Baseball, Race, and youth athletes

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I saw the headline in ESPN’s feed and clicked through, prepared to be outraged — “Astros first W.S. team in 52 years without black player.” Outraged that the great Joe Morgan would be making a stink about the racial makeup of a baseball team. Outraged that ESPN would carry it. Outraged that race was even an issue. Nearly 60 years after Jackie Robinson, can’t we get past looking at the racial makeup of a team?

I’m glad I clicked through and read the whole aricle. Instead of anger, I found myself agreeing with Morgan. He’s not upset at the Astros organization for not having black players — he’s upset at black athletes for not choosing baseball.

Morgan and others see the problem is not that baseball fails to find black players, but that the black athletes from the inner city and elsewhere are failing to choose baseball. While only 6% of top college teams are made up of blacks, half of the players on those same college basketball teams are black.

The White Sox have several black players, black and hispanic coaches, and a Japanese player. But this isn’t by some grand design. The General Manager of the White Sox didn’t set out to build a diverse team, he set out to build the best team, and it happens to be racialy diverse. “We’re diverse because we’re looking for the best in talent and character,” said GM Ken Williams.

When Williams was a scout, he attempted to recuit minorities from the inner cities but had little success. I suspect that this is a symptom of a greater problem, namely that today’s youth aren’t choosing to play baseball. The Little League that my kids play in shrunk by 5% last year and expects to have 5% less players again this year. Although the league boundries include a large eastern European population there are almost no slavic players in the league. Baseball stuggles to have 300 kids sign up, but the local soccer club has well over 3000 youth members. The youth football team holds tryouts and turns away almost half of the interested kids. The baseball teams scrape to fill rosters.

Why is this? Football, soccer, and basketball are easier to play, for one. All you need is a ball and a place to play. You can adapt the games to the number of players you have available and the space you’re in. Baseball needs more open space and it’s harder to play if you’ve only got four guys.

Baseball is a more mental game on the surface than other sports. If you play a game of touch football, there’s action on every play for every player. You don’t have to know anything at all about soccer to join a pickup game at the park. Just kick the ball that way, toward those two trees over there. But with baseball, you have to understand the basic rules in order to make any sense of even watching a game, nevermind playing it.

When I was a kid I was in the street or in a friend’s backyard almost every day playing baseball. If it was a small space, we used wiffle balls and bats. Bigger spaces let us use a real bat and a tennis ball (so we didn’t break a window). First base was the front tire of that old Chevy over there. Second base, a spot of paint on the street. One of the batting teams’s gloves was home plate. Ghost runners reigned, but rarely needed because we usually didn’t stop running. Every hit was a home run or an out. The Mastercard commercial reminds me of my youth, but it’s a scene I rarely see now.

We need kids playing baseball. Not just the inner city minorities, but kids from all around the country.

Craig Borysowich
October 26, 2005 12:48 PM

Hmmm... I question the accuracy somewhat... I watched last nights 14 inning marathon, and the astros did bring in a black pitcher named Ezequiel Astacio... Taveras and Vizcaino would probably also qualify... Their team is certainly overpopulated with white guys compared to some other teams though...

edgar martinez
October 10, 2006 8:18 PM

Craig you are an idiot those guys are from Latin countries, not african american. DUMbass!!

Dude McNastay
December 18, 2007 1:23 PM

hmm... maybe your little racist theory of baseball being a "more mental" game than other surface sports is complete BS, how about areas with high percentages of Blacks don't have access to a baseball diamond? It takes money to keep a baseball field in good shape bozo, and I don't see big cities dying to empty the city coffers into the ghetto.

Adam Kalsey
February 12, 2008 9:29 PM

It takes money to maintain a basketball court, a football field, or a soccer field, too. But kids don't need those things to play the sport. Just some open space and some imagination. Same with baseball, as I pointed out. Lack of a playing facility has nothing to do with kids not playing a sport. What's the point of quoting me out of context and calling me names? I didn't say that inner city kids are incapable of understanding the game. I said that it takes more effort to understand enough of the game to play it. Here's the fundamentals of how to play other sports on the playground... Touch football. When our team has the ball, any time you get it, you try to run over there until someone tags you. When they have the ball, try and tag the guy who has the ball. Soccer. Don't use your hands or arms. Kick the ball through that goal over there, and keep the other team from getting the ball through that other goal. Basketball. You have to keep dribbling the ball, and when you stop, you can't start again. Throw the ball through that hoop. Keep the other team from doing the same. See, in a sentence or two, I explained the rules well enough that someone can follow the action. With all of those, you'd probably explain the boundary lines. Now here's baseball. When you're at home plate, hit the ball that the pitcher throws. Run to first when you do. You don't have to stop there, but don't get caught off base. Go to each base in order, and you can't go backward around the bases. You can get someone out who's off a base by tagging them with the ball. Or by stepping on the base they're going to, but only if they are forced to leave the base they're on because all of the bases behind them are occupied and the batter is going to first. You can get the batter out by catching the ball in the air after he catches it. when you hit the ball, you have to hit it between these two lines. You score by touching home plate before your team makes three outs.

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