2013 Baseball World Series: Where’s Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Jim Rice and Oil-Can Boyd? Actually, Where Have All The African-American Players Gone?

2013-world-series-st-louis-cardinals-vs-boston-red-sox

I met with some clients a couple of weeks ago from South Korea. We talked a little baseball, and one of the gentlemen stated that one of the teams had no Korean players on the team, so he was going for the other. I laughed and told him these days, I’m struggling to find African-Americans on any baseball team either!

This years Fall Classic featuring the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals looks like nothing like your father’s baseball teams.

Thirty- years ago in 1983, here’s the opening day line-up I remember shuffling around. My boy Damon and I battled each other daily at the strike-box we made on the side of the building imitating the batting stances and characteristics of the following players:

  • David Green
  • George Hendrick
  • Keith Hernandez
  • Ken Oberkfell
  • Darrell Porter
  • Mike Ramsey
  • Lonnie Smith
  • Ozzie Smith
  • Bob Forsch

Four of the nine were African-American, or perhaps we could say they were batting .444, which was very good!

mcgee-photo
Anytime I can get my man Willie McGee in a blog post, it’s a good post!

What about the Red Sox?

  • Wade Boggs
  • Dwight Evans
  • Jim Rice
  • Tony Armas
  • Carl Yastrzemski
  • Dave Stapleton
  • Rich Gedman
  • Glenn Hoffman
  • Julio Valdez
  • Dennis Eckersley

Jimrice

One of the nine would at considered African-American, or perhaps we could say they were batting .111. Well, Boston was the last team to integrate in the MLB and it’s been said that African-American’s would rather cheer for the opposing team than for the home team (sounds like me actually).

St. Louis, doing well, Boston,…not so much. The Red Sox have always had problems with their racist past (passing on Willie Mays because of his color) but were trying to change things, at least they were 10 years ago according to this article in 2002 (click here).

So how much has actually changed?

The following is an article from the Boston Globe seems to indicate that perhaps the 1983 Red Sox were ahead of the “changing demographic” time. I’m glad that some are still calling attention to the fact that African-American’s are becoming extinct in the National Pastime. Why is that a problem? Because the train will not be returning to the station to pick up the passengers left back. As legendary Father of Sports Sociology Dr. Harry Edwards pointed out in a recent interview, without African-American ball players, baseball is experiencing record profits (check out why Forbes feels it’s more than about ticket sales here). So with the money rolling in, why should that be a primary area of focus for MLB? Bob Costas, appearing on Dave Zirin’s Edge of Sports podcast (listen here), points out that the problem is beyond the changing demographics of teams, but the game itself could face overall irrelevance with future generations. As Costas duly noted, the NFL makes sure that its most important games can be seen by everyone. However, with MLB, the early rounds of the playoffs are nearly impossible to find (in some cases like Detroit vs. Oakland, the game was not on television at all in Detroit!) and the World Series comes on late and lasts long after the bedtimes of its future fans.

Therefore, beyond the extinction of African-American baseball players in the game. Baseball needs to be careful that its current prosperity isn’t the final rally before the Closer (i.e. NFL) comes in to put them away in the game.

Check out this article below from the Boston Globe by Gary Washburn

Feel free to leave comments below!

World Series shows MLB’s dearth of black players

When Adron Chambers was left off the Cardinals’ World Series roster Wednesday to create a spot for the team’s RBI leader, Allen Craig, Red Sox utility outfielder Quintin Berry realized that he was the sole African-American representation on baseball’s grandest stage.

This exemplifies an issue Major League Baseball has been grappling with for the better part of two decades. The participation of African-Americans has been dwindling to the point where there is not one black starter or front-line player in this year’s Fall Classic.

Berry, 28, who was acquired by the Sox from the Royals in August for his speed, is unlikely to even get an at-bat in the Series. It’s a stirring testament to the decline of baseball’s popularity in the African-American community.

MLB records show that just 8.5 percent of players on Opening Day rosters were black. And now, just one of the 50 players participating in the World Series identifies himself as African-American.

Berry, whose father is black, said he is fully aware of the declining numbers and that many athletes of his generation chose to pursue basketball or football, more fast-paced and popular sports.

“Especially being from the neighborhood that I’m from, you don’t see a lot of guys playing this sport,” said Berry, who went to Morse High School in San Diego. “You see them playing football and choosing that alley.

“But I had to go where my body type and my ability was going to allow me to. It was weird, because nobody in my family knew much about baseball. My father was a football player.”

The problem is not a lack of effort by Major League Baseball. It has implemented RBI programs — for “Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities” — throughout the country to encourage young African-Americans to embrace the sport. But MLB in general has done a terrible job of promoting its sport, let alone to African-Americans who admire athletes such as LeBron James and Adrian Peterson.

Major League Baseball has long struggled with self-promotion, and the past 20 years have been a public-relations disaster considering the scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs. Seven-time MVP Barry Bonds was perhaps the most talented player of his generation, yet baseball wants nothing to do with him because of his association with PEDs.

While the NFL and NBA are busy ushering their all-time greats into the Hall of Fame, baseball wishes Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa would disappear.

Part of the issue is that baseball is a classical sport caught up in a hip-hop world. The games last well beyond three hours. The pace is slow. The commentators analyze the game as if they were detailing the government shutdown and not talking about a kid’s game. The sport takes itself much too seriously, and for the casual fan — which most kids are — that translates like organic chemistry.

With the sport considerably less appealing than basketball or football to the novice fan, there isn’t the eagerness for parents to register their kids for Little League. A generation ago, it seemed Little League was a staple of every community. Even if you didn’t like baseball, you played on the local park team. Now? Those kids are playing basketball, football, and soccer, or have become part of the X Games trend.

Former major league outfielder Chris Singleton, now a commentator for ESPN, believes the issue expands beyond the playing field.

“I’m looking at management positions in the game,” said Singleton, who is African-American. “I know we’ve had an issue with the declining number of African-American players on teams, whereas you had teams like Minnesota, which had one player, Aaron Hicks, and then when he got sent down, they didn’t have an African American player, which is kind of a first in a long time.

“You can even look at broadcasters if you want to and say there’s 30 teams and there’s one black full-time play-by-play announcer [Dave Sims in Seattle].”

There has been an influx of African-American talent such as Matt Kemp, Jason Heyward, David Price, Adam Jones (Berry’s high school buddy), and Andrew McCutchen, but many of those players would go unrecognized by the casual sports fan.

Also, one current African-American major leaguer said there’s a perception among African-American major leaguers that the game isn’t as welcoming to them as it is to others when their physical skills begin to decline.

A fundamental problem is that baseball didn’t have to emphasize its greatness, its beauty, and its allure to previous generations.

It was America’s Game. The national pastime. That is no longer the case.

Baseball has to restate its worthiness to a new generation, one that didn’t grow up breaking in new gloves with plenty of oil and a couple of nights under the bed post — for those who don’t remember Bo Jackson scaling an outfield wall or Dave Parker throwing out Brian Downing at third base on a bullet from right field.

Otherwise, the sport is simply selling itself on history and tradition, and as with many other genres, that isn’t good enough for the young folks.

“When I go home and tell my buddies what the game needs, they need guys with speed and athleticism and the role that I am doing,” Berry said, “hopefully that will help them or their kids down the line, maybe push them to try to get them into this sport.

“I am happy I am able to do this and hope people follow in these footsteps.”

Gary Washburn can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at GWashNBAGlobe.

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Day 21 of 30 Days On Dads – African American Fathers & Baseball: The Future Depends On You

I was listening to a tremendous interview with Sociologists Dr. Harry Edwards (the podcast can be heard here) where he broke down some reasons for the decline in African-American baseball players. Later, I had a conversation with a friend and we discussed the lack of fundamentals seen in little league today. 

So take a look at the following chart created by sabr.org:

BlackBaseballDemographics1

Does anything surprise you?

What surprises me is the fact that according to the statistics, in 2012, African-Americans made up 7.2% of the MLB players. But in 1958, 11 years after Jackie Robinson broke the modern color-line in major league baseball (there were previously African-American’s in baseball, see here) there were 7.4%!

That’s right fans, major league baseball has the same percentage of African-American players as it had during the heart of American civil rights struggle as schools were still choosing to close their doors over desegregating.

This certainly deserves more of an in-depth study than what I’m going to do today, but I want to begin having the conversation and I want to first start with dads. Dr. Edwards has pointed out that unless we reach our boys (of any people group), with the sport of baseball by the time they are around ten years old, the likelihood of them picking up the sport is very minimal. Of course this gets compounded in the African-American community as they struggle with:

– lack of fathers in the household

– lack of funding for sports programs, especially baseball

– lack of secure playing field/area due to high crime rate in the neighborhood

– lack of finances to pay league fees and/or for equipment

– lack of interest due to popularity of football and basketball

– lack of fields that are in suitable playing condition (i.e. free of glass, high weeds)

– lack of investment by Major League Baseball (RBI Program excluded) in urban communities and lack of  marketing towards African-Americans.

Those are just a few issues off the top of my head and again, each deserves a study just to see if data backs up the observation.

But one thing for sure, as shown on this “good” commercial, dad’s can play a big part in reviving the game.

IMG_1314-w1000-h1000_new_WatermarkBroke-athletes

 

 

 

 

 

I remember kids who were tremendous athletes and loved basketball and football, but they could not catch a baseball nor did they know how to even hold a baseball bat. No dad was around to show them.

But this is where you come in and if you don’t have any children, teach another child.

Big Homie Working the Tee

So this week’s CSD Homework: Spend just 15 minutes teaching your son or daughter (or the son or daughter of someone else), how to throw a baseball, catch a baseball and hold a bat. That’s it. Even if you aren’t the greatest, or never liked baseball yourself, you likely know at least how to do those things because hopefully someone taught you or you learned it back-in-the-day before video games taught fundamentals.

Let me know how it goes in the comment section below!

CSD

 

What Do Reggie Jackson and My Father Have In Common?

Today, Mr. October Reggie Jackson turned 65 years old. My dad recently turned nearly the same age at almost the same time. Reggie Jackson is a lover of muscle cars, my dad is as well. Reggie Jackson’s public persona seems extremely complex. Well, my dad’s public and private personas are complex as well. Reggie seemed to be one who did not believe in turning the other cheek. My dad’s advice to me was always throw the first punch because you don’t know if he’ll lay you out with his first blow. Reggie was born in Pennsylvania, my dad’s relatives are in Pennsylvania (okay, that one’s a stretch but I still counted it as a kid!).

But there is one glaring difference between the two men. Reggie made his fame and fortune from baseball and my dad hated sports. He made his fame at home and his fortune in the plant. Both men got dirty and worked with their hands, but in two very different ways.

Yet, had it not been for my father, I never would have looked up to “the straw that stirs the drink” (and Reggie did not mean that the way the reporter told it by the way).

Despite the fact that my dad never liked sports, he never discouraged my passion for baseball. As a matter of fact, two things he taught me early on that I’ve carried for over 30 years:

1.) Do not cheer for the home team, because they are losers.

2.) Look at Reggie, and how he handles himself, and that’s how you must handle yourself in this world.

 Dad knew the impact the ‘hood could have had on me. While we weren’t exactly living in the projects, many of the problems of the projects existed, just in a cleaner neighborhood. Selling drugs, or what we called “rollin'”, was still the fastest way for a kid to make a lot of money and have a lot of girls fast. Shootings across the street from our house were common along with break-ins, car theft, and fighting. Thankfully, we also had many parents working solid middle-class jobs to always keep the neighborhood a float. Since they weren’t allowed to move into traditional white suburbs, they were forced to stay in their own community so in many ways, it benefited us all as a whole.

What we also had commercially, was a lack of black athletes on television when they were not on the field. But when dad saw how Reggie mastered the King’s English and commanded respect for his knowledge of the game and demeanor, he was wise to tell me to observe. Reggie often commentated for ABC in the ’70s and ’80s if the Yankees were out of the playoffs.

Little did I know at that time that one day I would have to at least know many of the rules of the King’s English as well when I grew up. I would also have to not be the “typical nigga or black guy” that many of my colleagues would expect me to be, just like Reggie. I would have to talk a certain way at job interviews, avoid being labeled and yet stand up for myself and prove that I deserved to be in that class or office and not because of Affirmative Action. At the same time, I would have to be just as complex, for people in America have a hard time understanding how you can be pro-black and yet marry someone of a different race. I’m sure Reggie ran into this as to some black folks, Reggie was a sell-out with his proper talking, candy bars, and white girls. But Reggie seemed to always make sure that he represented himself and the black community well. He spoke out about teams that did not have enough black players and even advised former teammate Willie Randolph not to take the Detroit Tiger job. They were the worst of the worst in Major League baseball. Reggie threw out the question the black community always asks, “Why do we only get the job/call/White House when things cannot get any worse? That’s just setting us up to fail!”

I can’t say I idolized Reggie. The man never put food on my table, but he did wave at me when I yelled his name at a California Angels game…he did…really! I’ve memorized many of his stats, read his autobiography, visited the Baseball Hall of Fame to have my picture taken with his bust, and even named one of my kids after him. But my fascination with Mr. Jackson was never about him, but about what he represented. He was a man of class, determination, dependable, clutch-performer, and he danced to the beat of his own drum all the while paying homage to those like Robinson, Aaron, and Mays that bought the drum.

Overall, the man was much like my father.

Photo from: http://kevinmayle.netaidz.com/v/Realism/Steel-Worker-sepia.jpg.html

So dad, who are you allowing to influence your son? Is it a street pimp, a corporate pimp, a drug-dealer, or a prescription drug-dealer? Do those people reflect the values that you want your son to have or the values that you have or at least want to have?

Understand this, somebody and something will influence your boys. You better take advantage of the time that you have to determine what kind of influence that will be. I’m glad my dad had the insight to do that when I was younger. While I’m no where near the man that I wanted to be, I’m no where near the man I could have been.

Happy Birthday Dad and Mr. October!

…just 15 Minutes: “Play Ball!” Style

Finally, a couple of back-to-back warm and rain-free days allowed me and the boys to get out and throw the baseball around. Now we’ve gone out a few times already this year, but now it’s finally beginning to feel like baseball season.

For nearly 10 years, I played in the typical softball league and then I even decided to see if I still “had it” and play hardball. It was good to face real pitching and play with guys who took the game seriously (too seriously sometimes). Then I broke my hand and was forced to spend the next six months in a cast and a sling. I could not play with my kids the entire summer besides running and I officially retired like Barry Sanders. My wife doubted my retirement like Juanita Jordan, but I’m yet to step on the field again. Why, because I now have my own team to play with. A team that needs me more than any other. Not being able to be a Five-Tool Dad (run, throw, catch, hit, and teach), was too much for me and something I never want to experience again.

I am so impressed with the progress my six and twelve-year old sons have made. The elder has played baseball for six years, but the sport seems to be taking on more meaning for him, especially as he reads through a biography on Willie Mays. Recently, he drew me a picture of us playing ball together and labeled the ball park as the Polo Grounds. Now, there aren’t many kids today who even know who Willie Mays is, let alone what the Polo Grounds represent!

My six-year old, aka Big Homie, is showing the quick hands of an infielder and can throw with a little sizzle as well. This is a 180-degree turn from the boy that was scared of the ball just a year ago and threw like Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. 

That’s one of the greatest parts of being a CornerstoneDad. Being there and assisting our children doing things that let us know they are “growing up”. Sure, mom keeps the teeth, hair from the first cut, and remembers the first step. But dad remembers that first game, keeps that first glove and that first model car.

Right now, I really don’t need “the fellas” to play ball with or other people to do something I enjoy. I can do it with my own boys (and my girls as I was out cruising with my 5 year old daughter the night before) as they can now throw hard and play hard. They are even able to heckle me when I make an error out in the field. Wow, these boys are learning fast. Dad does tend to crank-up his sweet-o-meter quite a bit when the ball comes his way, so the criticism is well deserved I guess.

I’ve also learned that I don’t have to spend all day outside playing with the kids, but if I can continue with starting with just 15 minutes of playing catch, throwing the ball around, or even giving occasional instruction if necessary, the payoff is immediate and appreciated. Just remember CornerstoneDad, 15 minutes is where you start. (See: http://cornerstonedad.com/2010/11/21/just-15-minutes/)

Whenever we leave the park, my 12 year old is always quick to say, “Thank you for taking us dad.” I often respond, “Thank you for going.”

Little does he know, I am the one who is far more appreciative as I have a more finite idea of time than he does.  Sons, I thank you, and will do all I can to remain on the field of play as long as I can with you.

How about you CornerstoneDad? What is the spring activity you remember learning/playing with your dad? Are you still able to play with them today?  What do you enjoy playing with your children this time of year? I’d love to hear about your experiences.