The Number of Black Americans in Baseball Continue to Decline

The very first Jackie Robinson Day celebration was on April 15, 2004. It was then commissioner Bud Selig said Major League Baseball would begin celebrating the day Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier annually.

Fast forward 13 years later as the Los Angeles Dodgers honored Robinson with a statue on the 70th anniversary of his debut. Many people probably would have predicted there would be aplenty of Black Americans playing Major League Baseball these days because the color barrier was finally broken in 1947, but that just isn’t the case. Black Americans now make up just 7.1 percent of major league rosters (62 total players if you’re counting players on active rosters or the disabled list). There are even some teams that don’t feature a black player on their roster at all.

On the contrary, 74.3 percent of NBA players and 69.7 percent of NFL players are black according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics. MLB has formed programs in hopes of developing more young black baseball players, but is it working?

MLB has the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Program, which is a youth program designed to promote baseball in underprivileged communities. The problem is, the RBI program doesn’t exist in many smaller cities across America. There likely isn’t one particular reason blacks have stopped playing baseball across America, but it all starts with money.

Is it is very expensive to play the sport as bats and gloves aren’t cheap (can cost a team or organization hundreds or thousands of dollars) and equipment only last a year if a team is lucky. On the other hand, football and basketball don’t require such an enormous cost while also needing fewer players to play.

It used to be that kids would play baseball in after-school programs such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, but they are also finding a hard time providing the means of funding as opposed to basketball and football.

Another major issue with baseball is their lack of promotion. If you ask even a casual sports fan who are baseball biggest stars, could they name you a modern day player? Now, ask that same person who are the biggest stars in the NFL and NBA and unless they have been living under a rock, they would say Tom Brady, LeBron James and maybe Stephen Curry.

It’s no secret that NFL and NBA does a much better job marketing their game than MLB. Outside of a few dated Subway commercials, when was the last time you saw an MLB star on a national commercial?

Kids want to become famous like the sports stars they see on television. They aspire to be James and Brady but there really isn’t a universal baseball star a kid would idealize, especially a black one. If baseball is going to grow in the black communities, they are going to need a black athlete fans and young children can get behind, like James in the NBA. MLB has stars such as Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles and Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but many people have no idea who they are because of the lack of the marketing in the sport.

Probably the biggest reason the numbers have declined amongst blacks in baseball is that the road to the show can be a long one. The average time for most minor league players drafted in the first or second round of the amateur draft is somewhere between four to six seasons. Most players plateau after seven years and they either keep fighting for their dream to make it to the big leagues or they decide to take up another profession.

Additionally, players don’t begin making a lot of money until they reach the major leagues.

Kids see the path to the NFL and MLB is much quicker than the majors. In the NBA, all of their millions are guaranteed if the players are selected in the first round. In the NFL, every player selected in the first three rounds of the draft will receive a guaranteed contract. If a player chooses to play baseball at a university, that poses another problem.

If a player is good enough to play Division I baseball, that person could receive a full scholarship, but those are rare in at that level. Division I programs are only allowed a maximum of 11.7 scholarships, which is expected to be divided among around 27 players. In Division II, the number is lower as programs only have nine scholarships per team and Division III doesn’t award any athletic scholarships.

So in other words, there are many baseball players that are on partial scholarships at universities. Even the best baseball players on the team typically receive 40 to 80 percent scholarships rather than the full 100 percent.

It is no secret that some athlete’s families are suffering from financial hardships and they may not be able to afford college tuition. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 64 percent of black family are single-parent families, so paying for college sometimes isn’t an option.

Only of positive achievements of this year’s Jackie Robinson Day is that they are two black managers in Los Angeles Dodgers Dave Roberts and Washington Nationals Dusty Baker. Baker is a grizzled veteran that has been managed a number of teams while Roberts is in his second season with the Dodgers after winning National League Manager of the Year in 2016.

Although baseball has seen growth among minorities since Robinson’s death 45 years ago, the number of blacks playing the game has continued to descend. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told Newsday last February that he is committed to increasing the number of black players in baseball. While that may be an encouraging sign for some, Selig echoed similar thoughts (when, what year), but the number of blacks playing have continued to fall.

You can follow Antwan on Twitter @antwanstaley

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Antwan V. Staley’s story.