Why Have African Americans Disappeared from Baseball?

Tim FitzgeraldContributor IApril 15, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 06:  Orlando Hudson #1 of the Minnisota Twins talks with a teammate while playing against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on April 6, 2010 in Anaheim, California. The Twins defeated the Angels 5-3.  (Photo by Jacob de Golish/Getty Images)
Jacob de Golish/Getty Images
Today, all of Major League Baseball honors Jackie Robinson. But African-Americans currently make up less than 10 percent of MLB rosters.

With any phenomenon in our society, people wonder why it has occurred and share their theories.

Some black players feel they are still unfairly discriminated against. Torii Hunter recently said he felt MLB GMs weren't making an effort to sign black players because Latino players were easier to control.

Hunter would later say his comments were distorted, but it's hard to find a context in his entire statement that makes it seem like that wasn't his point.

Orlando Hudson recently commented that he felt African-American free agents were being excluded, while lesser players of other ethnicities were being signed.

But if you look around MLB's free agent list, you'll see players of all races out of work due to baseball's, and the entire country's, economic situation.

Even if these players' theories are a little off-base or lack some proof, their frustration is visible and understandable. They love baseball, and it pains them to not see their own as involved as they used to be.

But when one steps back, takes out the emotions involved, and looks analytically at the lack of black players, there are tangible factors that have led to their reduced percentage on rosters.

The basic socioeconomic issues that affect African-Americans in the United States play a major factor.

There are a lot of empty lots and fields in most urban areas of the U.S. with high black populations. If you have a group of friends and a football, game on.

Same with a park, with a hoop. You have a few friends and a basketball, game on.

Baseball, however, requires gloves, bats, and balls to be played properly—with enough players to cover at least half a field. It's not as easy to put together a baseball game for poor black kids.

Now you may say that poor Latino kids can scrap together a game with sticks and rocks. That's true. But that's a reflection of cultural changes involving baseball's popularity.

Latin countries have their football as well. But baseball is at least No. 2 in most Latin countries and sometimes still the favorite sport depending on which country you're in.

Where as in the U.S., baseball is probably the third most popular sport, especially for African Americans, depending on what city you're in.

Football and basketball have passed baseball in popularity for blacks. Not only is that a reflection of the pace of the game not being as satisfying to today's youths' short attention spans, but again, the socioeconomic factors play a part.

For a poor black kid from a rough part of town, spending a few seasons in the minors doesn't sound as cool as playing collegiate ball on a scholarship and playing in the big leagues right away.

But frustrated African-American players, like Hunter and Hudson, do have a point. Major League Baseball didn't do enough for the past couple decades to get black kids involved in youth baseball.

Several teams have built clinics in Latin countries and made a concerted effort to recruit Latino players.

Recently baseball has made an effort to fund RBI leagues and other youth leagues in inner-cities, but for a long time, it was missing. And even now, it doesn't seem like the same effort is being made as it is in other Latino or mixed-race communities.

But it all has to start at the top. There are no black owners in baseball. There is one black GM and two black managers.

People hire who they know and are close with—whether it be the owner hiring the GM, the GM hiring the manager and players, or the Manager hiring his assistants, who could become mangers down the road.

Until real change is made at the top, we won't see it below. But our sports leagues are a reflection of the country as a whole. Until things even out for African-Americans in the rest of the business world, it won't change in baseball.

I hope inroads can be made in baseball for African-Americans. I grew up a big fan of Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, and Vince Coleman, and I believe in equality for all.

If I could play Branch Rickey today, I would.