Redheads in baseball: Why aren’t there more?

Mike Oz
May 30, 2013

The Houston Astros own the first pick in June's amateur draft and among the players they're eyeing are Clint Frazier and Colin Moran. They share one trait that's fairly uncommon among ballplayers (and humans in general, really). They're both have red hair.

This prompted Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow to wonder: "Why don't you think there are more major leaguers with red hair?" He asked that, specifically, to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN and Baseball America, who then wrote about baseball's lack of reds (and we don't mean the team in Cincinnati). It's a fun read, with a reference to "South Park's" famous ginger episode if that's your speed.

The answer here is fairly obvious: Redheads come from recessive genes, so by definition, they're dominated by other hair types. There's another answer too: Most of the places where redheads populate (Yes, you, Ireland) aren't exactly hotbeds of baseball. That theory comes from noted baseball redhead Mark McGwire, earning the Mc in his last name.

Here's a particularly interesting passage from Crasnick's story:

No quantitative studies exist to confirm or debunk the notion that redheads are, in fact, under-represented in the majors. If that is, indeed, the case, the answer might come down to raw genetics: There aren't many redheaded big leaguers because there aren't a whole lot of red-haired people in general.

The odds are daunting. About 1 to 2 percent of the world's population has red hair, according to multiple sources. In a 2002 Washington Post story, Joel Garreau wrote, "Between 2 and 6 percent of the U.S. population is redheaded, depending on the estimate and definitions. They are scarcer than lefthanders or gays, almost as scarce as Episcopalians." The percentage of redheads is reportedly higher in Scotland, Ireland and other Western European countries, but athletes in those locales are more likely to be found on a rugby pitch or a soccer field than on a ball field.

If you don't see many redheads at the supermarket or the mall, why would you find them in abundance on the baseball diamond?

You may (or may not) know that Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton faced similar ginger-scrutiny before he was drafted. So Frazier and Moran shouldn't feel alone.

We used this an opportunity to highlight some of baseball's more memorable redheads — these guys are remembered for achievements on the field, or just their bright hair in some cases. Yes, you, Bobby Kielty.

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