According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), just barely eight percent of the total number of players on the 25-man Major League Baseball rosters on Opening Day 2015 identified themselves as African American or Black.
Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, the club’s only Black player reticently admits, “It’s sad, man. What can you do?”
The dwindling number of Blacks in Major League Baseball, however, remains a concern for MLB officials, as it should. When recently asked to name a Black baseball star, his players were stumped, recalled Minneapolis North Coach Chuck Simmons. “It’s no fault of theirs,” he says.
Nonetheless Simmons, who’s been at the school for 12 years, could be the local Pied Piper blowing the all-call horn for Black youth to play America’s pastime. There remains a legacy of Blacks playing the game established long before Jackie Robinson. “We had ball players before the Babe Ruths and those guys, but they never got a chance,” noted the coach/historian. “We do have history.”
The coach told the MSR prior to their home game against South last month that he sees a lot of promise in his novice Polars. Simmons is working with his athletic players to translate their skills onto the diamond. “There are several things you must do right,” stated the coach.
Simmons that day was teaching those right-type things to sophomore pitcher Travon Albert, such as effectively pitching out of the stretch. “It’s getting a little better,” admitted the young hurler. “I am just getting started and not doing all that good. I want to get better.”
Nearly 50 young men showed up this spring for tryouts, which allowed Simmons to field both a junior varsity and a varsity squad. The coach also holds Saturday clinics either at Farview Park or North Commons Park for area youngsters. “We are trying to get these kids interested [in baseball] and trying to make it fun. If it’s not fun, I don’t want to do it.”
“I just want kids in our community to at least try” the sport, added North Assistant Coach David Lee, who supports Simmons’ endless work to spread baseball on the North Side. “I think Coach Simmons has done a great job. I see it moving forward.”
However, baseball’s overall marketing strategy, especially to Blacks, still leaves a lot to be desired. Hunter points out that unlike the NBA, which promotes its stars ad nauseam, “We don’t have our own shoes — you can’t wear spikes to the [nightclub] or to the mall.
“Everything about baseball is traditional. It’s old school. Everything about basketball and football is all new, hip hop. I think baseball is trying to get there, but they are behind and have a long way to go.
“Whether I’m playing one more year or two more years, when I am done we can address that and figure some things out,” says Hunter.
“What I’m trying to do is [to] give them history plus teach them fundamentals,” concluded Simmons of his North Polars. “It’s a lot of work, but I am going to get it done.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.