Lack of Blacks

This past week I was reading an article on Espn.com where the results of a study done by the University of Central Florida were released in which Major League Baseball was given a grade for racial diversity.  While the grade MLB received was good as far as overall diversity, the percentage of African-American players dropped to 8.5% from 9.1% last season, the lowest since 2007.  After reading this my wheels began turning.  Why would the percentage of black American players be so low in a sport as popular as Major League Baseball?  It’s a bizarre percentage considering how the black athlete has dominated another major American sport like the NBA, whose player population is over 80% African-American.  I have zero scientific evidence, or ‘real’ statistics to back up my own theory, but I think that a few of the following factors play a role in the current dynamics of professional sports. 

The first component that popped in my head when thinking about this topic was where 80% of all Americans live:  Metropolitan areas.  Compact living in cities and suburbs are where it’s at in 2011.  You don’t have to punch in too many google searches to see that more than half of the black population in the U.S. live in those cities.  It’s just a fact.  To play the game of baseball, you need a few things, and space is one of them.  What’s lacking in major/populated cities?  Of course, space.  Yea, there are baseball fields here and there in major U.S. cities, but I don’t think anyone would agree that they’re commonplace.  On the other hand, it seems like there’s a basketball court on every corner, or at least a hoop.  I think that hurts baseball among African-American city dwellers.  Which brings me to the next point:  What are the basic things you need to play a game of baseball?  People and equipment.  Even if you’re doing the very basic ‘catch’ throwing back and forth, you need a baseball and gloves.  These things cost money.  I’m not reinventing the wheel when I say that incomes in the inner city are on the lower scale from a geographical standpoint.  What percentage of kids age 15 and under own a baseball glove in inner cities?  I played little league from the time I was seven or eight until I was 15, and never once was it free.  The cost to play in the league, the cost for my gloves throughout the years and transportation to practice and  games.  If my mother was never able to pay for the cost, would I have ever in my life played in a real baseball game?  It’s just hitting me now that I never would have.  I think back to that same time period when I wanted to play hockey in the worst way.  I remember my mother hitting me with the crushing news that we didn’t have the money to afford all of the equipment, even if it was purchased second-hand.  Have I ever experienced playing in a real hockey game?  No.  It’s not the exact same with inner city baseball, but I think there’s a correlation.  So what if inner city kids wanted to just play a baseball game on their own?  Baseballs, gloves, bats, and 18 people, with limited space unfortunately it isn’t practical.  How many times have you drove down city streets and seen a baseball game?  Even kids throwing the ball around?  Compare that number to the amount of times you’ve seen a pickup basketball game taking place.  And to me, this availability of the game (or lack of availability) is one of the major components as to why there are so few African-American professional baseball players.  A kid in the inner city can walk to a basketball court by himself, bringing nothing with him besides the shoes on his feet and the shirt on his back (even that isn’t necessary), play with the ball that’s already being bounced, and be entertained for hours.  Even if nobody else was on the court, he/she would just need a ball.  Basketball hoops are everywhere.  Inside and outside schools, in the parks, portables rolled into the street or backboards nailed to garages and trees.  When I was younger I remember seeing a makeshift hoop in the form of a hard plastic basket for stocking foods with the bottom cut out of it, nailed to a tree on a side street in Schenectady, New York.  My point is, a game like basketball is more accessible for someone with little resources.  Even football can be played with just a ball and limited space.  I used to play 2-on-2 football on a patch of grass no longer than 20 yards, and no wider than 15 yards.  Unfortunately, you can’t play 2-on-2 baseball with any type of replication of the real thing.  Space, resources/equipment, and at least a dozen others willing to play don’t strike me as components that are common in our American Cities.  Without those components, it’s far less likely for African-Americans living in those cities to be exposed to the game of baseball from an early age, be able to play often enough to become any good at it, and then outperform those living in suburbia who have played with those same resources for years. 

Another explanation of why there are not more African-American Major League Baseball players is the lack of African-American Major League Baseball players.  Silly sentence, but give me a second.  Professional athletes in nearly every sport started at a very young age.  A child or teen watches their favorite sport on television, looks up to these players like untouchable gods, slapping posters on their walls, playing as them in video games and rocking their jerseys.  For a young African-American to turn on a game and not see another African-American players in baseball is discouraging.  8% is a very low number.  If you calculate roughly 750 MLB players, that leaves 60 African-Americans!  Not that a young black teen can’t look up to a white player, or vice versa (as I have looked up to black players my whole life), but you can’t tell me that not seeing someone from your own race helps baseball’s situation.  This is a sloppy example, but when I was eight or nine years old I remember loving pro wrestling and using my imagination to pretend I was a pro wrestler.  Even though I loved certain wrestlers like Brett Hart and Diesel the most, because they had long hair I wouldn’t pretend I was them.   This is because in my mind I wasn’t tricking myself enough in to thinking I actually was them.  Instead, I unconsciously chose a white skinned, short-haired wrestler (The British Bulldog) as the man I would bounce around my living room emulating.  And although this personal example isn’t an exact replication, I don’t believe it’s that far off the deep end for an analogy.  The lack of representation from African-Americans in pro baseball fuels further lack of representation.  This is just one more component why, in my opinion, there are so few black Americans in Major League Baseball. 

I thought further into why such a small number of African-Americans were in pro baseball and right or wrong, I began thinking on a smaller scale.  Take the high school level into consideration.  What sports see the most fans at their games?  Basketball and football unquestionably.  These two sports are the nations “glory” sports.  Even when soccer teams or volleyball teams are great, they never can match the spectators from when the football or basketball teams are playing well.  Imagine you’re a young, black, above average athlete living in an inner city going to a basketball game and seeing 2,000 people pack into a gymnasium to watch the boys varsity team play.  It would be hard for that young talent not to be drawn toward that glory that his older high school idols are receiving.  This glory inspires kids and drives them to be in that position to receive it.  I can remember one year in high school our baseball team was very good, and fun to watch.  They made sectionals and I made the trip to a local stadium to support our team.  Even in a playoff situation, the crowd was about half that of a Friday night football game with a very average football team.  The praise and attention shown to the ‘glory’ sports encourages the very best athletes to chase that glory.  Think over athletics in Brazil, Europe or Africa.  Soccer is clearly king, with nearly every other sport taking a back seat.  All the attention is funneled to soccer, and in turn the best athletes from those nations play soccer (Which in my opinion is why the U.S. was so late catching on to the world’s game, because our best athletes were busy dunking basketballs and doing touchdown dances).  When you break it down, I don’t think it’s a hard equation to understand. 

Although these are just some of my own thoughts on why African-Americans take up only 8% of Major League Baseball, I don’t for a second think that it’s just that simple.  I hadn’t brought the topic up for one minute at work before everyone within earshot was voicing their opinion.  The overall interest in the sport is dropping, the interest in new sports like soccer and lacrosse, and the slow pace of baseball were all suggestions thrown out there.  I don’t have the statistics or validation to say which is which.  The television ratings for baseball have clearly been diving for some years now, so maybe it is just the overall falling popularity that only garners 8% of MLB players being African-American.  Maybe it’s the lack of space to play baseball where those African-Americans live.  Maybe it’s the economics of those inner cities.  Maybe it’s the lack of inspiration from other black Americans on the pro level.  I’m not sure if we’ll ever know, but what I do know is that there are a surplus of talented African-Americans out there waiting to be tapped into baseball.  Hopefully MLB can get ahold of some answers to reverse the trend before it gets even worse.

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2 Responses to Lack of Blacks

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jpalma is right, I think u meant sucky football team haha

  2. Jpalma says:

    uhh dont you mean below average football team!! hahaha

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