Black Players Often Stand Alone in College Baseball

By Pat Borzi
Updated: June 27, 2005


Michael C. Weimar/The Gainesville Sun

OMAHA,NE.—As sprays of water from the sprinkler system saturated the infield at Rosenblatt Stadium, the University of Florida baseball coach Pat McMahon asked one final thing from his players before ending Friday afternoon’s workout. He had them line up along the third-base line, as they will Saturday night for introductions before facing Texas in Game 1 of the College World Series championship series.

Michael C. Weimar/The Gainesville Sun

Gavin Dickey, an outfielder for Florida, is one of only three black players who will be competing in the College World Series championship series between the Gators and the Texas Longhorns.


Michael C. Weimar/The Gainesville Sun

Gavin Dickey, right, said many of his African-American friends had chosen football over baseball because more scholarships were available.

So out they went, a few at a time. The sophomore left fielder Gavin Dickey took his place with the starters, sunglasses atop his blue cap and a sports drink in his right hand. Dickey stood out not because of his attire or his choice of beverage, but because he is African-American – a rarity among college players in Omaha this week. To his left and right, all but one of his teammates were white.

“Sometimes I don’t even notice it,” said Dickey, who is also quarterback Chris Leak’s backup on the Florida football team. “I think it was because, growing up, when I started getting older and playing baseball, I was the only black guy on the team. I really don’t pay attention to it anymore. It just grows on you.”

The number of African-Americans in major league baseball continues to drop, and a similar decline is occurring at the college level. Tommy Harmon, the Texas associate head coach who is in charge of recruiting, said that when he drove past baseball fields where youth teams were playing, “I see predominantly white teams.”

That is what Harmon is seeing in Omaha, too. The four universities that advanced the furthest in the College World Series – Texas, Florida, Arizona State and Baylor – had four African-American players among them. Two play for the Gators: Dickey and the freshman Bryson Barber, a backup catcher and infielder. The other two were Michael Griffin, Baylor’s starting second baseman, and Calvin Beamon, a reserve outfielder for Texas. Arizona State, where Barry Bonds and Reggie Jackson played ball, had no African-Americans on its roster.

Recruiting coordinators say the major league draft, for which high school seniors are eligible, and the greater number of full scholarships available in football and basketball are robbing baseball of potential players. Harmon says he sees plenty of African-American prospects in events like the annual Area Code Games in California who never make it to campus. “I think it’s more the draft than the scholarships,” he said.

But Ross Jones, the Florida assistant in charge of recruiting, said he could triple the number of African-American players on his roster within 10 years if he had more scholarships.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association limits each college to the equivalent of 11.7 full scholarships in baseball, spread among as many as 35 players, and Jones says athletes interested in baseball have little interest in partial scholarships.

“If there’s an inequity in any sport, it’s in baseball,” he said. “It absolutely cripples us. At a place like the University of Florida, if we can give a kid $3,000 or $3,500 in scholarship money, he’s still got to come up with $7,000 out of his pocket, and that’s for in-state kids. If the kid has to pay, they’re not going to do it. They’ll play the sport where they don’t have to pay a dime.

“It’s something that’s been a problem forever in college baseball, but the N.C.A.A. can fix it with scholarships. It starts with the father and the mother and the 9-year-old son. If the family makes $55,000 a year, are they going to put a football or a basketball in their hand, or a baseball glove?”

Of the six African-American players Jones said he had successfully recruited in four seasons with Florida, four signed with major league teams without ever playing an inning for the Gators.

Those numbers do not include Dickey, who is on a football scholarship. A Parade All-American quarterback at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Fla., Dickey said he felt obligated to accept a full football scholarship rather than just play baseball and stick his parents with a tuition bill. His father, Sylvester, is a mechanic at Florida State, while his mother, Linda, works for Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.

“I think my parents would have been able to come up with it,” Dickey said, “but I didn’t want to put that burden on them.”

Growing up, Dickey said he saw a lot of his African-American friends drop baseball and gravitate to football, basketball or track.

“It was only because baseball doesn’t offer full scholarships,” Dickey said. “It was a lot easier for guys knowing they could get a full scholarship playing football because there were so many scholarships available.

“That’s why I chose to play football. I played more baseball growing up, but I saw football as an opportunity to become the first person from my family to go to college. But I was lucky in that I never gave up my love for baseball. When I was recruited by schools, I told them I wanted to play two sports, and most of the schools didn’t have a problem with it.”


Alex Gordon, the junior third baseman for Nebraska, won the Golden Spikes Award on Friday as college baseball’s top player. Gordon, the No. 2 pick in the major league draft by the Kansas City Royals, batted .372 with 19 home runs and 66 runs batted in this season.

Tommy Harmon, the Texas associate head coach, said he had spoken recently with Roger Clemens, whose oldest son, Koby, has signed a letter of intent with the Longhorns but was also an eighth-round pick of the Houston Astros. Clemens gave no indication whether Koby, who hit .500 and threw two no-hitters for Memorial High in Houston, would sign with the Astros, but Harmon said he expected to have an answer in the next few days.