Black College Baseball's Uncertain Future: Facing a Dearth of African American Talent and a Lack of Institutional Support, HBCU Programs Seek Alternative Strategies to Field Competitive Teams

By Greenlee, Craig T. | Black Issues in Higher Education, August 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Black College Baseball's Uncertain Future: Facing a Dearth of African American Talent and a Lack of Institutional Support, HBCU Programs Seek Alternative Strategies to Field Competitive Teams


Greenlee, Craig T., Black Issues in Higher Education


Black college baseball is not what it used to be. And there's little chance that it will ever be the same again. The glory years, many say, are gone for good. From the late '60s through the late '80s, historically Black colleges produced a healthy share of major-league stars such as Hal McRae (Florida A&M), Lou Brock (Southern University), Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd (Jackson State) and Willie Mays-Aiken (South Carolina State). But now, it's a new day. And the talent pool has dried up significantly.

Black youngsters no longer take up the game at a young age like their fathers and grandfathers before them. Football and basketball are the dominant sports, particularly in America's inner cities. The small group of elite Black players who do stick to the sport usually sign a major-league contract right out of high school, or they play for one of the nation's top college powers such as Stanford University or the University of Miami. This trend explains why the percentages of Blacks playing in the major leagues and at the NCAA Division I level are noticeably lower than they were 10 years ago (see accompanying charts).

"Today, kids have a lot more options, so they're choosing other activities besides baseball," says Marty Miller, who has coached at Norfolk State University for 30 years. "Because of that, it's difficult to find a lot of Black players to bring into your program. I'm confident that we'll still have Black college baseball, but the game as we have known it will be different."

Compared with their mainstream NCAA Division I counterparts, historically Black schools continue to fight an uphill battle to field competitive teams.

With so few top-caliber Black baseball players to choose from, Black schools have been forced to recruit the best players available, regardless of ethnic background. That's ironic considering there was a time when Black colleges were the only place Black players could go.

As a result, the face of the Black college game has changed--literally. Historically Black colleges continue to play, but the rosters of many of the teams are no longer predominantly Black. A look at the nation's two historically Black college sports leagues--the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)--provides ample evidence.

Overall, SWAC schools have been able to attract a sizable number of Black athletes. Except for Mississippi Valley State, the conference schools' rosters are at least 70 percent Black and only one of the head coaches in the 10-team league is White. "But that's slowly beginning to change," says Wilbert Ellis, who has coached at Grambling State University in Louisiana for 42 seasons. "I'm convinced that Black college baseball has a future. But we as coaches will have to make adjustments in our recruiting to help us win more consistently."

In the MEAC, however, change is already evident--to the extent that the conference has become a baseball melting pot. Of the seven schools that play the sport in an 11-member league, there are just three Black coaches. In addition, there has been a dramatic shift in the racial makeup of MEAC teams. Florida A&M University, one of the storied programs in Black college baseball, is a striking example. This past season, 40 percent of FAMU's players were either White or Hispanic. Delaware State University has close to a 50-50 racial mix, and a third of the players at four-time MEAC champion Bethune-Cookman College in Florida are Hispanic.

"Coaches are under pressure to win," explains FAMU's coach Joseph Durant. "So, the priority is to find those kids who can play Division I baseball, regardless of skin color. On our recruiting list for next year, seven of our top 10 are either White or Hispanic. It's getting so much harder to find Black players. There's so much emphasis on basketball. Seems like everybody wants to be like Mike."

SUCCEEDING AGAINST THE ODDS

As a whole, historically Black colleges have not broken major ground at the Division I level, but the picture is hardly bleak. …

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