Why is baseball striking out in the black community?
At a pee-wee football team practice in my neighborhood — before Hurricane Sandy turned the field into a lake — I stood on the sidelines with coaches talking about ... baseball. We'd noticed that the field didn't have a baseball backstop, only football goal posts, which set off an impromptu memorial for the death of baseball in the black community.
“Remember when every sport had its own season, and we played them all?” said Antonio Maffett, coach of the Fort Washington Stallions football team in Prince George's County, Md. “We'd play baseball anywhere — vacant lots, streets, alleys — and we'd use broomstick handles and socks wrapped in twine.”
So what happened? If the answer is that black people simply prefer basketball and football to baseball, as a Washington Post poll found last year, so be it. But if a sport that is so quintessentially American lacks black participation because of poor facilities and a lack of support, then something ought to be done to change that.
Black players in Major League Baseball dropped to 8 percent this past season, down from 27 percent in 1975, according to a study by USA Today earlier this year. But the problems obviously started long before the first pitch.
“One of the problems is that we don't devote enough resources to the sport,” said Tony Davenport, coach of the Fort Washington Canons, Md., youth baseball team. “We have camps for football and basketball year-round to develop those skills, but rarely do we get any information about baseball camps.”
The second problem, one not as easily fixed, was cited by Gerald Hall Jr., director of baseball operations for the Woodridge Warriors in the District of Columbia.
“If you did a survey, I believe you'd find that the one thing average and above average players have in common is a father,” he said. “Baseball is, at heart, a father-and-son sport.”
Davenport agreed. “You have to catch the kids early, start with the basics — how to hold a bat, the proper throwing motion, catch with the glove, not your hand,” he said.
Some have speculated the game just became too slow for today's impatient youth, that 162 games a season were too many for our attention-deficit generation to follow, that baseball teams didn't have individual stars like basketball and football do.
Maybe there's something to all of that. But it's unfortunate just the same. Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and the Negro leagues — gone and soon to be forgotten.
J.C. Bradbury, on his website about economics and baseball — sabernomics.com — notes that the financial and educational payoffs provided by baseball are better than any other sport. MLB even offers college scholarships to any player who signs a minor league contract.
“Why aren't we seeing a movement of African-American talent towards the sport with the highest financial returns?” Bradbury asks. “I think this question is key to understanding the racial disparity in baseball.”
Someone needs to explain that to the kids.
In my day, it wasn't about the money. It was about having a Louisville Slugger in your hands, a Willie Mays genuine cowhide baseball glove on one hand and a hardball leaving the other, with spin.
And running the bases like Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks or Lou Brock after knocking one over the backyard fence.
Courtland Milloy is a columnist for The Washington Post.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers notebook: Linebacker Timmons hoping for contract extension
- Four helicopters respond to Route 51 crash in Rostraver
- Miami (Fla.) gets prepared to take on ‘physical’ Pitt team
- Steelers plan to use smart pass rush against Seattle QB Wilson
- Penguins 4th line is showing promise
- School lunch group hopes to revise rules it calls impractical, too restrictive
- Western Pa. students bristle at changing menu choices
- Small stores take big gamble by not upgrading credit card readers
- Century Inn owner hopes to reopen Washington County landmark, gutted by fire, by end of next year
- Carrick crime ‘blitz’ shows early signs of success
- Mon City man arrested for alleged assault