Last month, as we commemorated the 1992 Rodney King riots (insurrection), it was easy to overlook the continued annual celebration of Jackie Robinson’s major league baseball career, and all the players in the league wearing number 42 on April 15th in his memory.
This overlooking is especially the case when one considers the lack of African American players in Major League Baseball at this time. In fact, the latest statistics cite an 8.3 percent for the number of African American big league ball players—69 out of 862 players and 30 ball clubs (as analyzed by Mark Armour of the Society for American Baseball Research). Fact is, there are but two African American managers of major league clubs in 2017. Why has this situation not been resolved? This low point has been relatively stable for the last 10 years or so, far away from the high point of 19 percent in the mid-1980s.
Is baseball too slow and “boring,” compared to fast-paced basketball and rough and tumble football? Former Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig, even created an on-field diversity task force in 2013-14 to find out why the number of African American players (and African American fans) keep decreasing. Clearly, it takes far less time to prepare for a one-and-done collegiate basketball career and on to the pros. Even football has a shorter preparation curve (although much more physically taxing) before NFL draft status. So does soccer and even professional hockey.
So what’s baseball to do? Baseball, from the pre-teen years up, generally requires at least one very enthusiastic parent or guardian willing to take the young baseball phenom-in-his-own-mind to weekend games and team tournaments. It’s a lot of time, and it remains financially very costly. By comparison, there are always basketball courts around, and sandlots for pick-up football or soccer. All you need are sneakers and a ball, not a lot of cash or parental good will.
Hip-hop culture promotes basketball and football, but generally not baseball. The latter is not considered that “cool” anymore. Additionally, since baseball can profit more by focusing on drafting international Latino and Asian players without many restrictions, and can usually get more for less money with them, the front offices of major league teams will most often go the cheapest route. Investing in a real, extensive baseball academy tailored to African American athletes just is not in the immediate cards for baseball, and millennial rap impresarios don’t seem to be in the mood to spit lyrics involving baseball.
The answer seemingly is a substantial private investment in baseball academies and community programs that emphasize baseball as a viable sport option in African American areas. There are enough well-paid African American sportsmen who could do that, and who could also attract others to the project. If we want more African American youth to roam center field and muscle 400-footers over the left field wall, then we, apparently, must begin the process of arranging training facilities ourselves. Otherwise, the slow death of the relationship between the Black community and baseball forged by Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Satchel Page, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron and a host of others, will simply get to its logical end. That will reduce the luster and greatness of the all-American game.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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