US-Born Blacks Disappearing From MLB

By Off the BASN Sports Wire Courtesy of the Shanghi Daily
Updated: June 20, 2006
CHINA—NEARLY 60 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, US-born blacks are disappearing from the game – and the stands. The St Louis Cardinals reflect the national trend, with no blacks on their major league roster and almost none in their farm system.

Blacks make up 8 percent of major league rosters – less than half the 17.25 percent of 1959, the first year every team was integrated. Three decades ago, blacks made up nearly 30 percent of major league rosters, the St Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Sunday.

Nothing indicates that will change anytime soon.

Factors affecting the numbers include a lack of good youth baseball facilities in inner cities and the popularity of football and basketball.

“Enjoy that 8 percent on the field now,” said Harry Edwards, an East St Louis, Illinois, native and sociologist and an outspoken voice on race in sports for decades. “Because more than likely before we get to the first quarter of the 21st century, you’ll be looking out there on the field and we’ll be right back where we were when Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella and those guys were the only ones out there.”

Since the 1950s, the Cardinals have enjoyed a legacy of black stars such as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee.

St Louis resident Hal Cox, 54, a black educational advocate, said he believes the Cardinals are not doing all they can to have the roster reflect the city’s racial makeup – 50 percent black. “So, yeah, it stands out, and it kind of drops my enthusiasm for (following baseball) day in and day out. We’re talking about America’s game. We had the tradition. And that’s fading away.”

Others see it as part of a broader demographic trend. As the US Hispanic population has ballooned to nearly 43 million, foreign-born Hispanics made up nearly 25 percent of opening-day rosters.

Cardinals team president Mark Lamping says he prefers a makeup “as diverse as possible,” while manager Tony La Russa said the Cardinals do not have the luxury of picking and choosing by race.

“I mean, that would be exactly the wrong message to send, to say, ‘Well, gee whiz, we better have a certain number of players from the Pacific Rim, a certain number of Latin players, a certain number of black players, a certain number of whites,”‘ La Russa said.

The Cardinals have only one US-born black among their top 30 prospects.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association reports that blacks make up only 6 percent of baseball rosters in Division I, the top level of college athletics. Local Division I schools Saint Louis University, Missouri and Missouri State each had no blacks this year. Southeast Missouri State had one, Chris Gibson, son of Bob Gibson.

A Harris Poll last December found that only 6 percent of blacks chose baseball as their favorite sport. By contrast, 47 percent chose pro football. At the Cardinals’ Busch Stadium, blacks are rare. Major League Baseball estimates black attendance at 3 percent.

The trend toward blacks’ lower participation rates in baseball has been in the works for a decade. After making up 27.5 percent of teams in 1975, blacks represented less than 20 percent in the ’90s and 15 percent or below since 1997.