Justice Is Served

April 30, 2010 3:37 PM

Black apathy toward baseball: A worthless debate


I've heard this shrill refrain before, so much so that it sounds as off-tune as O.J. Simpson's claims of innocence in his wife's murder. What more is there is say about the obvious?

Yet nothing seems to derail some discussions -- obvious or not. Here's one of them.

I continue to hear the moaning about the declining numbers of blacks in baseball. The topic came up afresh this past week when the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports released its latest report card on diversity in the sport.

The institute gave Major League Baseball an "A" for its racial and gender diversity in hiring, a grade that rightly reflected the totality of the game's diversity today.

But the high mark masked the nagging issue of what happened to the black ballplayer.  

According to the institute, the number of blacks dropped from 10.2 percent to 9 percent last season. Baseball had made tiny steps since reaching a nadir of 8.2 percent in '07, but the latest data indicate a steady rise among blacks in the game might be years away.

Though never designed for that purpose, the institute's report card doesn't address the declining interest in the sport inside the black community.

For years, both issues have been the fodder for much debate. Panel after panel has been convened to figure out what's been at the root of this cultural apathy toward baseball. Blacks haven't completely turned their backs on the sport, but what interests they hold are tenuous at best. 

It's not the worst thing that happened to black people; it's not the worst thing that's happened to Major League Baseball either. Its ties to the black community, once strong and vibrant, have loosened as other sports have come in and courted black youth in ways that baseball never did.

So what?

The game has prospered despite the declining participation of blacks. It is filled void blacks left with an infusion of talent from Japan, Korea, Australia and Latin America. The game's leadership has also planted seeds for growing baseball talent in Europe and in Africa.

The leadership made no such commitment to inner-city blacks, even as their declining interest in the sport became apparent. The white men who ran the game took for granted that baseball would always have a foothold in black neighborhoods. They were wrong.

Their strategy of benign neglect allowed football and basketball to come in and woo youth to their side.  As cultural and socioeconomic interests evolved in black America, baseball found itself in disfavor there.

Now, baseball officials scurry about trying to reignite a flicker in hopes of turning it into an inferno.

Why bother?

They won't be able to convince black youth that baseball is a glamorous game, a sports that plays well with the jazz crowd but not with the hip-hop crew. Nor will baseball officials be about to talk urban youngsters into pouring the little cash they do have into a $300 bat and a $150 baseball glove. At those prices, a black teenager can buy two pair of Air Jordans and a Wilson basketball and still have money for a night of partying like its New Year's Eve.

No reason to fill Lake Erie with tears over it. People's interests do change; just ask anybody who thought disco would live a long and prosperous life. Disco will come back the day O.J. finds his wife's killer (he ain't looking for the person from behind bars), and none of us are worse off if it never does.

Same goes for baseball. It might be sad and disappointing that a community has severed its historical ties to the sport, but what can baseball officials like Bud Selig do to rekindle a love affair?

After the love is gone, not even their money can buy it back.






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