Why Aren’t Black Kids Playing Baseball
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Throughout the sport’s history, baseball has had a large personality. It has influenced men, women and children of all ages, from a variety of different countries and even influenced fashion (Example: Yankees hats).
From Jackie Robinson to Willie Mays, to Ken Griffey Jr., baseball has been armed with African-American players who have had larger-than-life personalities and stories that have captivated audiences.
That fact of baseball life has been diminished over the years.
Although there are big names like Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, David Price and Mookie Betts, there are many young athletes who aren’t picking up the sport. Back in September, Jones spoke about Colin Kaepernick’s protest and how black players in the Majors can’t do the same.
“We already have two strikes against us already,’’ Baltimore Orioles All-Star center fielder Adam Jones said to USA TODAY Sports, “so you might as well not kick yourself out of the game. In football, you can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don’t need us.
“Baseball is a white man’s sport,” continued Jones.
From those comments, a great deal of people could dissect them in any way, but the biggest thing to take away from it is that it seems that many black players aren’t allowed to express themselves without severe repercussions.
Jones has been very vocal on different social matters while playing with Baltimore, but many other players may not be afforded that opportunity. This is especially in a sport where players are expected to adhere to the unwritten rules of the game, which has commonly affected Latin American players as well.
USA TODAY Sports also looked at the declining amount of Black American MLB players in April of 201t6. The results were staggering. Despite making up around close to 14% of the United States’ population, Black Americans only made up 8% of the MLB.
The other issue that is included is the representation.
Many Black players are overwhelmingly represented as outfielders, positions that are usually fielded by highly athletic players. There are a few Black players represented on the mound, but its only 10. There are no Black American third basemen.
The largest issue is that there are no Black American catchers, although there is one Black Canadian (Russell Martin). This is of huge importance to note. The catcher is the quarterback of the baseball field. He makes many of the calls, he is effectively the extension of the manager on the field. To not have any Black catchers is a damning indictment on the game of baseball.
Is it too expensive to play catcher or is it something a little more sinister?
Catcher’s gear is very expensive. If a youth player wants to get a full set of new gear, it ranges from about $75-$150. That’s without the catcher’s mitt and cleats. I played catcher as a kid and once I grew older, the equipment was outside of my mom’s price range. I was forced to switch to a position that was cheaper to play, so I played first base instead.
That is the dilemma that many different kids face on a regular basis while playing baseball, not just Black children. The difference is that the equipment in many places is provided for the young player. Which leads us to another issue.
In Latin America, children that are less fortunate are offered positions to play in academies that are ran by Major League teams. However, due to the amateur rules in America, many black children (not all) in the U.S. are not able to get the necessary equipment to play the position.
America does have programs like RBI (which serves many urban areas) and the Boys and Girls Club, but they don’t have the same resources that academies do. These recreational programs don’t allow for players to live, eat and breathe baseball like their Latin American counterparts.
Travel teams cost a lot of money. Sometimes they can reach into the thousands of dollars for showcase programs. Baseball is a sport that is played from February to October/November. Many kids are practicing in the cages during the winter or on the indoor mound. They are working on their craft. For many black children, even ones born into wealthier families, the resources just aren’t there.
There aren’t many batting cages in predominantly black areas. There aren’t many travel teams either and if they are, they are almost always severely underfunded.
Mark Armour and Daniel R. Levitt of SABR (Society of American Baseball Research) did a study that contained the percentages of players by ethnicity from 1946-2016.
Armour would state:
The percentage of African Americans grew steadily from Jackie Robinson’s debut in 1947 until the early 1970s at which point it plateaued around 16% to 19% for a quarter-century (1972-1996). Since then it has plummeted to less than half that amount. There are a lot of theories as to why this happened, most of which are beyond the scope of this article. Our interest here is not to determine why, but to examine the data itself as a useful starting point.
One undeniable change in baseball rosters in the past generation is the growth of pitching staffs at the expense of position players. As shown in Figure 2, nearly all the increase in players used per team comes from an increased use of pitchers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the percentage of players who were pitchers began rising from the low 40 percent range to 53.4% in 2016. For the past dozen or years, more than half of all players in major league baseball have been pitchers.
Black kids are flocking to other sports as well. They are playing basketball, football and now even soccer. These sports are much cheaper to play than baseball. In these three sports, it is very cheap to go out and play. All that one needs is a ball and a goal. The ball is usually very cheap and basketball/soccer goals aren’t hard to find. In the case of football, the sport is usually heavily funded by high schools that participate in the sport.
These sports also have black superstars that permeate the culture of the game. LeBron James constantly sells shoes and makes constant appearances on national television. He is known around the world and in the United States because his talent displayed and shared on a regular basis. Baseball doesn’t do the same with any of their stars.
It is a very regional game in nature. The only time that baseball is shown nationally is by ESPN on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. Every couple of weeks on Saturdays, there is a baseball game broadcasted on FOX. These games are often pre-selected before the season starts and may sometimes have issues when it comes to timing.
Baseball is also sandwiched in-between three of the other major sports because of its season’s length. Sometimes, MLB games come into conflict with the NHL and NBA playoffs and lastly the NFL season. During the summer, the MLB’s only competitor is the MLS. It should capitalize on Sundays where football is missing and have more primetime games on weekdays.
All in all, many kids aren’t playing baseball, but the sport is at a declining at an unbelievable rate for Black Americans. It could be combated in a number of different ways. Costs have to be covered somehow and it takes some funding by the government and other independent bodies.
The MLB should take a look at investing in baseball fields at predominantly black high schools that have rugged fields. They should also look into providing gear to teams that don’t necessarily have the money.
It comes down to more than money. It’s the culture. Do not make black baseball players suppress their culture for certain people. Back when black people were highly interested in baseball, there were superstars that were a part of the culture. Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Doc Ellis, Eddie Murray, Mays, Griffey Jr., and now Jones. Put guys like them at the forefront of the game.
Jones played great during the World Baseball Classic for Team USA. Instead of pushing that into the background, Major League Baseball should honor him by getting more black kids involved. Players like Adam Jones are integral to the revival of black baseball. Put him and other prominent black players in the limelight. He’s definitely earned it as a 5x All-Star.