The beginning of the Major League baseball season has finally arrived. Fans are piling into stadiums to watch their favorite baseball teams take the field for the 2019 season. Baseball is considered as ‘America’s Pastime’ being created on American soil and one of the nation’s oldest sport. However, there is a blaring disconnect between “the old ballgame” and African-American participants.
Baseball has the smallest percentage of baseball players between the three major professional sports. The total percentage of African-American players is under 8% compared to the NBA’s 75%, and the NFL’s 64%. Although some of baseball’s greatest players are black, (ex: Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Ken Griffey Jr.) there seems to be a lack of interest with the game of baseball in black communities. There are a few theories to why this has taken place.
Baltimore Oriole’s all-star outfielder Adam Jones fills in on his belief in this detachment between blacks and baseball. “The decisions made in baseball are white made decisions. The league has experimented with various rule changes to speed up pace of play and reach younger fans, but the racial politics of baseball are the most in need of an update,” claims Jones. Simply put, Jones feels the league can do a better job connecting with African-American social issues as the other sports have made a priority.
The NBA has carried out numerous social justice initiatives including ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirts and supportive gear representing unlawful deaths of black men by police. The NFL has had its dilemmas with social justice problems as well. Colin Kaepernick is famous for his decision to kneel during the National Anthem at NFL events. This trend started a wave of players following suit and kneeling for the National Anthem as well, which later sparked a mass discussion via social media and news platforms around the nation. Although the NFL has made clear their unsupportive for the act, baseball has ‘pleaded the fifth’ when it comes to social issues. Baseball is a very traditional sport and bringing off the field racial tension is to be avoided at all cost. Seems like a fair option for leaders in the sport, however African-American players feel voiceless in expressing social issues regarding their culture. Speaking out as an African-American baseball players comes off as disrespectful to the game.
Another take to the disconnection of African-Americans and baseball is the simple fact is baseball is just too boring. As a black man and a former baseball player, I can advocate to this theory. Watching a basketball game that experiences hundreds of possessions per game and is extremely fast-paced is simply more interesting than a four hour baseball game that ends 2-1. Contrarily, black athletes can bring an element to the game of baseball that sparks excitement. There is a plethora of talent in urban areas, however baseball is a very expensive game to play. “Travel baseball averages out to $3,700 per year. But families can pay upward of $8,000 if they opt for extra training services and play in out-of-state tournaments—travel costs are the biggest determining factor here. Your child’s equipment and uniform typically cost $200 to $500.” (US TODAY SPORTS). These prices are just simply unaffordable for a talented youth baseball player coming out of an inner city area.
To contrast this glowing error in the economics of youth baseball, Major League Baseball has funded the RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities). “The program was founded in 1989 in South Central Los Angeles by former MLB player and scout John Young to help increase inner-city involvement in baseball. Today, more than 200,000 kids a year from underserved communities around all 30 MLB Clubs participate in the program.” This program’s initiative is to draw attention to the many talented athletes in our urban communities that do not have the resources and scouting to play at the highest level. The program was the discovery point for many Major League Baseball players today like Some great players have played in RBI leagues, like Carl Crawford,”Coco” Crisp, James Loney, Jimmy Rollins, CC Sabathia, Yovani Gallardo, Justin Upton, and James McDonald.
With the funding and growth of initiatives like the RBI program, there is hope that many more of our talented African-American baseball players will have the opportunity to represent their culture at the highest level of baseball and change the diversity statistics of Major League Baseball.
(via Business Insider)