By Brandon Perkins, Staff Writer
Baseball in the black community is quickly declining in popularity and participation. This trend is occurring at the professional level, collegiate level, and in youth leagues. Black players represent just eight percent of the Major League Baseball (MLB) player body today. Entering the 2017 playing season, the St. Louis Cardinals had just one black player on the active roster. The same could be stated for the University of Missouri–St. Louis, whose baseball team only has one active black player.
Many argue that these trends of participation affect the up-and-coming generation that is watching. Many blacks such as Deion Sanders, Barry Bonds, Brian Jordan, Joe Carter, Mo Vaughn, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, and countless others once starred on the MLB diamond. In mentioning Black MLB stars it is important to remember that the color barrier in MLB was not broken until 1946 when Jackie Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Many argue that having only one player in the entire league could not mean any color barrier was broken nor was progress made. However, prior to the color barrier being broken, an entire league of black players existed, which was called the Negro League Baseball. Despite not being accepted in MLB, many black players and fans still enjoyed and experienced the game. Names like Josh Gibson dominated Negro League Baseball. In fact many argue that if Gibson had a chance to enter the majors, he could have been the greatest catcher of all time. Many of the legendary black players will never have a chance of being known and accepted for their greatness because they were not permitted to play in the majors. For example, Satchel Paige was not permitted to play in the MLB until he was in his mid-40s. Given this obstacle, Paige was still able to enter the majors and pitch successfully. However, one could only imagine how Babe Ruth’s numbers would be altered if he had to handle pitches coming from a young dominant Satchel Paige, or other dominant black pitchers of that era.
One survey states baseball is seeing a decline in black players in large part because the evolution of travel teams and pay-to-play leagues have instinctively turned youth baseball into a corporation that weeds out the under-privileged and promotes the privileged. The fact remains that baseball is a more expensive and insular organization. If a black child’s parent is not able to provide the resources needed to play, then the fundamental game of baseball can never be learned. In football and basketball only a ball is needed to gain necessary skills to succeed, however in baseball you must have equipment, gloves, bat, batting cages, pitching cages, etc., which accumulates cost that other sports do not.
Many of the baseball organizations that exist now are in suburban white communities where certain black kids do not have access. UMSL head baseball coach Jim Brady states, “Baseball needs more black leaders at the grass root level who will promote the game of baseball. Funding should be provided to coaches and programs to promote baseball to black kids. With baseball being a non-revenue sport at many universities, the visibility for the sport is simply not there. We gravitate toward people who look like us.”
During the 90s Coach Brady began seeing a major shift in sports marketing. Stars from the NBA and NFL were outshining stars from MLB. Bo Jackson is a prime example of this major shift. Bo Jackson was a two-sport star in baseball and football in college and professionally. Jackson received most of his fame and notoriety from his super-human playing on the football field—despite being equally dominant in MLB. Ken Griffey Jr also symbolizes the shift in baseball. While Ken Griffey was the biggest MLB star of the 90s, his star power never eclipsed that of Michael Jordan or Shaquille O’Neal. MLB, college baseball, and grass root baseball organizations must do more to ensure athletes of all colors are being targeted and valued. If not, America’s favorite pastime will have the look of a segregated baseball league.