Back in 1975, African-Americans made up over one-quarter of all Major League Baseball Players. That number dropped to just over eight percent for Opening Day of the 2013 campaign.
There has been a lot of talk about why the number of black players, and the interest among blacks in baseball, have both decreased.
It’s a conversation worth having. It’s also a topic that comedian Chris Rock took on in a recent verbal essay on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.
I am an endangered species, a black baseball fan. Why don’t black people like baseball anymore? When I was growing up, we loved baseball. I followed the Mets. And in 1986, we won it all with Doc (Gooden), Darryl (Strawberry), (Kevin) Mitchell and my man Mookie (Wilson). Back then, almost 20 percent of all Major League (players) were African-American. And I could actually have conversations with other black people about baseball.”
As someone who’s first memory of baseball was the late 1980’s, I understand full well what the well-respected comedian is talking about here. You had Dave Stewart, Dave Parker, Dave Henderson and the great Rickey Henderson for my hometown Oakland Athletics. That 1989 A’s team, which ended up winning the World Series, boasted eight African-American players. Today’s A’s 25-man roster consists of two.
While that’s a micro focus on my part, Rock focuses on the more macro aspect.
Last year, the San Francisco Giants won it all without any black guys on the team. The closest thing to a person of color was in their stands, a bi-racial seal,” Rock later continued. “And the team the Giants had to beat to get there, the St. Louis Cardinals, had no black players either. How could you ever be in St. Louis and see no black people?”
That’s just stunning.
Baseball isn’t 20 percent black anymore. It’s eight percent and falling fast. That’s an average of two guys per team. And those two probably listen to Blake Shelton to keep from getting their a** kicked by their teammates.
Stillman is one of the oldest black schools in America (founded 1876). Almost every kid there is black, except for these 36 (shows clip of the school’s baseball team)—one black kid, and 36 white guys.”
If colleges aren’t producing African-American talent, then the sport of baseball won’t be able to bridge the gap between white players and black players. A gap that Rock points out has continued to increase.
In going further in-depth, Rock had this to say about the reasoning behind the lack of black baseball players:
“It’s not the money. You can’t tell me black kids can’t afford baseball when everyone is buying Jordan’s for $300. It’s the game. It’s old-fashioned and stuck in the past. You got the white-hair, white guy announcers. You got the cheesy, old organ music at the games. I mean, where’s the Beats by Dre?
And every team is building a bull****, antique stadium that’s supposed to remind you of the good old days. You know, the good old days of (Babe) Ruth, (Joe) Dimaggio, Emmett Till.”
Okay, Chris. This is where you lost me.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with baseball holding true to its tradition. That’s one of the primary reasons it’s maintained its status as America’s Pastime. If you want to bring racism and a history of our nation’s treatment of African-Americans into this (Till), then you also might want to focus on how much the inclusion of African Americans into the sport helped move this nation forward. Remember, we just celebrated Jackie Robinson Day—a day in which all those white players paid tribute to the iconic individual that broke the color barrier.
But I digress.
Guess what? Black people don’t like to look back,” Rock said. “But baseball can’t get enough. Last month they had a throwback baseball tournament where everybody got dressed up like it was the 1860’s. Back when batting runners in meant putting down a slave rebellion”
Okay, so we see where Rock is going with this.
The idea that some sort of racist culture in baseball has played a role in the deterioration of blacks playing the sport is absolutely ridiculous. As with everything in this nation’s history, there is the stain of racism embedded within baseball. However, there is also a certain fundamental rite of passage for every American relating to this sport. That’s why it has stood the test of time. That’s also why it has helped this nation overcome some of her most difficult moments. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and Lavonne Paire Davis during World War II. Even the Negro Leagues before African-Americans were (much too late) allowed to play Major League Baseball.
Baseball wants everything to stay the way it used to be,” Rock declares. “The world has sped up, but the game is slower than ever.”
Rock may very well be on to something. Of the four major professional sports in the United States, baseball is obviously the slowest. But this doesn’t mean that the powers to be want everything to stay the same. Instead, new commissioner Rob Manfred has put into motion new rules and is looking to speed up the game.
The minute baseball goes completely away from its roots is the minute that it ceases to be baseball.
That’s something Rock fails to comprehend in what was a thought-provoking verbal essay on the status of African-Americans in the sport.
It’s definitely a discussion worth having. It’s also a discussion that can’t simply be summed up by making a few statements based on pre-conceived notions. That’s where he failed.
Photo: USA Today Sports