOPS with 12,029. Recent retirees Eddie Murray, Ricky Henderson and Ralf Palmeiro no. 10-12 on this list. Dave Winfield, Cal Ripken, and George Brett are 16-18. Molitor is 20th and sees Chris Biggio in his rear view mirror approaching at 22nd. Robin Yount is 27th. Harold Baines is 32nd. Ken Griffey has made his way to 35th.


Here is my article on all-time lists written and compiled in June of 2006. Here is an update of OB +TB (TOPS) made at the end of April 2007.

John Carter