Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

The Thrill Is Gone: Scouts' Perspectives on the Decline of African Americans in Major League Baseball

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

The Thrill Is Gone: Scouts' Perspectives on the Decline of African Americans in Major League Baseball

Article excerpt

"Back then almost 20 % of all major leaguers were African American, and I could have conversations with other Black people about baseball. 'Hey what's up man, you see the game last night?' 'Yeah it was great.' Now if I say to a Black person 'Did you sec the Met game last night?" they'll say 'what the [expletive] is a Met?" (Gallo, 2015)

The above excerpt is from an interview comedian Chris Rock did with Real Sports With Bryant Gumble of HBO Sports in April of 2015. Chris Rock, ever the person to start a controversy on race, was referencing the paltry African American representation in Major League Baseball. At the time of Opening Day 2015, only 8 percent of all baseball players were African American (Nightengale, 2015). The decline of African Americans in baseball is nothing new to the national conversation surrounding the racial make-up of baseball, as this decline has been happening for some time now (see Table 1). In fact in 2010, Major League Baseball (MLB) under then Commissioner Bud Selig, instituted a Blue Ribbon Panel to thoroughly investigate this issue (Nightengale, 2010; 2012). In 2013, Selig created a 17-membcr On Field Diversity Task Force to address the decline of African Americans in baseball, which at the time dipped to 7.7 percent. According to mlb.com. in 2014 the task force announced preliminary initiatives to stem the decline of Blacks in baseball, some of which included the following:

(a) Expanding the reach of existing urban baseball initiatives

(b) Implement programs focused on the improving the quality of coaching

(c) Focus the league's marketing reach on urban communities

It has yet to be determined whether these initiatives are working because they are only one year in the making at the time of this writing. It is true that at least on paper, MLB is making an effort to address the falling numbers of African Americans in the game as well as increase overall diversity in the league. On October 27, 2015, the new commissioner, Robert Manfred, speaking on overall diversity in the league commented, "We have had a year where our numbers are down in terms of the diversity that we have in our key positions ... I think it's incumbent upon us to come up with additional programs and ways to make sure that our numbers look better over the long haul" (Blum, 2015). These comments were made against the backdrop of reports that no African American managers would lead teams at the start of the 2016 season. Manfred's comments are important because they reflect the decline of African Americans across various sectors in MLB (Maadi, 2015). The decline of African Americans in baseball is not just limited to the professional ranks as there has aslo been a steady decline in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) (Butts & Hatfield, 2007). In fact in 2012. only 2.6 percent of all NCAA baseball players were African American (Lapchick, Augusta, Kinkoph & McPhee, 2013). On the other hand, White representation in college baseball swelled to 85.3 % in that same year. Even at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), African American representation on collegiate baseball teams has declined (Powell, 2014). The presence of this phenomenon at HBCUs is troubling because historically, these educational institutions served as feeder schools to the MLB draft (Arnett, 2015).

Theories abound about the decline of African Americans in baseball. Some scholars attribute the decline to the loss of the Negro Baseball Leagues (NL) (Delorme & Singer, 2010; Early, 2000; Lanctot, 2004). For these scholars, the NL represented a cultural institution for African Americans, which helped so many African Americans culturally identify with the national pastime on their terms. For Ogden and Rose (2005), the decline is a matter of access, as children in urban areas cannot afford to play the sport competitively the developmental level. At the developmental level in baseball, players train extensively for skill acquisition, recognition, and placement on better teams (Thompson, Bamsley, & Stebelsky, 1991). …

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