Many people believe the hardest thing to do in sports is square up a round ball
with a wooden bat. While it is not considered a contact sport, baseball has been
universally praised for its emphasis on strategy and mental toughness. From its
conception up until the 1940′s, baseball on a professional level was much like
many other “whites only” institutions in this country. African-Americans weren’t
given the respect nor the opportunity to compete. Even if in most cases they
were just as if not more capable than their white counterparts. While the Negro
leagues helped saturate blacks’ hunger for the game, players like Satchel Paige,
Lou Brock, and Jackie Robinson proved their talents could no longer be ignored
on a national level.
From the 1920′s to the 1970′s baseball was very popular in the black
community. With the prosperity of the Negro Leagues and the integration of Major
league Baseball, kids in the ghetto dreamt of being the next Bob Gibson or Hank
Aaron. But somewhere along the way we lost our passion for the game that
brought us so much success. A study done in 2006 by the University of Central
Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport showed American or
non-Hispanic blacks made up only 8.4% of major league rosters. Whites made up
59.5%, with Hispanics and Asians coming in at 29.4% and 2.4% respectively.
Thirty years ago, the percentage of blacks was almost three times that. ESPN
compiled a list on opening day 2007 that stated 69 out of 750 active players
were American Blacks. Also, the Atlanta Braves did not suit up 1 single black
player to open that season. What’s alarming about this statistic is that Atlanta
has a 61% black population. Something is very wrong with this picture.
Most think we should be introducing baseball and softball to children at a
younger age, but that’s not really the issue. There are plenty of little leagues
and recreational baseball programs across the country. The problem is that these
are for younger children. Black kids are having a hard time bridging the gap
between little league and college baseball programs. High schools in urban areas
do not consider baseball teams and related activities a priority. Consequently,
instead of more baseball diamonds being built , more basketball courts are being
put up. All the money that was once being poured into baseball programs is now
used for other things. With so little resources and support, it’s no wonder
young black athletes gravitate towards other sports. Because of this, more major
universities are giving out scholarships to black athletes that are limited to
basketball and football.
College baseball scholarships are few and far in between. They make up only
about 11.7% of all athletic scholarships. And with basketball and football
taking advantage of the fact that most black athletes come from low-income
households (by offering kids a free ride) there isn’t much in a baseball
scholarship to entice an athlete with. In order for that to change there needs
to be more baseball scholarships supported by Major League Baseball. But with
the draft set up the way it is (players can be drafted straight out of high
school) and with all the training facilities being set up in spanish speaking
countries to develop Latin talent, there really is no need for them to do so.
Last year of Rivals.coms top 100 high school football prospects, only one was a
ranked baseball player. In years past this list would be littered with baseball
players. This is a testament to the times. Something has to be done about this.
It won’t be until we stand up and refuse to be locked out of the game that we
helped make great, that things will change.
So what has contributed to the steady decline of interest in the sport? In a
recent abc news article, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield reflects. “There are a lot
of socio-economic factors ” said Winfield. “Society has changed. There used to
be open spaces, and people said “hey, let’s play. Let’s go outside.” Stick ball,
stoop ball, home run derby. In the urban areas you rarely see that anymore.
There are very few spaces that developers haven’t taken advantage of, and on the
other end, other sports-specifically basketball and football- have attracted the
great athletes in urban areas”. While it’s important to note baseball did lose
many of its prospects to the 80′s era, “golden age” of the NBA, it’s even more
important to understand the mentality of a young black athlete towards baseball.
The perception in the black community over the past 20 years is that
baseball is a game for middle to upper class white and poor latin kids. While
this perception is not exact, one has to understand how black youths in our
inner-cities have been exposed to the game through the media and otherwise. In
contrast to the other major professional sports leagues, Major League Baseball
does not depend on the black dollar. There are very few black players that
become brand names to generate revenue for the league. What’s sad is those that
do manage to cross over are labeled not “black enough” by Black America. Derek
Jeter, who is of mixed heritage, is one of the greatest shortstops of all time.
But because he doesn’t walk around with a platinum chain and diamond earrings he
is not embraced by the black community. Did you ever wonder why they play rap
music at NBA games? Because the NBA is made up of mostly young black males. And
young black males relate to other young black males. Black children watch TV and
see all the Lebron and Kobe ads and say ” They come from where I come from.
They’re like me. I can do that”. There are no black baseball players like this.
Many of the black players who make a name for themselves don’t seem to have
a passion to spread the game throughout their neighborhoods and communities.
There are some however, who are eager to infect others with their love of the
sport. On April 15th of 2009( the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration
of MLB) second baseman for the LA Dodgers Orlando Hudson started the “Around the
Mound Tour”. This is a program where he and other black major leaguers like
Jimmy Rollins, Torii Hunter and Justin Upton go around the country speaking at
schools and little leagues in urban areas. Programs like this and RBI (Reviving
Baseball in inner cities) are very important in spreading the game throughout
our neighborhoods. These programs give black kids a chance to interact with
professional athletes, that they won’t see on a lot of commercials, that come
from where they come from. Players like Hudson should be commended for taking
this extra initiative. He realizes that there are kids that love the game, but
are not confident in the opportunities they might get to succeed. There is an
untapped talent pool in the black community that needs to be developed.
With a new generation of black superstars like Ryan Howard and the Upton
brothers, there is a chance we are moving in the right direction. However, more
needs to be done. If we can flood the minor leagues with talent, the cream will
rise to the top. American sports have a tendency to only recognize black talent
when its absolutely unavoidable. When a persons skill level is so great that
they can’t be ignored by the masses. Its because Lebron James is so dominant
that he is all over your TV. We need to make it so that our talent in MLB cannot
be denied. The league will be so littered with black all stars, that eventually
advertisers will have to cater to us, inevitably relying on the black dollar.
MLB doesn’t depend on us because they don’t have to. We need to make them.