I Want My Game Back

Updated: May 28, 2013

I Want My Game Back

Rickey, Robinson, 42, African American players, and MLB

By:-Gary Norris Gray- BASN Staff  Reporter

David Ruffin could not have said it better in his 1970’s hit “Gonna Walk Away From Love “

“It’s not that I don’t love you
You know how much I do
And it’s not that I’ve found someone
To take the place of you
It’s just a fear that builds within me
Everytime you touch my hand
And a dread that shakes my body
That even I don’t understand
So I’m leaving
This time I’m playing it smart
I’m gonna walk away from love
Before love breaks my heart

After viewing the baseball Movie “42”, The Jackie Robinson Story, started my mental wheels turning. Many hard core Black baseball fans want their game back. As they see it, this game is slowly slipping away from African Americans.

Baseball was America’s Past-Time, baseball included everybody after 1947. Baseball integrated before many southern cities in 1947. MLB is now trying to reverse history and exclude people as they march on through history. This is being done by pushing out the average African American baseball player while allowing the average white and Latino player to enter the diamonds all over the country. 

Major League Baseball has fallen into the fourth spot in major league sports popularity. It is sad to say that major league hockey, a winter sport has overtaken baseball. In the past 10 years baseball’s leadership has repeatley failed to properly promote its product to the inner city.

As a disabled child in South Central Jersey I dreamed about playing Major League Baseball. My heroes were Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants, and Ritchie Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies. Playing first base for 5 years in the small disabled league I imitated that famous Willie McCovey stretch move.

For many years I watched bench players who happen to be African Americans like Don Clendenon, and Joe Foy, as well as starters Cleon Jones and Ed Charles from the New York Mets. Young African American baseball fans cannot find average Black players in the game today and are getting turned off with each passing year. No longer do they see baseball players on the field who look like them.  

There are so many reasons for this downfall, that a book could be written. America’s Past-Time is just that, living in the past and not moving forward. This sport continues to make major mistakes and continues to hurt major league baseball. MLB needs another visionary like Branch Rickey to bring the sport out of the Stoneage. This is a sport that refuses to modernize the game.

In 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey took a chance. Rickey had one of the best teams in baseball but he wanted the Dodger Blue to improve.  He signed the first African American to a major league contract but he did this with great care and thought. The Dodger owner did it with a vision, a vision of the future something, MLB currently does not have. The Brooklyn team did it with a cantankerous manager Leo Durocher who did not care what color the player happened to be; he just wanted to win the pennant.

The Brooklyn Dodgers broke the color barrier and proceeded to the National League Pennant without Leo Durocher who was suspended by the commissioner.  African American attendance doubled even tripled at Ebbetts Field the northern home of the Dodgers.

Owners noticed how the Brooklyn Dodger offense changed with Jackie Robinson on the field. Owners also noticed how many African Americans attended Dodger games. Other teams followed suit, hiring African American ball players.  It was not a Black thing nor white thing, it was a green thing MAKING MONEY and Mr. Rickey knew it.

To be honest, talent always wins whether it is Black or white. MLB is either forgetting or ignoring this fact as it moves forward lowering of African American participation on the diamond.

In 1970-1972 Pittsburgh Pirates fielded an all Black playoff and World Series starting team with the help of Black Latinos. With Dock Ellis on the mound and Manny Sanguillen catching, it was a sea of Black men on the field. With the current baseball ownership this historic event will never happen again in my lifetime.

The tide has changed

Currently there are 87 Black players on major league teams; there are 30 MLB teams. There are 4 teams without a single African American player.

There were more African American Players that played through the 1969-1989 era. Then there are now.

Baseball no longer employs the average African American player with a 250 batting average. Owners are not willing to pay Black players as they have in the past. Today owners are signing Latino or Asian players with that same 250 batting average. White or Latino player does not cost as much. Black players are pricing themselves right out of the game.

They (owners) are in control.  The English language barrier is also a benefit to the owners because they can claim they (owners) did not understand the culture or what was communicated during negotiations. Asian and others minorities are filling MLB rosters in 2013 with African Americans on the outside looking in..                 

In the opening scenes of the movie “42” a Brooklyn Dodger beat reporter made it clear with his statement, “In 25 years African Americans will take over the game of baseball”. That writer’s fears almost came true with the back-to- back World Championships of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Black major league players reached an all time high of between 23.5% and 27.3%.

Today African American major leaguers have dropped to below 8%.

The Houston Astros are still a major offender, without a Black player for almost three years at the turn of the century. They have rectified that by hiring a Black manager this spring. This team is still awful. The Commissioner also moved the team from the National League to the American League to balance MLB’s schedule, it will not help.

The Movie “42” tried to clean up the multiple racial atrocities that Jackie Robinson lived through to make the movie presentable to the American Middle Class. Creating both characters in the movie, Branch Rickey, and Jackie Robinson, as heroes, which in a way they were.

MLB has to stop playing mind games with the African American public, and producing, directing, and promoting a half baked movie like “42”, to lure African Americans back to the ball park. It is just not cutting it. It would have been more honest if they had a Black producer or director for this movie but as my friend Cowboy Reggie Howell from WCLM AM radio states many times “I Digress”

Wearing the number 42 one day is not affirmative action. Yes, it’s a wonderful gesture but what happens the next day? It’s business as usual and baseball marches on

MLB has to put teeth into their (RBI) Reviving Baseball to Inner Cities Program. There is a program in South Central Los Angeles – Compton, and the other program in Newark, New Jersey. Two are not enough. Thousands of young African Americans are missing America’s Past-Time. 

MLB continues to chase young African Americans away from the game they love. They have created a double standard on players with drug violations, cheaters, gamblers, and liars. This hurts the game whether it’s Black, white, or Latino. Mark McGwire returned to baseball six years ago as a St. Louis Cardinal- now Los Angeles Dodgers batting coach. Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa are being blackballed from the game. San Francisco Giant Melky Cabrera gets suspended for 50 games last year while Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun gets a get out of jail free pass for committing the same crime.

CBSSports.com Sports writer Gregg Doyel, “Too Few Black Players In Baseball? Having A Hard Time Seeing It” states that older Black players need to stop whining and help Black youngsters in baseball. That may be true but he is doing the masters bidding by manipulating the numbers and blaming the wrong people.

Poet Maya Angelo stated in the poem called, “A Letter To My Daughter”, about using the word, “Never whine, Whining let’s a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood.”  

My question to Mr. Doyel is, are you the brute or is major league baseball?

Doyel plays the numbers game in his article. He states that there are 10 % of African American players currently on the field.. This is not true, the number is 7.9%  but who is fact-checking Mr. Doyel. Doyel states that there are 12 % of African Americans in the United States so the numbers are comparable to Major League Baseball. NOT TRUE!!!

By his standard there should be four Black owners, four general managers, four managers, and 112 African American players, but who’s counting? Where are they? Currently there are three Black managers, Dusty Baker of the Cincinnati Reds, Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers, and the rookie manager Marquis Donnell ‘Bo’ Porter. That’s a whopping increase of one in the past 25 years.

Mr. Doyel blames the baseball equipment companies for the lack of African American participation and the lack of baseball fields in the inner city. That fact may also be true but MLB could do more by buying the equipment for inner city athletes and building new parks, just as they helped the community in South American providing players with heath care and dental care.

Mr. Doyel claims that it is a rich man’s sport. So, how did the old Negro League function for over 30 years?

There are a few more bones to pick with Mr. Doyel, if Major League Baseball can open baseball academies in South America and Asia why can’t they open more RBI programs in the United States?

Doyel blast Gary Sheffield’s statement about the influx of Latin players, the owners are saving money and owners will not have to haggle over contracts when it’s time to negotiate. Latinos just want to play baseball and get out of poverty and they are doing just that. Doyel refuses to address the issue of Black poverty vs. Latin poverty.

African American players will not reduce their salaries while other players often will negotiate to stay in the game. Whose fault is that where American Black kids in a capitalist sociality were taught to make as much as you can? 

Major League Baseball continues to promote prominate white players like Steve Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, Washington National Bryce Harper, Washington National pitchers Stephan Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Detroit Tiger Justin Verlander. These are great players on the field but to deify them might be a problem.

A problem when they totally ignore the great play of  Black outfielders Andrew McCuthen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Upton brothers of the Atlanta Braves, let alone the great pitching of CC. Sabathia of the New York Yankees and David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The last straw for many young African Americans was the American sports media attacking one of the cleanest Black baseball players in the majors, claiming that he might have taken steroids. Yes, they even found something wrong with 17 year veteran New York Yankee shortstop, Captain Derrick Jeter. Jeter who plays the game like it is supposed to be played but that does not matter when you have a political and social agenda. That does not matter when your goal is to exclude or dissuade an ethnic group from the game of baseball.

One thing Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, or Major League Baseball could have never known was the consequences of their actions in 1947. By the middle of the 1980’s it would be hard to find Black owned diners, hotels, motels, stores, movie theaters, radio or TV Stations. They did not know that the Negro Leagues would be disbanded in 1962.

The same league that created great Black baseball players like Larry Doby, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella, and Don Newcombe would no longer be available to Black players. 

The World would have never known Chino Smith who was considered one of the best hitters in America. Smith batted over 400 for five years and if not for his untimely death at the age of 30, who knows how many 400 season he could have had. Without the Negro League first basemen Ben Taylor who batted 300 in 14 of 15 years would have never gotten a chance to play the game he loved.

Maybe it is time to start a new Negro League so young African Americans can play the game without the economic, political, social, and racial games.

The movie “42” could create a new Black baseball movement.


One of my mother’s favorite statements is “I’m done”, if  MLB does not clean up its act.

Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian. Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove on Blogtalkradio.com Disabled Community Activist. Email at garyngray@blackathlete.com


©Copyrighted Gary Norris Gray @ Gray Leopard Prod

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One Comment

  1. sean

    June 12, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    You cannot blame any one for black players numbers being down in the major league baseball . Its just not a sport that’s all that interesting to most young black Americans kids any more . I live in a large city where the population is about 50 white 50percent minority . I don’t think I ever passed a baseball field where I saw it filled with black kids playing serious baseball on there own time . The only way to get major league baseball is put countless hours on the field .and for most black kids I don’t see this happening .Face it as a sport most young black Americans are more interested in football and basketball over baseball . and I don’t see this changing

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