Magazine article Ebony

Where Are the African-American Baseball Players? the Numbers Continue to Decline

Magazine article Ebony

Where Are the African-American Baseball Players? the Numbers Continue to Decline

Article excerpt

From T-ball fields to Major League parks, African-Americans are becoming increasingly rare on baseball diamonds nationwide.

Since 1975 professional baseball's African-American population has declined from 28 percent to 8 percent. That figure represents the lowest percentage of U.S.-bom Black players in baseball since the sport was fully integrated in 1959.

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is widely quoted as saying, "It's a legitimate problem. We're trying to do something about it."

Sixty years after Jackie Robinson integrated the sport, the issue of Blacks in baseball remains a deeply rooted complexity discussed in boardrooms and barber shops, with no shortage of theories and remedies. Apathy and racism are two of the most suggested factors, but economics seems to be the trump card in this conundrum.

"Black people are just not into baseball like they used to be; there aren't as many players and there aren't as many fans," says David Williams, 60, a longtime fan and former coach from Atlanta. "Even for an old-timer like me, the game has lost something. It's too slow, and there are hardly any Black players to root for."

Christopher Nelson of Decatur, Ga., just east of Atlanta, is beating the odds that say an African-American has a greater chance of being struck by lightning than playing Major League Baseball (MLB). The 20-year-old, power-hitting shortstop is only a fly ball away from living his dream in the big leagues.

Selected ninth overall in the 2004 Major League Baseball draft, Nelson is flourishing in the Colorado Rockies farm system.

But who's to blame for what some have called baseball's "blackout" is the subject of much debate. Whether Blacks are turning their backs on baseball, or vice versa, is a hot topic. Opinions differ about whether the reason for the absence is racism or indifference.

Fans and experts contend that Black athletes who dream of fame and fortune in the world of sports have simply said no thanks to the national pastime, preferring, instead, to showcase their talents in basketball and football.

Others say that professional baseball has abandoned African-Americans, replacing them with Brown and Black faces from Latin America and Asia. MLB has set up baseball academies in several Latin American countries as part of its worldwide outreach, and players from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela now comprise nearly 20 percent of baseball teams. Several MLB teams have as many Asians as African-Americans.

MLB defenders say that the only color that drives the sport is green. Baseball is a business and owners and league officials don't care about the player's color, as long as he sells tickets and merchandise.

Acknowledging the gradual decline of Blacks in the sport, Major League Baseball has unveiled numerous programs to combat the trend. Founded by former player John Young, RBI, or Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, is the most wide-spread and aggressive program, with more than 200 affiliates across the country.

What's happening in Atlanta, home of Hank Aaron's former team, the Braves, is typical. The Braves, who currently have only one African-American player--14-year veteran Brian Jordan--supports RBI through Atlanta-area Boys & Girls Clubs. As listed on their Web site, the Braves have several other community outreach programs designed to attract inner-city kids to the game.

In April 2006 the Atlanta Braves and the Villages at Carver Family YMCA celebrated the grand opening of the Atlanta Braves Baseball Academy. The 8-acre youth sports complex in the redeveloped Carver community near Turner Field includes four baseball fields, funded by Atlanta Braves players Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan, Mike Hampton, and John Smoltz, each of whom contributed $75,000 to the Metro YMCA. The Braves Foundation contributed $500,000, and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a collaborative initiative between MLB and its Players Association, contributed $144,352 to support the academy. …

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