Inside MLB’s Issue Attracting Black Baseball Players

As a kid, baseball was probably the first sport I gravitated towards. I participated in my local Little League, knew the greats like Barry, Sosa, and Griffey well and was – and still am – a die hard New York Mets fan. As I got older while the love for my team remained, the love for the sport as a whole took a hit.

Homerun mashers like Bonds, Sosa and McGwire were not only relics of the past but publicly shamed and labeled with the scarlet letter S, stained by their connection with steroids. If you ask me – and your local conspiracy theorist – we’ll tell you that the MLB was in on the fun before turning their nose up and ostracizing their cash-cows as cheaters, but that’s another story for another time.

Every year the MLB celebrates their legacy act, Jackie Robinson, with a day where every player adorns his league-wide retired number 42; the MLB gets to wax poetic about Jackie’s integration into baseball and bask in some semblance of credit for all of his accomplishments off the field. As a Black baseball fan it is appreciated – as is the statue of Jackie at Dodger Stadium – but it is also understood as a relatively empty gesture too.

Let me back up. Part of my baseball history is the Newark Bears/Eagles. The Newark Eagles were a team, based in my hometown, that was part of the Negro Leagues. The Newark Bears, an independent team that spent some time with the Can-Am league before folding in 2013, was also a local staple during my childhood.

One of the coolest bits was that THE Rickey Henderson played for the Newark Bears and I got to see him play. But having that experience and then to come up in an era where Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr were the kings of MLB, it was truly a renaissance time that I didn’t know would be a fleeting one.

Somewhere in the midst of growing up, baseball got less fun. Maybe it was always that way, like how we see the news and wonder when it got all politicized. But there was no one cool to champion anymore and in came supercoolandfastpaced football and basketball in my teenage years.

And then that was it. I still loved my Mets but my love for the sport really faded. Since I’ve come back to the fold to watch more as I grow more into an old man trapped in a young man’s body but something’s still amiss.

Philadelphia Phillies – booo!!! – great Jimmy Rollins lamented on the status of the Black baseball player in today’s game; with the percentage being sliced almost in half from Rollins’ time in the bigs. Marketing is a major drawback and it doesn’t feel as if the MLB really can make up ground on the NBA and NFL for your run-of-the-mill kid from the inner city.

There are initiatives such as the MLB’s R.B.I. program but the cool brothas of today such as Tim Anderson of the White Sox, rookie sensation Akil Baddoo of the Tigers and owner of the 5th-lowest ERA Marcus Stroman don’t get the love that the Black baseballers of old did. And all of this was possible without going to the games.

I don’t really have a fix because again the lead that football and basketball have seems almost insurmountable but marketing their stars better is a start. And for the other point, Jimmy made, whew! The elephant in the room is that baseball as an institution is traditionally a father-son event and love that is passed down through generations.

But there are exceptions to that and it is really the cost associated with baseball skill development that creates the disconnect. It would be cool to see more Little League organizations in the inner cities – and other sports too honestly – that can give kids of today a chance at some of these sports, something to do to keep out of trouble, and another ticket out of their circumstance and into potentially a better future.

Point is, the blame isn’t 100 percent on MLB. A lionshare, sure, but not all. Baseball earned a little tip of the cap for me when they moved out of Georgia for the 2021 All-Star Game in protest of the state’s recent controversial voting law.

More of this will help baseball earn some brownie points in today’s climate where many Black sports fans need a little more than entertainment to continue supporting these multi-billion dollar entities that rely on Black talent at varying percentages. But let’s start with letting these players – Black, white, Latinx, etc – be expressive and then let’s start marketing these guys.

Rollins talked about a potential commercial that was in the works with some of the Black players of his time and Spike Lee and nothing came of that. Such an opportunity missed! That would be really cool to happen today and would go a long way into building substance in some of these initiatives the MLB has going on.

Thumbnail Credit: MLB.com

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