Are You Surprised The Number Of Black Players In Major League Baseball Is Still Declining?
I wrote a feature story on Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard for VIBE a few years ago and the gist of the story was basically this: THERE ARE NO BLACK BASEBALL PLAYERS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ANYMORE! WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL OF THEM? WHY AREN’T BLACK KIDS INTERESTED IN BASEBALL ANYMORE? RYAN HOWARD LOVES IT! LOOK AT HIM! BASEBALL IS COOL! PICK UP A GLOVE AND PLAY MORE!
Okay, so it didn’t sound exactly like that—I got to spend some time with Howard at the Phillies’ spring training camp in Clearwater, Florida so some of that stuff made the cut, too—but the reason VIBE wanted to profile him was because he was a black baseball player playing remarkably well in a league that had seen the number of black baseball players decline nearly 10 percent over the course of 15 years. And they declined from a number that was already low, meaning black baseball players had virtually disappeared from the baseball diamond.
And now comes this news: The situation has only gotten worse. After seeing a very minor spike in black baseball players in 2008, black baseball players only represent 8.5 percent of all players in Major League Baseball. It’s not an all-time low (in 2006, black baseball players made up 8.4 percent of the league and in 2007, they represented just 8.2 percent of the league) but it is rather depressing considering that this issue has been covered to death in the media at this point and that MLB has addressed this issue in a number of ways over the course of the last few years without seeing positive results.
So the same questions that remained a few years ago remain today. Namely, is Major League Baseball doing enough to get more young black players interested in the game? And, maybe more importantly, are they doing enough to keep retired black players interested in sticking around and being a part of baseball in front-office positions? The first answer remains to be seen, as Major League Baseball has, to its credit, installed several programs—designed to reach kids who grow up in urban areas—to try and get them more interested in playing baseball. But the second question already has a pretty clear answer.
That answer is a resounding no. Most general managers in Major League Baseball are white, with only four being either black or Latino. Most team presidents and team vice presidents are white, as well. And while, on the surface, that probably doesn’t matter to the average kid, it is a sign that MLB might not have the right people in place to get more black players involved. They might say they’re going for diversity, but in order to bring the change, they need to be fully committed to the cause with the right people involved in that cause.
Until this happens, the declining number of black baseball players is going to continue. We can write all the articles we want to write about the fact that basketball and football are more popular sports right now and that that is the reason that black kids aren’t getting involved in baseball. We can write feature stories on current black MLB players and try to use them to get young black players excited about baseball. We can even write blogs like this one until our hands fall off that call Major League Baseball to task for failing to get more black baseball players into the league.
But until MLB as a whole opens up to the idea of hiring a more diverse work force—until the racial balance in front-offices across Major League Baseball improves—I have a feeling we’re going to be reading the same story every year: “Percentage of black MLB players declines.” And that story got old a long time ago.