Friday, January 13, 2006

Baseball? That Ain't Hood

By James Harris, Truthdig. Posted January 3, 2006

African Americans are abandoning baseball in droves in favor of football and basketball. Is the decline of urban baseball a serious crisis?

. . .

It's a warm Saturday in Oakland, Calif., but you couldn't tell by looking at the baseball diamond at the rec center in Sobrante Park. There is only an old man watching a Little League game not being played.

Never mind that just down the street is the birthplace of baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, while a short distance away at Bushrod Park all-time runs and stolen bases leader Rickey Henderson developed his devastating blend of speed and power. In Oakland, the story is the same as in other inner cities: empty playing fields and a declining number of black youths taking interest in America's Pastime.

Morgan and Henderson were part of a wave of black success that peaked in the '70s. Starting, of course, with Jackie Robinson's arrival in the big leagues and the subsequent arrival of Negro Leagues stars like Satchel Paige, a slew of these black heroes inspired the youth.

"African Americans, following their heroes, began filling the ranks of baseball, reaching a high of 175 players on 25 teams in 1975," wrote sports reporter Jake McDonald on Yet, "since [Hank] Aaron's final [record-setting home run blast in 1976, the faces of African Americans have disappeared steadily. Once upon a time fans looked forward to seeing Mr. October Reggie Jackson come to the plate. Jackson, one of the most colorful players of his era, retired ten years after hitting a record five home runs in the 1977 World Series. Just about every little leaguer, including myself, wanted to be just like Jackson, right down to the shades."

Today, with football and basketball dominated in numbers and star power by black athletes, major league baseball looks more like the MLB of 1960, when Dominicans and Cubans first began flooding into the then mostly white leagues. Today, American-born blacks comprise only 13 percent of the league -- about 90 players-- and the numbers are projected to continue falling as foreign-born Latinos dominate the lineups of most of the best teams.

Some African-American athletes and fans are furious about this decline. At a time when black men continue to be incarcerated in epic numbers. . . [more]


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