Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Where Have All The African American MLB Players Gone?

January 13th, 2010 | 28 comments »

There was this great song in the 90s “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone” that I am reminded of now as I ponder why the percentage of African Americans in MLB has decreased steadily over the past 15 years.  It’s certainly a phenomenon I’ve heard the last few years as a Braves fan.  Until now, however, I never took the time to ask why.  I’ve heard people say it’s because African American young men would rather play football.  Perhaps, but why?  I don’t think it’s simply because they prefer football, after all baseball is the national pastime.  Doesn’t every little boy want to grow up to be a professional baseball player one day?

Maybe it has something to do with the declining ability of African American young men to play college baseball.  One of the best things that came out of 2009 for me was the opportunity to become a part of a terrific organization here in Atlanta called L.E.A.D.  (which stands for Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct).  L.E.A.D. is America’s first instructional league for inner-city teens.  L.E.A.D.’s goal is to expose inner-city teens to competitive baseball, while also providing them with a strong sense of community involvement.  I could do a whole post on how phenomenal this group has been and how much I’ve enjoyed my experience with them, but back to the topic at hand…

The young men who are a part of L.E.A.D. have the end goal of using their baseball talent to gain collegiate scholarships in order to pursue greater educational opportunities.  Except scholarship opportunities in baseball are becoming more difficult to obtain.  The NCAA limits the  number of full scholarships in baseball to 11.7, however, the typical team roster is between 25-45 players.  In 2008, new rules were adopted that limited the number of players on aid to 30 for the 2008-2009 season and 27 for the 2009-2010 season.  Scholarships used to be split into amounts that allowed most, if not all, of the roster players to receive some sort of financial aid.  Unfortuantely, there was some abuse that caused the new rules had to be implemented.  Coaches were giving out “tryout scholarships” which lured the player to campus with a small scholarship.  The amount was small enough that the coach could cut the player during fall practices without if effecting his bottom line.

Sometimes rules aimed at one problem make way for a new kind of problem.  Under the new rules, only 27 players can be on scholarship and each scholarship must be for at least 25% of the tuition, room and board.  Compare that to football where 85 full scholarships are available for about 87 roster spots (active and inactive), or basketball where 13 full scholarships are available for 12-15 roster spots.  Which sport would you choose to play if you were a young African American athlete who could only get a college education through an athletic scholarship?

Consider this, the champions of the 2009 College World Series, the LSU Tigers, had two African American players, neither of whom were on baseball scholarships.  Instead, Chad Jones and Jared Mitchell were both on football scholarships.  Thanks to a friend of mine who pointed that out, as I think it uniquely illustrates the point.

All of this causes a ripple effect.  More African American teens either choose the football scholarship, or they choose to enter the MLB draft directly out of high school.  If the kid has to play on a football scholarship in order to play baseball in college, he’s increasing his risk of injury and may also ultimately decide that he should go pro in the NFL.  Going directly into the MLB draft from high school though causes a whole new set of issues.  Not only is the teen who goes directly to the minor leagues missing out on higher education, but he has to prove immediately that he can progress through the minor leagues or he is likely to get lost in the shuffle. 

The final result of all of this is a decline in African American players at the Major League level.  In 2007, MLB reached its lowest level for African American players since the 80s at only 8.2% (although this number grew to 10.2 in 2008).  The total population of players of color in MLB is 39.6%, with Latinos comprising 27% and Asians 2.4%.  There were only 4 African American managers in MLB in 2008.  There were only 3 African American General Managers at the start of the 2009 season.  No African Americans own a MLB club.  There are also no African American CEO or Team Presidents.  You can see the chart below to compare this with the NFL and NBA.

2008   Players Managers/
Head Coaches
General Managers CEOs/Team Presidents Owners
MLB (30 teams/25 man roster)   10.20% 5 3 0 0
NFL (32 teams/53 man roster)   67% 6 5 0 0
NBA(30 teams/15 man roster)   77% 11 3 5 1

I won’t pretend that I know the answer to the problem.  I don’t.  I do, however, recognize that something is happening here.  The number of African American baseball players has been declining for fifteen years, with 2008 being the first time since 1998 that MLB saw any increase in the percentage of African Americans playing the game.  Don’t get me wrong, MLB is doing a fairly good job diversifying if you count all players of color.  But I’m left to wonder why the number of African American players continues to decrease while the percentage of other players of color consistently increases.  The reasons I’ve stated above seem to factor in, but so does the structure of the MLB draft.  African American players enter through the draft, while Latino and Asian players generally do not.  Clubs are able to scout talent in Latin American and Japan and either scoop up undiscovered talent or outbid their competitors for the best talent in those countries.  Thus, we’re seeing a rising number of Latino and Asian players enter the game.  All the while, African Americans have been on the decline for the better part of two decades. 

As I said before, I have no definitive plan for how to change things moving forward.  This is all merely food for thought.  I’d love to hear what you all think!

For love of the game,

Kristi

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28 Responses to “Where Have All The African American MLB Players Gone?”

  1. Will

    I think the only reason we look at this as a problem is because of the disproportionate number of African Americans in the NBA and NFL. The fact of the matter is that African Americans only make up 13.5% of the US Population and when you take into account the disproportionate number of Latin American players in the MLB, it seems like the percentage is about right. It’s always good for these programs to try and bring baseball to the inner cities, but statistically, it isn’t that far off.

  2. Kristi

    Ok, but why is it so disproportionate in the other leagues and not in MLB?

  3. Will

    It’s cheap to play football and basketball for a kid. All you need to get is the ball. For baseball you need a lot more kids to get a game, you need a bat, you need gloves for everyone, and probably most importantly, baseball fields are much more expensive to build and take a lot more room than the average playground basketball court.

    And let’s face it, most middle-upper class Caucasian kids are not playing outside any more. They’re probably all involved in sports leagues but they aren’t going to the basketball courts every day to play because they’ve got the means to be incredibly lazy and find things to do in their house.

  4. Kristi Dosh

    Good points. I think you hear of a lot more nonprofit organizations and funds that are trying to promote baseball and make it more accessible to those who can’t afford it. I see a lot more of that in baseball than any other sport, probably because it is more expensive to play.

    L.E.A.D., the group I’m involved with, is great because it provides instruction to kids who could never afford private instruction. It allows them to compete with other kids in the area who have had access to the elite travel teams and private instruction.

    Miss you over at Chop ‘n Change, by the way, Will! :) Hope school is going well!

  5. Will

    Yeah, everything is good up here besides the cold. I really like this new blog. It’s a side of baseball that I think a lot of people are interested in but that isn’t really written about. Best of luck over here.

  6. Kristi Dosh

    Thanks! Let me know if you ever want to contribute…I’d love to have you guest post! And keep warm up there!

  7. Mike Baker

    Like it or not baseball, starting from about age 6 or 8 is now a year round sport. Much different from when I grew up as a three sport athlete and still getting drafted by the Red Sox. And as previously stated playing year round is not cheap. Now the kid must play on a “showcase” team costing around $500-$1,000 per season and then parents are expected to pay for travel expenses. It obviously favors those with access to resourses. This is why programs like L.E.A.D are so important. I venture to say that there will need to be a push to bring baseball to the middle schools of the inner cities as well.

  8. Kristi

    Funny you said that…did you know CJ just got the first middle school league started in Atlanta Public Schools? Very exciting!

  9. Mike Baker

    I did hear he nd Bob Wiedemann were getting it started. Glad it has come to fruition!

  10. Will

    That’s an interesting point you bring up about the showcase thing and I’m wondering if you know how that works in basketball. I know AAU teams are huge and pretty much every college prospect plays on a big time AAU program outside of their prep or high school program. I’m curious whether they are also required to foot the bill.

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    i AGREE WHAT YOU SAY ABOUT THE BLACK KIDS HAVE TO PROVE THEMSELVES EARLY OR BE LOST IN THE SHUFFLE. POLITICS AND JUST BEING WITHIN THE BLACK RACE STILL RULES THE GAME IT IS JUST HIDDEN RACISM AND NO ONE WANTS TO CALL IT AS IT IS. A FEW GET A CHANCE AND GET DRAFTED BECAUSE THEY CAN RUN OR THEY ARE COUNTRY STRONG AND OTHERS THAT HAVE THE SKILL AND NOT THE FASTEST OR STRONGEST GET DUMPED. FROM THE INSIDE IT IS TERRIBLE AND HARD ON THOSE YOUNG BLACK PLAYERS THEY DRAFT AND THROW PENNIES TO DREAM OF BECOMING A MLBP BUTJUST TO KEEP AROUND UNTIL THE NEXT OTHER RACE COME THAT HAS HALF THE TALENT. IT CAN DESTROY A KID LOVE FOR THE GAME WHO ONLY PLAYED FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME.

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