Blackout: that’s what Orioles’ reliever LaTroy Hawkins calls today’s lack of African American baseball players on major and minor league rosters.

Nearly 60 years after Jackie Robinson burst through baseball’s color barrier, U.S.-born African-American players are virtually vanishing from the game. Three decades after blacks made up nearly 30 percent of major league rosters, they now make up about 8 percent — less than half the 17.25 percent of 1959, the first year every team was integrated.

The trend has come home to roost on the roster of the Cardinals, who currently have zero blacks on their major league roster and almost none in their farm system.

This doesn’t explain the current findings, but is more a sign of things to come:

According to the National Recreation and Park Association Journal of Leisure Research, a survey of 128 youth “select” teams from nine Midwestern states in 2000 and 2001 found that less than 2 percent of the more than 1,400 players were African-American. Sports Illustrated is among other publications to document similar scenes.

There aren’t many African Americans playing on collegiate rosters either:

Meanwhile, the NCAA reports that blacks make up only 6 percent of Division I baseball rosters. Most telling, historically black schools such as Mississippi Valley State, Florida A&M and much of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference have rosters approaching 50 percent white.

Simply put, there’s not many black kids playing baseball.

“It’s not offensive,” said Gerald Early, an African-American Washington University professor and essayist who served as an adviser on Ken Burns’ exhaustive documentary on the game. “It’s not because they’re being segregated out, or people think they can’t play. They can if they want to, but they’re opting not to play.”

Phil Bradley, special assistant to the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, agreed.

“The point is there’s not a lot out there,” said Bradley, a former Mizzou football and baseball star. “I don’t know that I can hold an organization accountable for that. I just think it’s a matter of if they aren’t out there, they can’t be seen.”

And baseball teams apparently are doing what they should be doing – putting the best players on the field:

“You don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing (by race). There’s a talent pool, and there are 30 teams going after that talent,” said La Russa, who has been a major league manager since 1979. “I mean, that would be exactly the wrong message to send, to say, ‘Well, gee whiz, we better have a certain number of players from the Pacific Rim, a certain number of Latin players, a certain number of black players, a certain number of white players.’”

…The Cardinals media guide features 64 foreign-born players — including 61 of Hispanic birth — out of 188 listed in the team’s minor leagues.

The media guide features 10 scouts in Latin American locales. It depicts no African-American scouts among the 32 men pictured and one black among the 47 featured in their farm and scouting department. But Lamping scoffed when asked if more African-American scouts might mean more African-American players.

“The presumption there would be that scouts are (seeking their own race),” he said. “Scouts go a lot of places to find players, and the way they distinguish themselves is by finding (players) others overlooked.”

It seems pretty clear that what’s happening here is not a demand-side discrimination issue but, rather, a supply side issue.

Addendum: what are kids playing these days?

And according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, in 2005 baseball was the 18th-most popular participation sport among children of all races ages 6-17, with 5,949,000 playing nationally. Bowling was No. 1 with 17,035,000 and basketball was No. 2 with 15,994,000. Also ahead of baseball were in-line skating (sixth) and skateboarding (10th).


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Author: Phil Miller

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