Over the last few decades, the cost of playing youth baseball has risen and Black participation has significantly dwindled.
Baseball Playing “Brothers” Still on Decline
Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones put it bluntly: “Baseball is a White man’s sport.”
For African-Americans, the country’s pastime has seemingly become a thing of the past. And for the positions of catcher and pitcher, African-American stars definitely have become a thing of the past.
In the early 20th century, drivers throughout the African-American communities across the country would find it difficult not to see a group of African-American kids playing baseball on the sandlot even if real bats had been substituted with broomsticks and other items.
However for decades, basketball and football have earned the attention of African-American children.
But is it possible that more lanes to stardom and fortune could lie on the baseball diamond for inner city kids struggling to make a way for their families?
“The overall percentage of African-American or African-Canadian major leaguers was 7.73 percent [in 2017], down from 8.27 percent in 2015 and ’16, according to MLB.com,” reported Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com.
According to an April 2017 FoxSports.com article, “The 30 major-league teams opened the season with a combined total of 54 African-American pitchers in the minors, or less than two per team. The total number of African-American minor-league catchers in all of baseball was five, or one every six clubs.”
Part of the problem is that African-Americans are not providing a deep enough pipeline of talent for Major League Baseball like in past decades.
Even baseball teams at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are looking less like the student body year after year.
In a 2014 article in SportsonEarth.com, Shaun Powell reported that Winston-Salem State University only had three African-Americans on the traveling baseball team even though the student enrollment was approximately 75 percent African-American.
Powell wrote, “Truthfully, the makeup of baseball teams at more than half of the HBCUs has been mostly White for years now, a racial transition that underlies the speed in which Blacks have abandoned the national pastime since the 1980s.”
So in order to stop the abandonment of baseball or to reintroduce the sport to inner city youth, Major League Baseball (MLB) continues to support programs, which make it easier for African-Americans to participate in the sport of baseball.
“We are aware of the fact that the numbers are low,” said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. “That’s why we have in place programs that are designed not only to increase the number of African-Americans playing the game, but to specifically address the pitcher-catcher issue.”
One such program is the all expense paid Dream Series, an event for 60 high school pitchers, which included a diverse group of talent.
One of the biggest reasons for the decline in African-American participation in baseball is economic.
“I think the cost of the game (caused) a decline,” former major leaguer Lou Collier said. “The kids couldn’t afford it. The scouts are looking for more polished players. Kids in the inner city were not getting the resources or trained the way scouts were looking for.”
The lack of resources makes MLB’s RBI program very vital to get more inner city youth playing baseball.
The RBI program has thrived in cities like Houston, and provides baseball fields and equipment in predominantly Black neighborhoods like the Acres Homes community in the nation’s fourth largest city.
However, more help is needed to get more Black talent playing in competitive travel leagues, which are frequented by college and professional scouts.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “Travel teams can cost anywhere from $1,000-$2,000 per season. To play in high profile showcases, where pro scouts often will check out players, there are sometimes fees of at least $100 or as much as $500. To keep up with the cream of the crop, extra training is necessary with private pitching or hitting coaches outside of team practices, running a player at least $40 a pop once or twice a week. A quality baseball glove can cost up to $100 or more, aluminum bats run into the hundreds of dollars and name-brand cleats start around $150.”
The Chicago Tribune also reported that NCAA revenue sports like football and basketball often offer full-ride college scholarships, while college baseball offers few full-ride scholarships.
However, there is a better chance of making the MLB than the National Basketball Association because there are more slots available in baseball than pro basketball.
Furthermore, baseball contracts are often guaranteed unlike many pro football contracts.
Although Jones stated that baseball is a White man’s sport, it is more of a rich man’s sport.
As the cost of playing youth baseball has gone up, the number of African-Americans playing the sport has gone down.
And pro baseball, and even HBCU baseball, has become less diverse as a result.