Why Are There So Few African-Americans In Baseball – My Thoughts On This Issue

KANSAS CITY, MO – JULY 10: National League All-Stars Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Michael Bourn #24 of the Atlanta Braves pose for a photo during batting practice before the 83rd MLB All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium against the American League on Tuesday July 10, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

 

ONE AFRICAN-AMERICAN’S OPINION AS TO WHY THE NUMBER OF BLACKS IN BASEBALL HAS DRASTICALLY DROPPED OVER THE PAST THIRTY YEARS

I’m something of an anomaly in the sports fan universe.

I’m an African-American who prefers baseball over football and basketball as his favorite sport, not only to play but also – with college football and women’s college gymnastics in second place – to watch.

Granted, I’m in my fifties and from a generation where baseball was more popular among blacks.

But considering the fact that the percentage of Black Americans playing Major League Baseball was at 7.73% last season compared to 19% in 1986,

I sometimes feel like a pink poodle in the African-American sports world.

TONS of stuff has been written and said regarding the factors contributing the number of blacks in America’s pastime falling; the talking heads on ESPN and the MLB Network has covered this issue to death at around this time every year, but,

After noticing this trend and listening to the talking heads, I reckon it’s high time for this longtime baseball/softball guy to officially offer my one-and-a-half cents as to why black kids are poo-poohing baseball for football and (particularly) basketball…

 

  • Lack of Interest

Contrary to what some may be thinking, there’s definitely no color line being redrawn, in the majors or at any other level.

If that were the case, the significant number of Latinos, especially from the Dominican Republic, wouldn’t ever see the diamond; indeed, there were and are plenty of players from the Caribbean whose skin is darker than mine!

Rather, I agree with the notion of African-American kids largely losing interest in baseball the past few decades, much preferring to be like LeBron James or Stephen Curry than Ken Griffey, Jr. or Tony Gwynn.

It also seems to me that baseball is seen as a “white” thing in the inner city communities in particular, a sport that’s “goofy” and not “cool”, too slow and “boring” for them due to the constant standing around and slower pace compared to football and basketball.

I think such would be the case even if there were an abundance of leagues and programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball In The Inner Cities) and the MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, CA, entities that are striving to increase interest and participation in baseball among black youngsters.

 

 

INSPIRING: Mo’ne Davis mowing down batters during the Little league World Series. Photo courtesy of variety.com

 

 

  • $$$$$

Not only has the oftentimes lack of necessary funds – gloves, bats and cleats as well as registering in Little League and travel ball programs are not cheap – stopped many African-Americans in the inner city from getting involved in baseball,

For the athlete who sees sports as a way out of a struggling life and into prosperity, a way to make his fortune and take care of his family, football and basketball are much more attractive.

Even though a successful career in “The Show” is safer and twice as long as an NFL or NBA career, the fact that aspiring football and basketball players can make big money right away out of high school or after one to three years in college,

And unlike their baseball counterparts not have to ride the buses in the minor leagues for an average of three years making next to no money –  with a minuscule chance of making the big leagues on top of that,

Is a significant incentive, as in the minds of I reckon many young African-Americans from the “hood”, why should they play in rinky-dink ballparks in teeny little towns in (oftentimes) the reddest of states full of folks who may not necessarily see them as equal human beings,  making peanuts and eating McDonald’s food when they can make HUGE bank playing in gigantic paradises like Jerry Jones’ AT&T Palace (I mean, Stadium) in Dallas?

Or at Los Angeles’ Staples Center with those three rows of luxury boxes?

Or that new state-of-the-art Heaven being built for L. A.’s Rams and Chargers in nearby Inglewood, CA right now?

Until MLB changes the way things are done in their farm systems in that context, this mindset will continue.

 

 

Hunter Greene (5) of the Notre Dame High School Knights pitches against the Alemany High School Warriors at Notre Dame H.S. on April 7, 2017 in Sherman Oaks, California. Greene is expected to be a high first round pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball player draft on June 12. Notre Dame defeated Alemany, 2-1. (Larry Goren/Four Seam Images via AP)

 

 

  • It’s a “Generation Gap” Thing

Related to baseball being seen as “uncool” among many African-American kids, I think it’s also a case of the game being seen by today’s millennials – of all races – as something that their parents and grandparents were and are into.

A big proof of this sentiment lies in the Negro Leagues, which were a pronounced part of black life and culture in this country in the years before Jackie Robinson’s debut with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Stars like Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Josh Gibson were just as big among blacks as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio were among whites, and contests like the annual East-West All-Star Game in Chicago’s Comiskey Park (the White Sox’s home) often drew sellout crowds of 50,000.

The kids who saw those games – and later Robinson and legends ranging from Willie Mays and Henry Aaron in the 1950s and 60s to Willie Stargell and Reggie Jackson in the 1970s to Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s to Frank Thomas in the 1990s and 2000s – were undoubtedly influenced by those players.

Much like they were influenced in a major way by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in the 80s.

It’s no coincidence that baseball’s popularity factor among young black children started to significantly decrease, while basketball’s popularity began to greatly increase, in the 80s as black baseball fans grew old and passed away, leaving a vacuum that the NBA and the NFL – with guys like Walter Payton and Jerry Rice – filled quite neatly.

Personally,  as another illustration of this gap my affection for baseball came from my grandparents, who had Dodger games playing on the radio and TV, with the great Vin Scully doing the play-by-play, seemingly every day during the spring and summer.

I’m not sure if I would have embraced the game the way I did if not for that.

 

  • My View Of What’s Being Done About This Issue

Despite baseball making every effort to increase interest and participation among young African-Americans with RBI and the MLB Youth Urban Academies, I firmly believe that it comes down to this, as illustrated by this old saying…

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.

In other words, you can’t force a child – black or of any race – to like baseball or to play it.

For the same reason a Canadian kid who’s obsessive about hockey can’t be persuaded to eschew the diamond, an African-American kid who’s crazy about hoops – and for whom Kobe Bryant is next to God – cannot be persuaded to give that up to play baseball.

Or even add that sport in addition to basketball.

Which is why I sadly don’t expect the percentage of blacks in Major League Baseball to ever approach what it was in the 1980s again, as the best I can expect that percentage would be around 10%.

That would be my minimum goal if I were the MLB commissioner.

However, I do remain hopeful that the efforts to change this unfortunate trend produces moire positive results.

After all, I still regard baseball as being the best sport in the world.

 

 

One of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled: the Negro League’s Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring icons like Satchel Paige (top row, 3rd from left), Josh Gibson (top row, 4th from left) and Oscar Charleston (top row, far right). Photo courtesy of diversity.appstate.edu

 

 

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BASEBALL IS HERE: A Few Thoughts On The Game On Opening Day

This is what Dodger Stadium will look like today as the Los Angeles Dodgers open the baseball season against their longtime rival San Francisco Giants. Photo courtesy of truebluela.com

 

EXPRESSING MY AFFECTIONS FOR A NATIONAL PASTIME THAT I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER FOR FORTY YEARS

Today is a day that, next to Christmas and my birthday, is my favorite day of the year.

Indeed, as the former Boston Red Sox slugger and future Hall of Famer David Ortiz expressed, I strongly feel that Opening Day should be made a national holiday in this country.

Hey, it could replace Columbus Day, as we’d go from a day commemorating a guy who not only did NOT discover America, he set the reels in motion of exploitation and enslavement,

To a day where we celebrate a sport that in mine and millions of others’ hearts is STILL considered the significant pastime in America;

Especially when one considers the problems football (READ: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and basketball (READ: Bribery scandals in college hoops) are having that while they may not completely kill those sports, they may well lead folks to return to baseball as being the top game in their hearts.

I think – at the risk of sounding sappy, sentimental, pompous, or a combination of those three descriptions – Opening Day symbolizes renewal.

Everyone’s undefeated, and even if your team has the same chance of winning as a snowball’s chance of not melting in Saudi Arabia during the summer,

As the cliché goes, “Hope Springs Eternal” and even the fans of teams like the Oakland Athletics and the Miami Marlins (who are losing to the Chicago Cubs as we speak) are smiling today as Major League Baseball begins its 143rd season.

Which is 41 years older than the next major sports league in North America, hockey’s NHL.

 

ANAHEIM, CA – SEPTEMBER 08: Corey Seager #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers slides home ahead of the throw to catcher Chris Iannetta #17 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to score a run on a fielder’s choice in the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 8, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

 

As For Me Personally…

I have expressed on this blog how I took to baseball as a kid, how the Dodgers playing in the 1977 World Series and the classic little league movie The Bad News Bears were the bugs that bit me and began my affection for the game.

Indeed, this June 18th (my birthday) it will be forty years ago to that day that I will have attended my very first Major League game at Dodger Stadium;

I’ll be describing and commemorating that day in detail in this blog on that day, which I’m confident you will enjoy.

I’ll also – in a syndication with my sports blog, SoCalSportsAnnals.com, be writing an article naming my all-time African-American baseball team, which I think is important not only due to the great Jackie Robinson, but to all the great baseball players of African descent who came before and since.

I’m also planning on expressing why I think there are relative so few African-Americans in the majors compared to the 1960s, 70s and even 80s on this blog and SoCal Sports Annals; I hope you’re looking forward to reading that, too.

But for now, as I sit here in my Dodgers jersey and cap, I’ll go on about my day with a happy mood that…

BASEBALL IS HERE!

And of course I’ll be watching the games on ESPN today, including my Dodgers as well as the other team calling the Los Angeles area home, the Angels.

Happy Opening Day to all those who love the game as much as I do!

 

Baseball’s essential tools – I particularly like this picture because of the glove; I’m a first baseman. Photo courtesy of itemlive.com

 

If I Had A Son (or Daughter), Would I Let Him/Her Play Football?

The NFL’s  Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers getting it on. Photo courtesy of profootballweekly.com

 

I’ve seen it on ESPN and Fox Sports reports and documentaries.

I can vividly recall my heart breaking when I saw former Chicago Bears quarterback and basic sunglasses-wearing bad-ass Jim McMahon struggling to remember where his home was on outings.

Not to mention big names such as McMahon’s Bears teammate Dave Duerson and former San Diego/just moved to Los Angeles Chargers and USC  linebacker legend Junior Seau kill themselves.

And I’ll never forget the sad condition of Mike Webster, the Pittsburgh Steelers center from the Super Bowl glory days of the 1970s, who was the same age as I am now (fifty) when he passed away of a heart attack.

All because of Cardio Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which is essentially brain damage caused by way too many concussions.

Which these guys – and many more football players (and hockey players, too; can’t forget them) I may add – have suffered from for so long as recent research found that out of 111 brains of former football players studied, all but one showed signs of CTE.

It’s at the point where for the past couple of years, whenever I watch a football game one of my first thoughts is this…

“I hope his head’s OK.”

I think that’s a main reason behind me, despite liking the pigskin game as much as the next guy, preferring baseball.

A thought came to me very recently regarding all of this on a personal level:

 

CELEBRATING UNDER THE FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: Hart High School’s football team, from Newhall, CA, after winning a CIF championship. Photo courtesy of archive.signalscv.com

 

 

IF I HAD A CHILD – WHETHER IT WAS A SON OR EVEN A DAUGHTER (Plenty of girls have liked the sport enough to have played it and want to play it) – WOULD I LET HIM/HER PLAY FOOTBALL?

I won’t waste any more time on answering this:

If it was flag football in a Parks and Recreation league, sure!

That brand of the game is obviously much safer, with no tackling.

Now the big question; if it was a Pop Warner tackle league or a high school team…

My Answer: YES – if my kid really wanted to do it.

There would be one condition I would put upon my youngster before I signed the form, paid the entrance fees, signed up for the booster club, etc…

The first concussion my child suffered on the gridiron, he/she would be immediately pulled from the field by me – or I would order the coach to – and would be done for the season.

Like any other sane parent, I would take no chances with my loved one’s health.

He or she would be gone, then have a complete brain scan at the beginning of pre-season practice – and pass with flying colors – the next year before I would let them take the field.

I can’t make it clearer than that.

For all those parents and loved ones whose children are doing battle on that 100-yard space, whether he’s a eight-year old in Pee-Wees, a 16-year old under the Friday Night Lights, or a five-star recruit at one of the country’s collegiate football kingdoms,

I pray that your kid gets through this season concussion-free.

 

Action from a Pop Warner game. Photo courtesy of readingpopwarner.com