Remembering Robinson: Where are all the black baseball players?

With the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's integration of Major League Baseball approaching this weekend on tax day, media outlets are casting a fresh eye on Robinson's accomplishment. Most of the stories are retrospective in nature, either revisiting the initial game or reflecting on its significance.

The very best use it as an opportunity to examine the state of many of the same issues in our current day.

Such is the case with an ESPN report I viewed on the replay of SportsCenter this morning. I blast ESPN about as often as anyone, but today, the four-letter network produced a great piece of journalism that should not be overlooked.

The piece is called "What Would Jackie Think?" and you can find the print version of it here. It centers around this question:

What would Jackie Robinson think about the fact that only 8 percent of Major League Baseball players are African-American?

It's a question for which there are no easy answers, although the ESPN report attempts to find one. Some point to the proliferation of other sports. Some point to the cost of playing baseball at a high level. Some point to Major League Baseball teams' emphasis on scouting outside the United States.

All agree that something needs to be done.

Throughout the week, I'll be linking to many of the best stories I find on Robinson while surfing the Internet. If you're looking for a great place to start learning about Jackie Robinson, check out Roger Kahn's "The Boys of Summer." It's one of the best sports books you'll ever read.

Other stories of note on Jackie Robinson:


Anonymous said...

Nuss- While I somewhat agree that something must be done about the lack of african-americans in MLB, I think there's a comparison that's missing.

In 1947, MLB was EVERYTHING!!! Baseball was the king of kings in the sporting world. Football was in it's infancy, and basketball was a blip on the radar, if even that.

Today, the NFL is at the top of the heap. And as we know, african-american athletes are largely responsible for that success. The NBA owes 99% of it's success to the predominately black urban culture, and therefore adding to the success of the major shoe companies.

All that being said, I think it only adds to the cultural relevance of Mr. Robinson. As an athlete, baseball was Jackie Robinson's 4th best sport (He was an All-American RB at UCLA and lettered in bball and track), so let's not measure his impact by focusing on the amount of blacks playing baseball. Mr. Robinson was a remarkable man, obviously. But his impact on black culture and opportunity, just as the man, plays more than just baseball.

Nuss said...

Really, really good thoughts.

Maybe, then, the indictment is of Major League Baseball for doing so little over the years to maintain its standing as the top sport in the U.S.

Given his skills, I don't think there's any doubt that if Robinson was an athlete today, he probably would have been a football player.

I would argue that the NFL and NBA building its success on urban African-Americans says more about their ability to capitalize on their strengths -- the NBA rode Magic, Bird and Jordan for all they were worth.

Again, excellent points all.

Dr Pezz said...

MLB is in trouble. So many mistakes and in such a small space of time!

Not only has the marketing been squarely aimed at very specific groups (definitely not the urban crowd), but it has allowed the game to fundamentally change.

Throw into the mix the naturally plodding pace of the game in today's society of immediacy and a dwindling young fan base develops. ESPN reported this winter that only about 30% of people surveyed under 30 years of age considered themselves baseball fans.

I love baseball because it's a game of anticipation; it's all about the developing tension as the pitcher prepares to throw and the batter contemplates his swing. It's the possibility of what could happen that I love; because of the game's slower pace, I can imagine what could happen. I can actually picture what I hope to see and not miss a thing.

My students constantly complain that this isn't exciting enough for them. They want action, constant action. For a game which hangs it's hat on its history, this does not bode well with a generation living in the now.

Dr Pezz said...

For a game which hangs *its hat on its history, this does not bode well with a generation living in the now.

Oops. Added an apostrophe there. One of my pet peeves too. Grrr.

Nuss said...

Totally agree. Just look at what "You Gotta Love These Guys!" marketing did for the Mariners.

NOBODY loves a loser. NOBODY cares about the Double Play Twins unless they win some frigging games.

Baseball execs understand who pays the bills, but they don't understand who makes the money. They think it's them, that they've got a golden goose that can't die. They point to statistics that say attendance is at an all-time high, blah, blah, blah.

The reality is, fewer and fewer kids are playing the game -- urban or otherwise.

By the way, Chris -- I get the advantage of going back and correcting my mistakes after I publish. Unfortunately, you have no such recourse on these comments! (Nor do I, actually ...)

This is kinda fun. I wish we could get great dialogue like this all the time ...