African Americans in Baseball 2006

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: May 20, 2006

CALIFORNIA—This spring baseball fans witnessed the first real World Series in Japan, Latin America, and the United States. Apparently the world has caught up with America’s favorite pastime, baseball.

Japan won the first World Baseball Series (WBS) in Los Angeles. Team United States lost in the second round because the team did not seem to be committed to win.
Similarly, it seems that baseball’s commitment to enroll talented young African American players lacks the intensity needed to attract stars.
When Pittsburgh Pirate pitchers Dock Ellis or “Blue Moon” Odem started, it was “A Field of Dreams” for African Americans. Matty Alou, Dave Cash, Al Oliver, Manny Sanguillen, Bill Matlock, Roberto Clemente, Rennie Stennett, Gene Clines, Wilber “POPs” Stargell and a rookie named Dave Parker took the field at Three Rivers Stadium. That was African American History in motion, history that some Americans seem to have forgotten.
Fifty-eight years ago, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier playing for Branch Rickies -Brooklyn Dodgers. Today it seems that baseball has reversed its gears when it discusses the issue of young African American baseball players.
Currently there are three African American managers Dusty Baker- Chicago Cubs, Willie Randolph- New York Mets, and the First African American manager (Cleveland Indians 1974) Frank Robinson, now with the Washington Nationals.
Presently Bob Watson of the New York Yankees is the only African American General Manager. There are no African American baseball owners today.
At the turn of this century MLB had a record high of five African American managers Hal MacRae-Kansas City Royals and Lloyd Mcclendon- Pittsburgh Pirates were fired three years ago.
However the Pittsburgh Pirates are still the only team to start a black player at every position this includes Latin Blacks in a National League playoff and World Series game.
For this writer and many other African American baseball fan it was easy to root for the Pirates because they became our hero’s achieving something no other team had ever accomplished.
Baseball’s “field of dreams”, has turned into a nightmare for many young Black players.
There are 32 Major League Baseball teams in the United States.
There were 70 African-Americans on team roster opening-day in the majors. This represents 8 percent of all 800 players. That is down sharply from 20 percent three years ago and 30 percent thirty years ago.
Last year (2005) the Houston Astros National League Champion played the entire season without a single African American player on their roster however they employed two African Americans in their farm system. This year the Astros have promoted one of these players to their major league roster. He is now a starter for Houston. Several major league teams are in the same predicament. They have only one or two Black players on each team. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by Major League Baseball.
Almost every MLB team owns and operates academies throughout Latin America where they provide baseball instruction, schooling, and equipment. This should be happening in America’s inner cities. One needs to question the administration in MLB are they serious about employing African American baseball players?
Many African American communities do not have the baseball fields nor the equipment for prospective players to get prepared to play professional ball.
Four years ago Major League Baseball opened a baseball academy in Compton, Calif., a community dominated by African-Americans. What happened to the academies in other inner cities like Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Penna. Chicago (Southside), Ill. East St. Louis, Ill., Oakland, or Richmond, California? Young African Americans seemed to be slipping through the baseball foul lines everyday.
Maybe one reason for this could be you only need one ball and a field, unlike baseball were you need a well-kept diamonds, gloves, catching equipment, and at least two umpires.
Second many of these talented young adults also see a brighter monetary future in basketball and football not baseball.
The third major reason could be that some African American families just don’t have the finances to buy a glove and wood or aluminum bats.
Where are African Americans in baseball today?
Many young African American stars linger in the minor leagues while white players of the same caliber play at their respective universities and colleges.
This has been the pattern for almost twenty years. One major reason could be economics African American players might need to feed their families and pay their bills while white players can delay or defer going into the job market with four-year baseball scholarships.
This has to change or MLB will return to the old days in baseball.