Why MLB wants more African-Americans in baseball, and how to fix it

Jackie RobinsonEach April it seems like we see the same stories about the lack of African-Americans in Major League Baseball. The stories seem to be published around the time when we celebrate the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball on April 15, 1947.

This year is not an exception.

Not only is Jackie Robinson Day coming up on Monday, but a new movie about Robinson called “42” that was released this week has heightened awareness over the decline of African-Americans in the game. MLB commissioner Bud Selig has created a task force to address the issue.

When we published our story on Selig’s plan to create a task force, we immediately saw a great deal of opposition to the plan. People were asking why a lack of African-Americans in baseball is a problem, and why affirmative action is needed in the game.

Though I would hardly equate the creation of a task force to instituting affirmative action, some of the points are valid. I have even expressed such views in the past. Think about it: baseball is an open, non-judgmental game. Spots are earned based on ability and performance. Anyone can play regardless of race or skin color. Why should there be concern about one culture of athletes over any others?

These are good questions to ask, so allow me to explain why MLB wants more African-Americans in the game. There are two prominent reasons why Major League Baseball wants more African-Americans in the sport.

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Marlon Byrd: Focus of Jackie Robinson Day shouldn’t be on lack of black players

Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball is mostly a day of celebration. All players wear jersey No. 42 in honor of the first player to break MLB’s color barrier. Some guys do even more as a tribute. But inevitably, one issue that comes up each year is the declining number of African-American players in the game.

Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd, who comprises part of the 8% of black players in MLB, is sick of the negative focus.

“If you want to take polls, then take polls asking how many black lawyers do we have now, or how many black judges or black doctors there are now,” Byrd said Sunday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Just because we’re black doesn’t mean we have to play sports. You can go through other avenues. If the decrease (in baseball) is because they’re going into academic fields, so be it. More power to them.”

Byrd may have been partially bothered by a recent newspaper article that focused on the lack of black players on the two Chicago baseball teams that used the headline “Black Hole,” but he makes a fair point. Should the day be about celebrating Robinson and what he did, or focusing on the decline of African-Americans in the game? What about celebrating the way the game has gone global to include the best players around the world?

Byrd told USA Today he hopes there will be more black players in the next 5-6 years. MLB is confident the situation will improve thanks to their efforts with urban academies and the annual Civil Rights Game.

Regarding Byrd’s point that he hopes the decline is because more black males are going into academic rather than athletic fields, I think the issue may be that many talented black athletes choose sports other than baseball. MLB instituting new draft policies that cap the amount of money teams can spend on draft picks isn’t helping baseball’s efforts to sway players away from other sports.

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

Curtis Granderson Can Count the Amount of Black Fans at Baseball Games

Baseball lacks a strong presence in the African American community. Many black athletes choose to play more glamorous sports like football and basketball, and that’s part of the reason the interest in baseball amongst African Americans is not that strong. We’ve touched on this point in the past when Orlando Hudson said there’s no place in baseball for black bench players (though he is wrong), and when he said free agents were blackballed because of race.

Baseball is a democratic game that works as a meritocracy; if you’re good, teams want you and will pay for your services. The problem is not enough of the best black athletes choose to play baseball, meaning the game isn’t as good as it can be. Not only is there a shortage of black players, there is also a shortage of black fans.

In an interview published Sunday, Yankees gregarious All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson bemoaned the lack of African-American fans at baseball games.

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Money, Age, and Skill Factor Into Free Agency More than Race, Orlando Hudson

In an article on Yahoo! Sports, Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson strongly inferred that African-American baseball players Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield are still free agents because of race. While I can’t go inside the heads of owners and general managers in MLB to see if that’s the case (and it’s historical fact that baseball has been racist in the past), I have several reasons why I believe those two players are still available as free agents, and none of them have to do with race.

First of all, I believe we’re at a point in MLB where teams will take talent any way they can get it. They’ve gone to Asia, Central America, South America, Europe, Australia, and every corner of North America to locate talented players who can help their team. Next, the second and third highest paid players are African-American (CC Sabathia, Derek Jeter). Only one of the top-10 paid players in baseball is white (Mark Teixeira). The top pick in the MLB draft has been an African-American player in three of the past five seasons (Tim Beckham, David Price, Justin Upton). Several of the exciting up-and-coming players in the game are African-American (e.g. Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson, Jason Heyward, and Andrew McCutchen). Lastly, because Hudson thinks there aren’t any Black bench players, here’s a brief list of several African-American platoon players: Dexter Fowler, Chris Dickerson, Milton Bradley, Ben Francisco, Jody Gerut, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Bill Hall.

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Orlando Hudson Agrees There’s No Place for African American Bench Players

Anytime you’re quoting Gary Sheffield you’re probably starting off on the wrong foot. Yes, Sheff’s the same guy who says he didn’t take steroids like the cream and the clear because “steroids is something you stick in your butt.” Clearly Sheff’s logic is second-to-none. Anyway, with MLB celebrating the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball, Dodgers’ second baseman Orlando Hudson talked about blacks in baseball:

“There aren’t too many blacks in baseball, period,” Hudson said. “They feel like they won’t get that chance. You watch the College World Series, how many African Americans do you see?”

“You look at it, you know, Brandon Phillips plays every day. Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard play every day. [I] play every day. Vernon Wells plays every day. [Carl] Crawford plays every day. [Mike] Cameron plays every day. Bill Hall plays every day. I don’t know too many African American bench players.”

First of all, I don’t care for that line of thinking to begin with. We hear some player saying it almost every year, invariably around this time. MLB doesn’t discriminate; whether you’re Indian, Korean, Colombian, Mexican, Japanese, Italian, or African American, they’re just looking for someone who can hit, field, or pitch exceptionally well. It’s up to each individual to choose what sport they want to play. African Americans are great athletes and dominate pro football and basketball. They’re free to play baseball too — there aren’t any race restrictions.

Furthermore, Hudson’s line about bench players is simply ignorant; just because Orlando can’t think of any black bench players off the top of his head doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Without doing much thinking I came up with Craig Monroe, Dewayne Wise, Joe Thurston, Fred Lewis, Dexter Fowler, Damion Easley, and Daryle Ward as guys who are or have been bench players recently. I wonder what Hudson has to say about that. I wish they would just drop the issue entirely. I would guess that the amount of white American players has decreased lately because of the global growth of the game but I don’t hear anyone complaining about that.

Scoop Jackson Damages Black People in Column on B.J. Upton, Clarifies

ESPN writer Scoop Jackson penned a column on B.J. Upton explaining that Upton’s stellar play in the playoffs could attract young inner-city African Americans to play baseball. I never understood what the claims of the crisis to begin with; baseball is open to all players regardless of race, and nobody is complaining about the dominance of African Americans in basketball or football, are they? Anyway, rather than saying young urban Black kids could watch slugger Ryan Howard lead the majors in home runs, or see Jimmy Rollins win an MVP (both also happen to be in the World Series), or watch CC Sabathia win a Cy Young and then pitch the Brewers into the playoffs almost single-handedly (on a team full of African Americans no less), Scoop decided to choose B.J. Upton as the player who could bring the popularity of baseball back to the African American urban youth. Here was his reasoning:

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