Sunday, May 09, 2004

PART I: Holes in Your Roster:
Why There's Never Enough Pitching &
The Dodgers' 75-Year Third Baseman Drought.  

The population of young African-Americans playing baseball appears to be in decline. Baseball Primer pointed to this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article details theories of why, and there are great lessons in there for why most organizations struggle to find qualified people for certain positions and why the labor market in general can get out of whack for certain jobs.

Baseball really makes it clear why this happens, even in an environment with a record number of people who want to work full-time being under- or un-employed.

The Post-Gazette' article is solid because it doesn't try to ascribe the effect to one big thing; it describes a host of different effects.


Some of the reasons cited:

The five reasons given most often are: a lack of good feeder programs, such as Little League; better marketing of football and basketball toward African-American youth; the age of sports specialization, where high school athletes concentrate on only one sport; the cost of baseball, which is too expensive for some parents; and a change in the African-American teenage culture.

To generalize the five reasons here fewer people are pursuing the craft: training, prestige, training systems, cost of training, and prestige. I don't buy "the cost of baseball" as a significant reason. Football costs more, soccer and basketball less, but glamor is the key factor & if the glamor is high enough, that outweighs the cost factor.

I'll throw in the number of different things you need to be good at to be successful. Some endeavors allow you to be a high achiever just being good at a couple of focused things, some don't.

[Pirate Manager Lloyd] McClendon said: "I think one of the biggest problems is baseball is one of the most difficult sports to play. In basketball, you can be a good shooter and be a good player. In football, you can just run or block. [snip] There are so many things to master in baseball, and kids just don't want to spend the time at it."

The positions you are trying to fill, are they compound jobs requiring diverse sets of skills. And is the education/training widely available?

Prestige is one of those key factors.

Carole Kunkle Miller is a sports psychologist in Mt. Lebanon who works with professional and amateur athletes to achieve peak performance in sports.

"Nothing has changed with African-American athleticism," Kunkle Miller said. "But the culture has changed in terms of their perception of baseball and how playing it is not as cool as basketball or football. The culture has changed in terms of everything being more fast-paced, even with television commercials."

Zmijanac often hears the complaint from Aliquippa kids that baseball is too slow. "A lot of these kids want bells and whistles going off when they play a sport now."

People will work harder to pursue a career that has prestige than one that doesn't. More people will park cars in Hollywood hoping to be a stand-in for a reality TV show contestant or work as a barista to float their rock band equipment than will do either to become, say, a mortuary cosmetician or assistant manager at Taco Time.

Look at these jobs with growth and jobs in decline. According to Washington state, the 10 jobs with the most growth opportunity (demand exceeds supply) include

Combined Ranking Listing
2002 (Second Quarter) – 2004 (Second Quarter)



Average Annual Growth

1. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants 3.1%
2. Security guards 3.1%
3. Medical secretaries 3.1%
4. Registered nurses 2.7%
5. Physicians and surgeons 3.0%
6. Dental assistants 3.2%
7. Home health aides 3.0%
8. Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists


9. Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses


10. Medical assistants 3.0%

Demand exceeds supply, and except for #5, and perhaps #8, these are unglamourous jobs.

Jobs in decline (supply exceeds demand and is not going to get better) include Computer jobs like researchers and Systems Analysts, and industrial engineers (complex, well-paying jobs) and models & forensic science technicians (both glamorous).

Personally, I would think playing baseball is awfully prestigious, but cultures have their stances, and as the article says, there are many more popular cultural stakes in the ground (product endorsements, etc.) for basketball and football players, so if you are just very athletic and you want the maximum prestige, baseball becomes less likely.

Less prestige, more training required to succeed. A tough combo, nurses or second basemen, for example.

Are these the kinds of positions that your organization is finding hard to fill with good players?


There are lots of demand side issues with thesechallenges, too. These are just as common, and easier to fix. Too frequently, an organization's behavior or belief systems limit their ability to get the talent they need into the organization.

And are your organization's expectations in line with reality? For example, I have a client that last year was looking for a programmer with five years of XML experience. Six years ago, there were no solid standards for XML and a tiny handful of people interested, and no training available anywhere. How big is the constellation of people capable of being a candidate for that position?

Training is a chronic issue, especially in the business world where the idea of the disposable employee makes it hard for finance to cost-justify investing training (if you attach that cost to the value of an employee, it makes it harder to lay her off when laying off might add to the bottom line short-term).

In the next entry, I'll cover some of the other supply side issues and tell why the certain teams seems to have a hard time developing players at certain positions, like the Dodgers with their 3rd baseman drought, and why it seems there's never enough pitching to go around.

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