The below post will be quite upsetting and controversial. If you did not score at least 1400 on the SAT (combined math and verbal), then you should not read it. You are unlikely to be smart enough to follow the argument. Needless to say, that doesn’t mean you are a bad person or any less an Eph than I am, but there are certain essays that will be difficult for you to understand. This is one of them.

Those of adequate intelligence should feel free to click below.

Apologies for shielding this essay from the less intelligent among our fellow Ephs. Real truth is too upsetting for them!

Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent’s ’60 recent New York Times op-ed on “Building a Better Umpire” (previous discussion here) included this passage:

[A] few fundamental problems with professional baseball’s umpiring system should be fixed.

Major League Baseball does not train its own umpires, and therefore it has not established practices that would attract the best people. Those who wish to enter the profession attend schools run by former umpires. But these are entirely private businesses; the commissioner of baseball doesn’t control the curriculum, manage the training or do anything to lure people of all races and ethnic groups to become umpires.

What does race or ethnicity have to do with being an umpire? Let’s go to the photographic evidence and check out the 6 umpires selected by Major League Baseball (MLB) to work the National League Championship Series this October.

ALCS Umpires

What do these men have in common? As far as Fay Vincent is concerned, they are too white.

Think this is an usual result? Here are the six umpires selected for the World Series, featuring Professor Sam Crane’s beloved Yankees.

world series

Since 87% of baseball umpires are white, this is hardly surprising. (One of the umpires in the American League Championship Series was black/Hispanic.)

In the excellent As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires, Bruce Weber writes (page 295):

Though no one will admit it, or at least volunteer it, the other factor that enters into the selection of World Series umpires is diversity. The ethnic imbalance in the major league umpiring corps is, well, shameful, and in recent seasons it has clearly become important to the commissioners office to counteract the impression that baseball has been lax in dealing with it.

Anyone know why that was not true this year? My guess would be that the umpires union prevented Major League Baseball from instituting the sort of diversity that it [MLB] would prefer at the World Series. Strong unions do an excellent job (as the recent Supreme Court case involving fire fighter (and union member) Frank Ricci demonstrated) at protecting their (usually white) members from the diversity demands of their employers.

But the vagaries of the World Series aside, the real question is: Why does Fay Vincent think that the racial composition of the baseball umpire corps is a problem that needs to be “fixed?” Why does Vincent care about the race of the next triple AAA umpire to be promoted to the big leagues? Shouldn’t the primary consideration be the skill of the umpires under consideration?

Keep in mind that there is zero evidence of any racial bias in umpire selection today. Weber writes (pages 151 — 152 ):

Professional baseball isn’t exactly color-blind when it comes to umpires; only six African-Americans have been on the major league umpire roster in the history of the big leagues, the first not until 1966, nineteen years after Jackie Robinson was a rookie with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

So it was noticeable to me that Ben [an African-American umpire] never mentioned being black during our time together in Boise; at one point I asked him if he thought it affected the way people saw him on the field and he shrugged. Nah, he said. A few months later, after his first season, I asked him again, and he told me that he didn’t feel that being black had any bearing on his umpire experience at all, that the only racial comment he’d heard on the field came from a black coach, who during an argument had called him “bro.” That bothered him, he said, the presumption that they had a bond.

My impression is that Ben isn’t unique in that way. I’ll have more to say about the dearth of black umpires in baseball a bit later on, but the black umpires I met in both the major and the minor leagues were uniformly unwilling to accuse the game of institutional racism.

Good news! Right? If there is no racism in the selection/training/promotion of baseball umpires, then the resulting racial distribution, whatever it may be, is fair. (If there is actual racism then, obviously, something should be done.)

Perhaps a racism/no-racism binary choice ignores the subtitles of race in America today. It could be, for example, that white minor league managers/players are more likely to argue obstreperously with non-white minor league umpires. This excessive argumentation makes the umpires look bad to the non-racist Major League officials evaluating them. In that case, the rating process is non-racist, but the underlying racism of American society, as exhibited by the tendency of white players/managers to argue differently depending on the race of the umpire, causes non-white umpires to be evaluated less highly than they would be if American society were not racist.

One might also make the argument, similar to the arguments made for affirmative action in admissions to Williams, that even if the selection process is fair and even if the underlying racism of American society plays no role, Vincent is correct to push for greater diversity in the umpire corps because it will lead to better results for both the umpires as a whole and for the games they supervise. (Leave aside the merits of these arguments for a moment.)

For example, perhaps more Hispanic umpires (at least Spanish-speaking ones) would be able to communicate more effectively with players/managers whose first (or only) language is Spanish. An umpire crew that included at least one African-American might be better able than an all white crew to decrease tension in a inter-racial dispute following a hit batter. (Recall our discussion 5 years ago about the argument between former baseball coach Dave Barnard and VISTA.) So, one could ague, and perhaps Vincent believes, that reserving, say, 8 of the next 10 Major League umpire openings for non-whites is a good idea, even if those umpires are somewhat less talented than the white umpires who would have gotten the job under the current process. Such a guidelines might lead to better performance for baseball umpires as a whole. It might also lead to more productive/enjoyable work for the white umpires who maintain their jobs.

This is exactly the argument that is (reasonably!) made for affirmative action at Williams. Admitting less qualified blacks/Hispanics improves the educational experience for everyone. Perhaps the same is true for umpires in baseball.

The one group made clearly worse off are the white umpires left in the minor leagues who would have been elevated otherwise, just as the most important victims of affirmative action at Williams are the white and Asian-American applicants who would have gotten accepted in a race blind system but who are rejected today. Fortunately for those in favor of affirmative action in umpiring or admissions, both groups of victims are essentially invisible.

But the really interesting aspect of this dispute is not what Vincent and his supporters say, nor is it the arguments that we might offer in support of their position. The interesting aspect is what they don’t say. Vincent is concerned that not enough non-whites are umpires. But does his concern extend to other job categories besides umpires and other racial groups besides blacks/Hispanics?

Here are the 11 starting defensive players (as of October) on the New York Jets.

Jets Defense

The Jets were the first team that I looked at, chosen because they are from the same city as the Yankees. I only looked at their 11 starting players on defense to provide a close comparison (in raw numbers) to the 12 umpires pictured above. (I did cheat by looking at the defense instead of the offense because I knew that African-Americans are even more over-represented on NFL defenses than they are on offenses. (True in college football as well.) But since African-Americans are at least as over-represented at all non-kicker positions as white umpires are in Major League Baseball, choosing the 11 defensive starters does no harm.)

17 of the 18 umpires in the League Championship Series and World Series were white. For Fay Vincent and his supporters, this is a sign that we need to “fix” the process by which umpires are trained and selected.

10 of the 11 starting defensive players on the Jets are black. For Fay Vincent and his supporters, this fact is an irrelevant aside at best and a racist observation at worst. There is no evidence here that we need to “fix” the process by which football players are trained and selected.

Can you imagine Vincent (or any faculty member at Williams) writing an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “Building a Better Cornerback” and including this passage?

[A] few fundamental problems with professional football’s player development system should be fixed.

The National Football League does not train its own players, and therefore it has not established practices that would attract the best people. Those who wish to enter the profession attend colleges run by former players. But these are entirely independent organizations; the commissioner of football doesn’t control the curriculum, manage the training or do anything to lure people of all races and ethnic groups to become football players.

Of course not! Although we have had some frank discussions at EphBlog in the past about the racial distribution of NFL players (here and here), any such comment made in polite Williams company would be viewed as kooky, if not dangerous, racism. The notion that the NFL, or anyone else, should worry that whites are dramatically under-represented in professional football (and the situation is even worse for Chinese/Japanese/Korean-Americans) is, almost, unthinkable. And yet the situations are directly analogous.

Observing that the racial/ethnic/gender composition of various categories (Major League umpires, professional football players, Williams College students) does not match the population distribution of America (or whatever relevant target population you select) is a matter of stating the truth.

Once we have observed this truth, we can explore its ramifications, we can try to understand its causes, we can consider policies for changing these outcomes. Maybe the world would be a better place with more black umpires and more white cornerbacks. Maybe it would not. Maybe there is nothing we can (reasonably) do to achieve those goals. Maybe we should not even try.

But until people like Fay Vincent stop focusing on only those cases in which whites are (allegedly) overrepresented it will be hard to be sure that they are approaching the topic with an open mind.

The connection to admissions at Williams should be obvious. Consider No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life by Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford. As Rory can confirm, Espenshade is one of the leading scholars of elite college admission policies and a strong supporter of affirmative action. Insider Higher Ed reports:

Among the potential bombshells in the book are data on the advantages or disadvantages of SAT or ACT scores by race, ethnicity and economic class. Many studies — including those released annually by the College Board and the ACT — show gaps in the average tests scores by members of different racial or ethnic groups. This research takes that further, however, by controlling for numerous factors, including gender, status as an athlete or alumni child, high school grades and test scores, type of high school attended and so forth.

The “advantage” referred to, to take an example from the book, is what it would take to have equivalent odds of admission, after controlling for other factors. So the table’s figure of a 3.8 black ACT “advantage” means that a black student with an ACT score of 27 would have the same chances of admission at the institutions in the study as a white student with a score of 30.8.

As the following table shows, there are large black advantages in the way colleges consider SAT and ACT scores, and notable disadvantages for Asian applicants. On issues of wealth, the SAT shows an expected affirmative action tilt, with the most disadvantaged students gaining and the wealthiest losing. But there is also a gain for upper middle class students. On the ACT, analysis found the advantages go to wealthier students.

The table uses ACT scores for public institutions and SAT scores for privates. The “norm” score was considered white for the race section, and middle class for the class section.

Advantages by Race and Class on the SAT and ACT at Selective Colleges, Fall 1997

Group Public Institutions (on ACT scale of 36) Private Institutions (on SAT scale of 1,600)
Race
–White
–Black +3.8 +310
–Hispanic +0.3 +130
–Asian -3.4 -140
Class
–Lower -0.1 +130
–Working +0.0 +70
–Middle
–Upper-Middle +0.3 +50
–Upper +0.4 -30

Much of the debate about affirmative action historically has focused on the advantages given to those from some minority groups. But the research in No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal may also be of particular interest to advocates for Asian students. Many such advocates and guidance counselors who serve those students have charged in recent years that elite colleges have de facto higher standards for Asian applicants. Is the Asian disadvantage of 3.4 points on the ACT and 140 points on the SAT evidence to bolster that claim?

Read the rest of the article (and the book) for more details. One might quibble with the exact regression model (I would prefer to use matching) or with the data sample — I don’t know if Williams is included and I suspect that the inclusion of at least one large California school skews the results a bit in terms of the Asian disadvantage. But, big picture, there can be no doubt that African-American students at places like Williams have dramatically lower academic qualifications (test scores, high school grades, et cetera) than Asian-American students, even if you “adjust” for things like high school quality.

“I understand the worry of Asian students, but do I have a smoking gun? No,” he [Espenshade] said.

It is not clear what evidence Espenshade would consider conclusive. Do admissions officers need to stand out in the street and admit that, “Yes, we practice affirmative action! We admit African-American students with qualifications that would guarantee them rejection if they were Asian-America.”

Imagine that, instead of college admissions, this were a study about selection for major league umpire and that it turned out that white applicants had significantly lower qualifications (percentage of correct calls as determined by video replay; ratings by expert umpires) than non-white umpires. You can be certain that Fay Vincent would cite such evidence as a smoking gun which would confirm that the racial disparity in major league umpires is at least partially caused by inequities in the system of umpire promotion and that, therefore, something ought to be done to correct this obvious injustice. And he would be right!

If I were an Asian-American applying to Williams (as my daughters will probably be doing in a few years), I would want to understand just what is going on with elite college admissions.

What is the truth of social science when it comes to the process by which some people succeed in becoming baseball umpires or football cornerbacks or Williams College students? A good question. Is Williams the sort of place at which we can have an open and honest discussion on this topic? I don’t know. But perhaps a student group like Phi Beta Kappa would be willing to invite me and a member of the Williams faculty to debate the topic over Winter Study.

In the meantime, your homework assignment in the spirit of uncomfortable learning is to think hard about just what causes these racial disparities. Why is it that whites are overrepresented among baseball umpires, blacks among NFL players and Asian-Americans among elite college students? The three most common explanations for any sort of group disparity are nurture (no Brazilians in the NHL because no one grows up playing ice hockey in Brazil), nature (no Pygmies in the NBA because genetically determined height is such a crucial component of success in basketball) and society (no African-American players in Major League Baseball before Jackie Robinson because it was against the rules).

What role, if any, do each of these factors play in the racial disparities we see among umpires, football players and Williams students? The Williams College of 25 years ago was not ready to have that conversation. What about the Williams of today?

[No doubt some will view this essay as bad manners, personal back-biting and a gratuitous discussion of topics best left unexamined. Perhaps a fair assessment! I would not be surprised if some readers were made almost physically ill by this writing or by the discussion that will follow. But isn’t real education just one big upset stomach?]

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