Why so few blacks in MLB? A convincing theory
Why are there now so few blacks in baseball? According to this very interesting CNNMoney.com article, by Chris Isidore,
The percentage of [American] black major league players is now 8.4 percent ... That's a touch less than half the level it was at only 10 years ago. Some teams, such as the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros, have no black players on their rosters.Why is that? Where have all the black players gone?
For one thing, Isidore writes, major-league teams are devoting more and more of their scouts to check out players outside the United States. That's because those players aren't eligible for the draft, and can be signed directly. If you scout a player in Louisiana, there's only a 1-in-30 chance you'll wind up with his rights. But if you nurture a prospect in Venezuela, you have a pretty good chance of getting him to sign a contract with you.
But, according to Isidore, there's another important factor, and that's the fact that (as documented in "Moneyball,") teams are increasingly drafting players out of college, instead of high school.
And more white players go to college than black players, for socio-economic reasons. Result: fewer black draft choices.
According to the article, when the draft began in 1965, 56% of drafted players were high-schoolers. In 2005, it was down to 35%. Since it probably takes 15 years for the full effect of those changes to show up in rosters, that seems like a pretty good explanation. I found Bill James' famous draft study from his 1984 newsletter. From James' charts, here are the proportions of draft choices who were high school players:
1965: 71% (article: 56%)
2005: 35% (from article)
I don't know for sure why James' 1965 figure doesn't match the article's. But James used a weighted formula (so early choices counted more than late choices), and only considered the top 50 draftees, so that's probably the difference.
In any case, if the numbers are correct, the percentage of high-school players fell slowly but steadily until 1979. Then, between 1979 and 2005, it dropped in half. One thing you could do to check further, is actually count what proportion of college players are white, compared to high-school players. That would help confirm the hypothesis.
But I think this theory is pretty good ... I bet this is a big part of the answer.