MLB needs to promote its black players


At our first Little League practice last week, I asked my players to introduce themselves by stating their name, favorite team and favorite major leaguer. Being from southern New England, the majority of them were either Red Sox or Yankees fans who loved David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez. No surprise there. What was shocking was when one of my little guys raised his hand and told me Ken Griffey Jr. was his favorite player.

Yes that Ken Griffey Jr. The one whose batting stance I imitated when I was 12 years old. My favorite player. The one whose last 40 homerun season came a full year before any of my current players were born.

Do you realize it’s about time for “The Kid” to legally change his nickname to “The Grandpa?” Griffey is older than all of my players’ parents – by at least ten years.

It just goes to show you how far baseball still has to go in virtually every inner city in this country. And if you want to know just how sparse African-American participation is in baseball, start with Little League. The odds of seeing more than a couple black kids on any roster are slim-to-none, which is why when Connecticut baseball coach Jim Penders calls baseball a “white-collar” sport in this country, he might as well being saying it’s a white-faced game.

Penders isn’t the only one who has expressed concern in recent years. Not even close. In fact, at the beginning of every Major League season, the race issue becomes a major talking point. This season, Torii Hunter said that people don’t realize how bad it is because they see dark-skinned Latin players and assume they’re black. He referred to those players as “imposters.”

Many believe the reason less African-Americans are playing baseball is strictly a financial issue. In 2008, Penders told the New Haven Register that he recruits the best players who can afford to come to school, as opposed to just the best players. But that points to an across-the-board problem, one that affects Americans of all backgrounds and isn’t just happening in sports.

It still doesn’t explain why baseball continues to thrive even in poor white communities while it has become an afterthought in almost every urban area. The sport is becoming as segregated as hockey, golf or tennis in most parts of this country, which basically means an entire generation is missing out on our national pastime.

Like most of Major League Baseball’s problems, it has only itself to blame. The two most well-known black ball players right now are Griffey and Barry Bonds, the same as it was 15 years ago. But Griffey is at the tail end of his career and Bonds has essentially been banished from the game. Bud Selig and company have done an awful job in recent years at marketing any of the current African-American stars, all but passing up Jimmy Rollins, C.C. Sabathia, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard in favor of guys like Joe Mauer and Tim Lincecum.

It’s not that Mauer and Lincecum don’t deserve to be stars, but when you have a serious lack of interest from the black community on your hands, why wouldn’t you make the effort to reach out using your most valuable assets? Fielder and Howard in particular have the ability to resonate with young fans the way Griffey and Bonds did in the nineties. Last year, Fielder took home the Home Run Derby -an event that is still quite popular with the Little League crowd- and Howard became the quickest ever to reach 200 homeruns, getting there in just 658 games.

It’s not just chicks who dig the long ball; it’s everyone, especially kids.

And Fielder and Howard and now Jason Heyward’s homeruns can reach the inner cities. These guys are young enough to be fan favorites for another decade and baseball needs to take advantage of that.


Sexy Rexy 11:42 PM, April 16, 2010  

3) Players like Torii Hunter and Orlando Cabrera and Milton Bradley need to stop bringing race into things. Cabrera said (rather heavily heavily implied) guys like Jermaine Dye don't have a job because MLB is racist. No, JD doesn't have a job because he was the worst OF defender last year and had an awful awful offensive second half. He doesn't have a job because he's not good at baseball anymore. Bradley said the Cubs and Chicago was racist. Maybe if Bradley wasn't such a cancer everywhere he went and performed even slightly to his contract then people would get off his back. These things Black players say have non-race related causal arrows yet the ones who speak out want to make it about race.

4) The lack of Black players in baseball is absolutely a problem, but it's not all on MLB's I'll say not even close to even half the burden). But, MLB has realized the problems and is doing their best to correct it with their RBI program. But race, culture, and SES also play a huge part and is independent of MLB.

Also, in the area you coach, what percentage of your area is White? Black? Asian? Part of the problem of the lack of kids in little league has to do with a larger cultural issue at large in this society and not because Bus Selig is a worthless pile of crap.

Sexy Rexy 11:42 PM, April 16, 2010  

1) Sociological studies throughout time has shown that the group that tends to produce the best athletes are the ones in the lower socioeconomic status. Back in the early 20th century- the best athletes (particularly basketball players) tended to be Jewish. But in this current generation, generally speaking, Blacks tend to be the class that is in the lowest SES and also tend to be the best athletes.

Kids want to go outside and have fun and play, but if you don't have any money, the games you participate in are very limited. So when poor kids want to go do something, nowadays they go play basketball and football. I live in Chicago and there are a plethora of basketball hoops (maybe not in the greatest shape and without nets, but in fine enough shape to be able to throw a ball through it). With basketball and football, all you need are some friends and a ball. Both are very easy and very cheap to get. There are tons of basketball courts across america and you can play football anywhere with an open field.

These two sports are also very easy to learn by yourself. The ability to run and catch a ball or shoot one or even throw one are decently easy to learn (unfortunately not for me lol).

However, a sport like baseball is not that simple. First of all, you need a set number of players. In basketball and football, sure it's helpful to have 10 and 22 players, respectfully, but not necessary. It's a lot more difficult though to play baseball without at least 18 kids.

Add to that burden the fact that it's a lot more difficult to play baseball "anywhere" (sure it's done like on the streets, but its still more difficult) and the fact that there is more equipment (like gloves, bats, catcher gear, maybe even cleats) and baseball becomes so burdensome, that why should poorer kids try and play this when all there friends are playing basketball and football?

FYI- hockey also has this problem. If you're poor, no way in hell you can find ice skates nevertheless a place to skate like a hockey rink

This is why, generally speaking, Blacks choose basketball and football. When they're young, that's the sport they can easily play so when they get older, that's the sport they specialize in and get really good at.

This is in fact the main causal element why Blacks are decently absent from professional baseball.

MLB does have this program called RBI (Returning Baseball to the Inner-city) but it's probably a fruitful effort and the effects won't be seen for at least another 10-15 years.

2) How else do you expect baseball to promote its black players? The best player is Albert Pujols so you do what you can to promote him- but it's mainly ESPN that talks about him because he's so good.

There's an ESPN commercial currently airing where Ian Kinsler and Prince Fielder (along with actor Adam Scott talking about) Tim Lincecum to promote Sunday Night Baseball. I've seen Ryan Howard and CC Sabathia doing Subway commercials. Yesterday was Jackie Robinson day where every MLB player wore 42 to respect the man who broke the color barrier.

How do you expect MLB do go about exactly "promoting its black players"? This is not some magical wand where they can just tell people to like the black athletes. How in fact does MLB market any of its players?

The two main reasons people know about baseball players is by fantasy baseball and ESPN coverage. Again, if you're poor you can't afford to have internet to play fantasy baseball and the majority of the poor are Black. And what ESPN does (although they most certainly have black athletes and black baseball players in their ads) is independent of MLB. Although they sure as hell do talk a lot of the Yankees and CC Sabathia.

Sexy Rexy 11:43 PM, April 16, 2010  

oops, I messed up my posting, please read my second post (starting with "1") first

Majeda Khatun 12:57 PM, July 29, 2012  

Nice Article! I hope this will be informative to all.

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