This is the time of year when the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports releases its annual report on the lack of African Americans in Major League Baseball. In 2008, blacks in MLB were at 10.2 percent, last year nine.
A few years ago, I wrote a column while I worked for the “Daily Dispatch” in Henderson, N.C. that drew a lot of hate emails and even a tongue lashing from one of the coaches. In essence, I wrote that it is the high schools to blame for the lack of blacks on collegiate and MLB levels. High schools and lower tier programs aren’t producing the blacks that can carry over to even the minors.
I will continue to place blame to the youth leagues, middle and high school coaches that aren’t encouraging blacks to come out for baseball. I will continue to place blame on these coaches who do not want to take the time to teach blacks how to play baseball because they’re worried about wins and loses. I will also partly blame the integration of baseball.
Just as de-segregation cost thousands of black teachers their jobs, integration has slowly pushed blacks out of baseball. The Negro Leagues was the outlet for black baseball players. The Negro Leagues had the greatest players in the world — the young Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige was the greatest pitcher ever; Josh Gibson was the greatest power hitter ever and the Homestead (later Washington) Homestead Grays was one of the most dominate teams ever.
But as the Negro Leaguers began trickling into the Majors, only the elite made rosters while everyone else left the game entirely because of the white ball players filling roster spots.
There are initiatives, such as the RBI program, that targets inner city youths in an attempt to attract them to baseball. And although the idea is spot on, the target group isn’t. Despite what MLB believes, there are more black youths in America than just those in the ghettos. And it is those other black youths they should focus on.
Black kids that live in rural areas have a better chance of obtaining baseball dreams than any other. There are more open land for fields to play and practice on and a lot of youth leagues play games and host tournaments in local parks in the rural South. During the drudgery of the summer with no immediate metropolitan for rural kids to hide away in, country kids would be prime targets for the resurgence of blacks in baseball.
Besides, what other options do rural black kids have? Soccer?