Baseball’s Whiteness, especially at the pro and college levels, is both obvious and concerning. There are more Latin American-born players (about 30 percent) than U.S.-born Blacks (between 7 and 8 percent) in the majors.
Meanwhile, Blacks playing college baseball has remained virtually unchanged in at least a decade: from 4.2 percent in 2008 to 4.9 percent in 2018, according to NCAA racial statistics.
Even more concerning is that at some Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), non-Black players outnumber Blacks on the team.
The reasons vary as to why there have been so few Blacks in baseball over the years. One such reason is the notion that a lost generation of Black fathers stopped playing catch with their Black sons. This reporter often laughs at this since my father never played catch with me, and I have been following baseball since grade school.
But, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), over the past four years, baseball has seen a 53 percent “growth participation.” Since 1989, Major League Baseball (MLB) has installed several initiatives, such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) to get more Black youth playing baseball. The RBI website noted that at least 150,000 boys and girls ages 13-18 have participated as well.
Not counting this year’s MLB Draft, the last seven first-rounds have featured 44 Blacks out of 234 total players selected. But Byron Buxton is the Twins’ only U.S.-born Black player, and thus far this season, this reporter doesn’t event need one hand to total the number of visiting Black players on the field or in the dugout.
“I’m not naïve. I see the numbers myself when we are drafting players and players coming out of high school. I think it is an industry-wide issue, not individual teams,” Minnesota Executive Vice President, Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey told the MSR during a recent Twins game.
Another obstacle, or at the very least, a hindrance, is money: buying equipment such as bats, gloves and such, plus player fees for summer traveling teams, and attending “showcase” tournaments where pro and college scouts frequent can be costly.
“I think the prohibitive cost that’s associated with baseball is a lot higher than the other sports,” said University of Houston Professor Billy Hawkins in an MSR phone interview.
Hawkins added that Texas Southern Professor Kenyetta Cavil, who, like him, regularly discusses race and sports, told him that a couple of reasons for HBCUs having low numbers of Black baseball players include: 1) few HBCUs offer full athletic scholarships for baseball, and 2) a gap currently exist between Little League and high school baseball.
“If you had to choose between a full ride playing basketball or football, the majority of those multi-talented athletes will choose the full ride,” Hawkins said. “Not many middle schools in urban school settings offer baseball. They mostly offer the ‘traditional’ sports of football, basketball, and track and field.”
Hawkins summed up, “I think one of the things we have to [realize] is … we have racialized sports. It’s hard to get away from [it], especially when we have a country this divided along racial lines. It’s not anything profound, just reality.”
“You already pointed it out that we don’t have much representation” when it comes to Blacks in baseball, Falvey concluded. “For young kids watching our game, they don’t see as much participation from the African American population. But I would say, I don’t have a specific answer. I wish I did.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org