Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 21, 2009


Dave Zirin, Edge of Sports - There were as many African-American presidents at the All-Star Game as players in the starting lineups. Only the fourteen-year veteran Derek Jeter represented people of African descent. (Jeter, like Obama, is of mixed heritage.) Eighteen percent of the players in the All-Star Game were African-American, including game MVP Carl Crawford, but none were voted in by the fans to open the contest. Jeter is also the only African- American player in the starting lineups of the two marquee teams in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox in particular have become so bleached in recent years, you wonder if Red Sox Nation has a Whites Only sign on the front door. This is particularly notable considering that the Red Sox were the last team to integrate in Major League Baseball.

It sends a message throughout the land that America's pastime has reinstituted a de facto color line. Yes, Jackie Robinson's number is retired in every park, but also retired seems to be the historic place baseball has had in the African-American community. As African- American star pitcher C.C. Sabathia said in 2007, "I go back home to Vallejo, and the kids say, 'What's baseball?' It's not just an issue for my hometown, it's an issue for the whole country. I think Major League Baseball should do something about it. I don't know exactly what they could be doing, but I know it's not enough."

In the mid-1970s, African-Americans made up 27 percent of the players in the league. Today it stands at just over 8 percent. In the NCAA only 6 percent of the nearly 9,800 Division I baseball players are of African descent.

Every year I write about this issue, because every year the media assess this problem and get it terribly wrong. Jayson Love wrote on Bleacher Report, "More of the African American athletes whose future is in sports seem to opt for football or basketball over baseball, possibly because the sports have 'more action.'?"

Gerald Early, an African-American scholar, wrote, "Black Americans don't play major league baseball so much these days because they don't want to.". . .

Seattle's Garfield High baseball coach Tom Riley said, "Right now, if you're a black guy, it's not hip to play baseball."

All well-meaning commentaries; all wrong. It's not a question of action. It's a question of access. Baseball players now tend to come in two groups. There are Latino players, scouted before they are 10, signed into baseball academies before their sweet 16 and imported along a global pipeline until they are cast aside or make the majors. Then there are white players, who largely come from suburban backgrounds and college programs. Baseball--in the US context--has gone country club. Like golf and tennis, or their hemp-addled cousins in the X Games, they are sports that require serious bank for admission. In addition, you need parents with the leisure time to be involved. These sports just don't fit the reality for today's working families, black or white. . .

Major League Baseball has attempted to address the access question through a program it runs called RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), but it has been like shoveling sand in the ocean. The greater problem is that our cities have become shells of their former selves. . .

Each city is also the site of a sparkling new baseball stadium, paid for in part or in full on the taxpayer dime. The irony has become a collective noose: fewer African-Americans play baseball because our cities are being strangled; our children are being fast-tracked to a ravenous prison industry; and no one has the time, money or will to organize a good old-fashioned game of baseball. . .

For African-Americans the national pastime is now past its time. The canary in the mine shift has fluttered to the ground. It would behoove us to notice.


Blogger Lars said...

Worrying about racial balance in a sport where talent really is the sole arbiter of your ability to participate seems like a waste of time to me. Black players with talent will find their way to the majors now question. Some latino players, notably Manny Ramirez, grew up in destitute neighborhoods and yet still went on to major league success. I'll grant that there is less opportunity to play baseball in certain places, but talent generally gets noticed considering that baseball scouting is now a global enterprise. And asserting that the Red Sox have been white-washed seems somewhat absurd. The team has players with a variety of backgrounds and to think that the current owners of the team are in any way connected to the clearly biased owners of the past is absurd.

On the flip side, should we be concerned that there is a dearth of white players in the NBA? Perhaps there is an institutional bias against white players.

Mind you I find that to be ridiculous. The NBA, like Major League Baseball now picks players with the most talent.

July 21, 2009 2:10 PM  
Anonymous wellbasically said...

My girls have participated in the RBI league mentioned in the article for two years. Our neighborhood is majority-minority, but the local league is 70-80% white. On the RBI league, the teams from the black parts of town are consistently the weakest in the league. I doubt they have a local league at all, and the RBI teams are the only place they can play ball. They will have a couple excellent players with no backup, and they get visibly discouraged by losing every game.

Baseball takes time to learn, it takes a large group to play as there is not much small group activity, it takes a committed parent especially a father who is over-interested in sports. Our city economy does not serve the poor black marginal neighborhoods and baseball is one more example of that.

July 22, 2009 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My best friend in St. Louis is a black guy who was high school buddies w/ Bernard Gilkey who played w/ the Cards and the Mets. I've played stick ball w/ them . It's an amazing though disappearing game that's much more difficult than baseball yet requires only a mopstick, a small rubber ball, a backyard or street and three or four guys. Really good for focus and reflexes.

July 22, 2009 9:32 PM  
Blogger dayana said...

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July 28, 2009 10:56 AM  

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