"Canary in the Mine Shaft"

Last Tuesday night, there were as many African-American presidents at the All-Star Game as players in the starting lineups.

Only the fourteen-year veteran Derek Jeter represented people of African descent. (Jeter, like Obama, is of mixed heritage.) Eighteen percent of the players in the All-Star Game were African-American, including game MVP Carl Crawford, but none were voted in by the fans to open the contest. Jeter is also the only African-American player in the starting lineups of the two marquee teams in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox in particular have become so bleached in recent years, you wonder if Red Sox Nation has a Whites Only sign on the front door. This is particularly notable considering that the Red Sox were the last team to integrate in Major League Baseball.

It sends a message throughout the land that America's Pastime has reinstituted a de facto color line. Yes, Jackie Robinson's number is retired in every park, but also retired seems to be the historic place baseball has had in the African-American community. As African-American star pitcher C.C. Sabathia said in 2007, "I go back home to Vallejo, and the kids say, 'What's baseball?' It's not just an issue for my hometown, it's an issue for the whole country. I think Major League Baseball should do something about it. I don't know exactly what they could be doing, but I know it's not enough."

In the mid-1970s, African-Americans made up 27 percent of the players in the league. Today it stands at just over 8 percent. In the NCAA only 6 percent of the nearly 9,800 Division I baseball players are of African descent.

Every year I write about this issue, because every year the media assess this problem and get it terribly wrong. Jayson Love wrote on Bleacher Report, "More of the African American athletes whose future is in sports seem to opt for football or basketball over baseball, possibly because the sports have 'more action.' "

Gerald Early, an African-American scholar, wrote, "Black Americans don't play major league baseball so much these days because they don't want to."

Ed Wojtkowski, district administrator of Greater Bethesda/Calvert/Waldorf Little League, said, "You have soccer. You have lacrosse. You have the Internet. You have Nintendo.... Kids have a lot of choices these days."

Seattle's Garfield High baseball coach Tom Riley said, "Right now, if you're a black guy, it's not hip to play baseball."

All well-meaning commentaries; all wrong. It's not a question of action. It's a question of access. Baseball players now tend to come in two groups. There are Latino players, scouted before they are 10, signed into baseball academies before their sweet 16 and imported along a global pipeline until they are cast aside or make the majors. Then there are white players, who largely come from suburban backgrounds and college programs. Baseball--in the US context--has gone country club. Like golf and tennis, or their hemp-addled cousins in the X Games, they are sports that require serious bank for admission. In addition, you need parents with the leisure time to be involved. These sports just don't fit the reality for today's working families, black or white.

Leland Barclay wrote a sterling article for the Times Record of Fort Smith, Arkansas, in which he observed,

Baseball on the youth level has become an elite sport. Hand-picked, all-star caliber traveling teams have taken over the sport, and playing on one of those teams isn't cheap. Upfront costs for uniforms, personalized bat bags, name-brand cleats and air-brushed batting helmets quickly reach several hundred dollars before the season even begins. Add in road trips two or three weekends a month, entry fees to tournaments, motel rooms, meals and gas and costs skyrocket even more....

"It is very expensive," said [Coach Johnny] Young, who also coaches a traveling 11-and-under baseball team. "We have a sponsor that pays for our $300-a-tourney entry fees, but the parents are still out a ton of money."

Major League Baseball has attempted to address the access question through a program it runs called RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), but it has been like shoveling sand in the ocean. The greater problem is that our cities have become shells of their former selves. I live in Washington, DC. I get to travel to places like Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit. The story is the same: deindustrialization, shuttered community centers and home foreclosure signs that pepper the streets the way American flags did after 9/11. In Tom Riley's Seattle, a tent city formed in the shadow of Microsoft headquarters. Five schools are closing and a $200 million jail is being built.

Each city is also the site of a sparkling new baseball stadium, paid for in part or in full on the taxpayer dime. The irony has become a collective noose: fewer African-Americans play baseball because our cities are being strangled; our children are being fast-tracked to a ravenous prison industry; and no one has the time, money or will to organize a good old-fashioned game of baseball.

As sports sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards told me, "You have three out of five young African-American men in places like California and in most of our urban centers to some degree under the control of the courts. You know they're either under indictment or under arrest, incarcerated, on probation, on parole.... We're jailing, burying and disqualifying our athletes. Well, what's happening with the educational institutions? What's happening with the social institutions? So the athlete is truly the canary in the mine shaft that tells us that something is terribly wrong in the youth culture of black America. And that's an American problem. That's not just a black problem."

For African-Americans the national pastime is now past its time. The canary in the mine shaft has fluttered to the ground. It would behoove us to notice.

37 Reader Comments | Add a comment

baseball

Dave the only thing you are right about is the spending of $ on stadiums. Black kids dont want to play baseball in large numbers even if you gave them free access to it. Back in the day kids played on their own so if the kids today really want to play then let them figure it out. You are trying to create a problem where there isnt' one. Why do you feel so guilty about being white, are there black people pointing out the lack of white players in the NBA. Of course not and I am not saying they should be. There arent because of a lack of merit not some conspiracy. Latin kids play with rubber balls and desk legs as bats and do fine. Its about desire not $. Williams sisters are from Compton and play Tennis which is more expensive than baseball.

Baseball & Race

Dave: I agree with most of what you have to say. I grew up following Mays, Aaron, McCovey, Gibson, Stargell, et.al. and find the current number of African-American baseball players disheartening. I do feel traveling squads, by their very nature, are exclusionary. I experienced this with my own kids. It's all about who you know, not whether your play deserves recognition. We now see this play out on the major league level as Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel larded his roster with Phillies players at the exclusion of more deserving candidates like the Giants' Pablo Sandoval.

Yeah, but......

I know baseball is easy to pick on, but this is exactly the same as any other sport. In basketball, you have AAU teams, magnet basketball high schools (both of the former with scouts at playgrounds looking at 11 year olds) and college programs serving, as you point out, as defacto minor leagues. In hockey, you have the junior leagues in Canada for kids as young as 16. Football, do we even need to go there in terms of pricing out of playing and handpicking kids for the pipeline?

Most of us are pissed about the stadium issue, as we should be. But let's not dump on baseball for a SPORTS problem.

Balance

There may be less black youth playing baseball, but each year I see more and more black players succeeding in the NHL. Doesn't this sort of balance things out?

Sorry, I'm Canadian- I don't fully understand the complexities of American race issues.

It's a numbers game

"In the mid-1970s, African-Americans made up 27 percent of the players in the league. Today it stands at just over 8 percent."

The disparity isn't as drastic as this statement makes it sound. The percentage of *Americans*, white or black, is way down in baseball over that time. There may be a problem, but misleading statistics don't get us anywhere.

Baseball

You're making too much of this issue. Black kids play the sports their friends play and the sports that capture their fancy. It's not the end of the world if young Black males prefer football and basketball to baseball. Taste in any community can change. I came from a neighborhood where Black and White kids played street hockey but now they don't. Kids like their video games and other activities. You're so busy looking for some racist subplot as to why Black kids don't play baseball anymore when sometimes the answer is as simple as they don't want to play baseball.

Way Off Base

I don't know where to start with this article. First, how come traveling squads are elitist in baseball only? AAU basketball players, including predominantly African-American teams, almost certainly travel more than most baseball teams, especially when considering basketball is now a year round sport, which baseball will never be because of weather. In fact, many basketball players even have the means to attend a preparatory school, such as Findlay in Nevada, that is nothing more than a college basketball team masquerading as a high school. Quite simply, if a kid has talent, no matter his race, someone (occasionally coaches) will come up with the means for him to get the best instruction available.

Second, to call baseball an elitist sport is misguided at best, and intentionally misleading at worst. Having attended an elite college preparatory school, I can say that a majority of the kids on the baseball team were of a middle class upbringing. After all, baseball is in the spring, coinciding with the seasons of tennis and lacrosse, two clear country club sports.

Third, to suggest some sort of conspiracy is ludicrous. To Ed Francis, baseball is a business. Like any other business, the goal is to make money. I think Dave, and most people who read these forums, would readily admit that most owners are in the game to make money. As such, the easiest way to make money in the game of baseball is not picking favorites, but to put a winning product on the field--whether the players be black, white, Asian, or Latino. Obviously, that worked out quite well for Charlie Manuel and his Philadelphia Phillies last year. Also, Ed, you may want to reread your post. What a fool that Manuel must be for wanting Phillies players on the Phillies' roster--incidentally, the same Phillies who start Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, two former MVPs and quite possibly the two most prominent African-American position players in the game today.

Finally, the reason that no African-Americans are playing baseball anymore has nothing to do with the dehumanizing aspect of American urban life. We are no worse now than we were in the Great Depression, but everyone has heard stories of pickup baseball games in abandoned lots during that era. Instead, the reason African-Americans aren't playing baseball today is because they don't want to play baseball--they would rather play basketball, or even football. Driving through the city, I see plenty of pickup basketball games taking place. Baseball is simply not as popular as it used to be, amongst whites and blacks. As a white middle-class kid, I have way less interest in the game than I did years ago. Sports come and go, and right now, baseball is not what it used to be.

Ed Francis

Ed:

My apology for the comment about Manuel and Sandoval. Was curious about what you brought up, just googled their names and realized you were talking about the All-Star game. Should have known, or at least looked it up before I posted, but like I said, I don't follow baseball as closely anymore. And having looked at your stats, it is indeed a joke that Sandoval lost out to Jayson Werth. However, I would imagine that had less to do with race than the fact that Manuel wanted to give "his guy" a reward for a solid, while unspectacular, season. Hopefully Sandoval will get more chances to make the All-Star team in the future.

Despite that, my point still stands--while favoritism may be prevalent at the lower levels of the game, including high school, once you get to the level of big time college and professional baseball, the favoritism begins to wane. It's a lot easier to pick the more qualified person over a friend, after all, when your job is riding on it.

Could be...

I agree that the lack of African Americans in baseball today compared to the past is a problem. This fact, compounded with the Barry Bonds witch hunt and the exclusion of African Americans until Jackie is more than enough reason to accuse the MLB of racism among its owners. (see former dodgers VP Al Campanis overtly referencing this to Ted Koppel)

The exclusionary tactics among youth sports is a valid point as well, yet i don't believe that it is exclusive to baseball. I don't buy the garbage of black kids liking football or basketball simply because of "the action", but rather that this pre-ordained conclusion is forced upon kids.

You're black and fast? you should play football. You're black and have great hand and eye coordination? you should play football. It's already assumed they play basketball, because as all old, white, nostalgia-loving baseball men know, that's they game they play in the hood.

Keep ringing the bell on this issue Dave, but don't assume that lack of access is the only factor at work here. Accessibility is a problem in most sports in America, and nearly all professional leagues could care less.

Gimme a break!

For all the commenters who suggest black kids don't want to play basebaIl, how many black kids do you know? How do you know what black kids want?

My concern is whether blacks that do want to play, no matter how small the number, are getting an equitable opportunity. I've said before on this site that I have a hard time believing it's coincidence that teams like the Braves, Red Sox, Cardinals, etc. have 0 or 1 black player every year. The argument that it's because the "great black athlete plays other sports" is tired and worn out. Baseball is full of less than mediocre white athletes but rarely do you see any less than mediocre black athletes in MLB. For me, this indicates a double standard. I would just like to believe there's equal opportunity in the grand ole' game. Right now, I doubt it.

FYI, black kids would jump at the chance to make the kind of money major league players make if given the chance, whether they love the game or not.

Uhh . . .

Now if white people give up playing baseball, we'll be all set. But what will we do with the stadiums? You can't play soccer in them . . .

Re: Gimme a break!

Actually, Conspiracy Brother, I know quite a few, and almost none are baseball fans. And regarding your second point, baseball is not all about athleticism. Maybe most of the black baseball players you see are great athletes, but that does not necessarily mean they are great baseball players. Willy Taveras of the Cincinnati Reds, for example, is an incredible athlete, a guy that probably could have been successful in other sports. Unfortunately, he is not a great baseball player, as evidenced by his poor batting average and on-base percentage. Taveras is without a doubt a better athlete, in the purse sense of the word, than Dustin Pedroia. However, Pedroia is unquestionably the better baseball player of the two. As I said in my previous post, when dollars are the bottom line, a team is going to do whatever they can put a winning product on the field, no matter the race of the players.

CB is right

CB is right. I am taking this from the perspective of being married to someone who has taught in DCPS for a decade - and I did four years in DCPS in my early 20s. Yes, baseball isn't "cool" to kids. But a lot of that is a defensive posture because THERE IS NO ACCESS TO EVEN PLA:Y. How can you say "poor kids hate guava juice" when their only choices are Coke and Pepsi? And yes, young people, out of a defensive posture, will diss guava juice, but it tells s nothing about why they don't even get to make these choices.

A Systematic Problem

Hey Dave,
Thanks for writing this article. This touches on the topic I complained to you about in an email regarding the demise of in-house hockey in my hometown of North St. Paul, MN. It's informative to learn that other sports are having the same problem, which indicates there is a *systematic* problem here and it has nothing to do with changing tastes in sports. And, unfortunately, it affects everyone from the pros down to the youth community sports associations.

Has anyone compiled statistics on the percentages of athletes from working class backgrounds that make it into the pros?

racism deniers are either stupid, or closet racists themselves

Those of you saying that black kids just don't want to play baseball sound shifty to me. Dave offers a reason, you bash him, accusing him of having white guilt, when you've got no reason of your own. The fact that non thinking beats thinking in political debate is a sign that we're not completely out of the Bush era, yet. The only point of contention any of you brought up was basketball leagues, but of course, you leave out the obvious fact that baskteball leagues are made available to black kids. They are more affordable to the kids themselves. They target black kids. Baseball leagues do not. Baseball leagues price out lower class children, and you have to be naive if you think otherwise. Pick up games in the depression? There were no baseball leagues in the depression. That's all their was. Now you have a middle class, and most middle class kids who want to play baseball play in leagues. To those of you accusing Dave of having white guilt, does it bother you because you have white pride? Why would it bother you if a white person felt guilty about being white if you weren't proud to be white? do you get mad when black people feel guilty about being black? When Bill Cosby and rev. Jesse Peterson run down blacks, are you ashamed of them for having black guilt, or do you cheer them on? Get real.

American baseball

Team owners are businessmen and businessmen like cheap labor; in the case of baseball, this means investing in scores of international players and hoping to find a diamond in the infield. If the cost of that cheap labor is raised dramatically, investment will return to American baseball and it will happen in urban areas because that's where the population is. The easy solve to raise the cost of that labor is to make international players subject to the draft, thus eliminating the need for international academies. Long-standing leagues in Latin American countries can be modified into de facto int'l minor leagues owned or subsidized by all 30 teams. It would substantially reduce the risks and costs teams incur--and, though I may be missing something, I don't know why the players union would argue against longer development times in Latin America.

This isn't necessarily an argument for increasing the number of African-Americans or Latinos or anyone else in organized baseball--it's an argument for supporting American youth by giving them avenues for recreation and growth. Think of the enormous PR benefits MLB can generate by a major investment into youth baseball in its markets!

I firmly believe that the next significant stage of growth in baseball's revenues will happen when MLB realizes that reinvigorating American urban baseball won't just create homegrown players, it will create homegrown fans. As fans, we don't care what color someone's skin is or what language he speaks, but if his hometown is somewhere in America, that sells tickets.

uh

"Jeter is also the only African-American player in the starting lineups of the two marquee teams in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox in particular have become so bleached in recent years, you wonder if Red Sox Nation has a Whites Only sign on the front door."

Uh, seriously? Find someone who doesn't follow sports whatsoever. Show them a picture of Jeter, and one of David Ortiz, and ask them which one is black.

Gimme a break! pt. 2

Actually Junior Gumm you're making my point. If baseball requires more than athleticism why do we accept the idea that blacks are declining in baseball because "the great black athlete" is playing other sports? Not all blacks are great athletes. Why does MLB only seem to have room for the great black athlete and not the black person with ability similar to a David Eckstein or a Nick Green? Skilled blacks who aren't great athletes are thought of as not athletic enough. There's clearly a double standard.

Also, even when blacks comprised 27% of major league players baseball wasn't a big deal in the black community. It's similar to golf. Many African-Americans don't give a squat about golf, but they're interested in Tiger Woods. When he goes their interest in the sport will go with him.

Why don't more blacks run for president? Because they don't want to or because they never thought they had a chance? The same can be said of their perception of baseball.

Finally, many teams field the team they think will appeal to their fan base. Winning isn't always the priority.

Re: Gimme a break, pt. 2

Not all black baseball players are great athletes, however. While he would never be labeled by the media as such, Neifi Perez fits the mold of the "scrappy" David Eckstein. CC Sabathia has a similar frame to that of David Wells, and I don't think anyone would ever accuse him of being a tremendous athlete. Even Ryan Howard, who can hit the ball a mile high and a mile long, is never going to win any awards for his agility in the field. Teams do take chances on black baseball players who are not as good, such as Willy Taveras.

Secondly, your notion that a fan base cares more about the color of a team's skin than the team's record is one of the stupidest statements I have heard in quite some time, to put it bluntly. Indianapolis is largely a Caucasian city, the team had more Caucasians than any other team in the NBA last year, and yet the Pacers were third from the bottom in the NBA in attendance. Care to take a guess as to why? Common sense dictates it is because they were a bad basketball team. On the other end, the only white American player in the rotation for the small-market Cleveland was Wally Sczerbiak, and yet they came in 5th in attendance? Again, it stands to reason that is because the Cavs put a winning product on the floor. In baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies have more recognizable African-Americans than any other team in baseball, in Howard and Rollins, yet they are second in attendance this year.

Finally, to Rob, here are some statistics to support the claim that the black athlete is not as interested in playing baseball anymore. In the mid-1970s, African-Americans made up 11.7 percent of the US population. Today, they represent 12.7 percent of the US population. Over that time frame, the percentage of African-American baseball players has gone down from 27 percent to 8 percent. Over the same period, however, the percentage of African-Americans in the NFL has increased from 30 to 67 percent, and the rate in the NBA has gone from 60 to 70 percent. That would seem to suggest to me that blacks are less interested in baseball. And the argument that MLB is conspiring to keep blacks out of baseball contains faulty logic. Baseball is a business, wherein the goal, like any other business, is to make money. Currently, the NBA and NFL, with their higher rates of African-American players, are making more money than Major League Baseball is. Thus, it follows that baseball either stands to make money from trying to increase the percentage of African-Americans in the game (in which case they will do so), or that baseball is simply less appealing to people of all races today. The latter theory seems to make more sense.

To: Junior Dumm

I never stated that fans care more about skin color, that's what you inferred. I simply said teams often times construct rosters based on what they think appeals to their fan base, which is a true statement. Does that mean race is a factor with some teams? Yes, I believe it is. The stupidity is your inability to read and comprehend correctly.

I won't bother to discuss any of your logic either because there is none. I also don't have the time or inclination to give you a lesson in culture and ethnicity but Neifi Perez and Wily Tavares are not African-American. Take some history and culture classes, get back to me, and maybe then we can talk.

Peace.

To: Conspiracy Brother

I'm sorry I wasn't take history and culture classes.award Willy Taveras and Neifi Perez were Dominican, as opposed to African-American. However, I think my ignorance shows that I need to follow baseball more closely, not that I need to

Secondly, by saying that winning isn't always the priority, you implicitly stated that SOMETHING ELSE is the priority at times. Given the context of your statement, it seems as if you believe that priority is race.

Finally, I'd like to see some facts pointing to teams constructing rosters that appeal to their fan base, with race being a factor at times. Care to cite any examples where you believe a more qualified African-American's roster spot was taken away in favor of a lesser qualified Caucasian, because they believed it would help raise revenue? And don't cite Barry Bonds as an example; while race probably was a factor in him not being signed last year, any team that signed Bonds would have seen a great spike in attendance and revenue. The reason you won't respond to my logic is not because there is none, but because you have no evidence to back up your own crazy conspiracies.

African American players

Again David Zirin misses the point. African Americans in general have been displaced by Latinos. This has happened not only in Baseball but in the workplace as well.

Indeed the ruling elite want this desperately and they always get what they want.

I Have To Disagree

I go to minor league games here in the Inland Empire of Southern California. There is no shortage of Black players here. There IS a shortage of Black fans, however.

I work with all races, and generally speaking the Blacks don't like baseball, calling it boring and about as exciting as watching paint dry. I don't know how to address this issue with them, for to turn the sport into something fast and active like basketball or boxing would destroy the strategy element of the game.

Too many people of all races have expressed to me that baseball is boring, with Whites preferring soccer or tennis to baseball. This may well be the key, and take it for what it is worth. Strategy requires thought and memory, and maybe there are plenty of people of all races who don't have what it takes to appreciate baseball for what it is - a mental game. The rapid action is secondary, and waiting for those moments is why some think baseball boring.

As usual, Dave, you nailed it.

Dave, great article. I haven't seen anyone refute your take, yet. Just a bunch of numbers that don't address your point, and accusations of you having "white guilt". Typical. Keep up the good work, Dave.

Thanks Rocky7

Thanks Rocky7. Honestly, all I want from people, if you disagree, is a counter-explanation. The numbers don't lie: there has been a massive decline of African American ballplayers. The question is "why"? Blasting me for whatever reason, is just lazy and weak. Bring your counter-argument or get-to-steppin'.

you got that right Dave

the timing of your article is exceptional. our local park just hosted the regional all star pony league tournament (13 and 14 yr olds) and I was amazed that all of the teams came out of these ultra rich enclaves in South Texas like Brownsville, Corpus Christi and Marion. All of these country club teams came to our park speaking their elitist Spanish, surely fresh out of their baseball academies that they try to fool people with by calling them "farms".

Seriously, I don't know where you live and I don't what kind of kids play baseball where you live but this reads to me like you started with your premise of ACCESS and only found evidence that would support your theory and ignored everything to the contrary.

Zirin and Rob: Get real!

There is plenty of real racism out there-Sen. Jeff Sessions and others like him; the swimming camp incident in Pa., however, you guys hurt the cause of fighting real racism by claiming racism when it clearly is not there.

Rob, you lose all credibility when you equate Cosby with an idiotic scumbag like Jesse Lee Peterson. Cosby's words were echoed by Obama at the NAACP last week-and by Jesse Jackson 25 years ago.

Dave Zirin, it is beyond obvious that most Black kids don't choose to play baseball. They much prefer BB and FB. From 1975 to now the percentage of Blacks went from 27% to 8%, even as the NFL has a much higher % of Blacks, so does the NBA, and we have many more Black QB's, coaches and administrators, and a Black president.

Despite all this, you guys seem to think the MLB have turned sharply more racist since 1975 while the NFL and NBA owners have become more inclusive. Amazing!

the victim wanted it....

Never believe the person who says that people are shut out because they want to be shut out. A nation of people like Dave (not Zirin, the Dave above this comment..) will have us convinced that black people want to have longer prison sentences than whites. Why were black people slaves? Hello? They wanted to be! They could have tried to run....

Right?

Baseball is a lucrative sport that black people have historically excelled in. Of course black kids want to play baseball, it's just that the leagues in their neighborhoods suck. Like one team that has to travel and play other leagues. Little league baseball has been turned into a pay to play business, and black kids are shut out. Anyone who can't see it is either in denial, or supports it.

the other dave...Cosby couldn't carry Obama's jock

Dave (not Zirin), Obama echoed Bill Cosby? I must have missed Obama making fun of black girls' names, the way Cosby tastelessly did a few years back, and never apologized for. Cosby makes some astute points but he officially demoted himself to babbling windbag when he made that speech. Notice how Fox News started inviting him on all the time after that, to put on a show for their racist audience. Do your homework, Dave (not Zirin).

Stop the Nonsense

The assumption that more blacks playing football and basketball inherently results in fewer blacks playing baseball is ridiculous and I'm tired of seeing people repeat it. It assumes a fixed pool of black athletes and ignores the possibility of there being more blacks capable of playing all sports today than in the past. An increase in the pool of black athletes could be the result of a larger black population, better and more accessible training, better incentives (money and fame), etc.

The point of this is let's not accept as fact the bogus argument that the numbers in football and basketball support the decline of blacks in baseball.

P.S.
"get-to-steppin" ! Good one Dave Zirin.

Thought Provoking

Good article and obviously thought provoking. the comments as always entertaining....and amazing.

"I came from a neighborhood where Black and White kids played street hockey but now they don't."
-What the integrated part of Winnepeg? Or was that the Neverland Ranch?
----------
"Having attended an elite college preparatory school, I can say that a majority of the kids on the baseball team were of a middle class upbringing"
-Ha, lets see I consider myself middle class made it (somehow) to one of the "Public Ivy's", but I have no idea what an "elite college prepratory school" even is. Sounds rich to me. As always one man's middle class is the next man's rich.
-----
"the percentage of African-American baseball players has gone down from 27 percent to 8 percent. Over the same period, however, the percentage of African-Americans in the NFL has increased from 30 to 67 percent, and the rate in the NBA has gone from 60 to 70 percent. That would seem to suggest to me that blacks are less interested in baseball."

-solid fact, and such an easy one part linear conclusion of said fact. Because in reality there's never any other factors involved, you can just throw out a stat and draw one conclusion. You must have gone to Liberty Edu?

Dave you are the Al Sharpton of sportswriters

Dave Z's obsession with race and slim knowledge of sports leads to yet another hilariously wrong-headed article.

"Baseball on the youth level has become an elite sport. Hand-picked, all-star caliber traveling teams have taken over the sport, and playing on one of those teams isn't cheap."

How is this at all different from basketball, which is dominated by elite prep schools, like Oak Hill, that have squads that predominantly black? I find Michael Wilbon's take on this to be far more compelling. He suggests that baseball is a game taught to children by fathers, and so the lack of black baseball players has to do with the breakdown of the family in Black communities.

Country club

Back before I lost my job, I was riding in an airport shuttle bus with a couple of dads who were talking about their sons playing baseball. Thus, I got an hearful of the new 'country-club' aspect of suburban baseball.

They were talking about all the services they had bought for their sons. Specialized hitting coaches. Constant coaching and video reviews of their swings and their game. Specialized centers where they obviously paid big bucks to have their sons take advantage of these services.

I thought back to my days playing youth baseball, and this was all so different. Back in my day, as a kid in Appalachia who loved the game, I got maybe one practice for a couple of hours with whatever team I was playing on. Add maybe one game a week onto that.

So, compare the prospects of some kid who's playing baseball like I did, with maybe three hours a week of organized instruction, and the rest trying to play on the field in our subdivision, with these kids who are getting specialized instruction, personal coaching, video reviews of their swings, hundreds of swings a day in batting cages, etc .... and its easy to see the difference in the prospects.

We hear of MLB doing programs to support youth baseball in the cities. But, I suspect those kids get baseball more like I did in Appalachia back in my day, and nothing at all like the big bucks approach that these suburban dads were using to help their kids.

And so much of success is just getting spotted. What are the odds of some kid who plays a couple of hours a week in a MLB-support city league getting spotted as an upcoming talent and getting into the programs they need to succeed as a player? Meanwhile, if they show any skills in basketball, they'll have AAU coaches and shoe companies falling over backwards to help them. Wanna guess what sport they'll have a better chance of succeeding at?

fixed pool

"It assumes a fixed pool of black athletes"

Well, duh ... in any given age group, there is indeed a fixed pool of people who have athletic ability. There's a certain number of kids ... this is fixed. There aren't suddenly new 14 year olds popping into existence. And, a certain percentage of these have athletic skills.

So, there is indeed a fixed pool of black athletes that exists out there at any given time. Whether the size of this pool changes year to year is a completely different question.

And, within that pool, by the time they reach their upper teens, almost all athletes have chosen to specialize in one sport. There are a few you see in college who play multiple sports, but these are relatively rare. So rare as to be noticeable and worthy of mention when you see them. The intense nature of the competition in any sport these days pretty much forces kids to pick one sport and try to specialize if they want to succeed.

If African-American kids get more support and encouragement to play other sports than baseball, then you will see fewer of them playing professional baseball and more of them playing the other sports that get both more attention to in their community and which also do a much better job of providing young black athletes the coaching and skill development they need to succeed at the highest levels of sport.

$ and Sports Participation

It's a question of affordability. The cost of participation is the key to whether kids play a particular sport or another.

Not long ago the public high school was the focus of a teenager's sports participation. Private 'clubs' were the exception and not the norm. The key difference is high school sports were free and as a result quite integrated both racially and economically. The private clubs that charged high fees tended to be much more homogeneous. The situation is much more accentuated today.

The stats don't lie when it comes to the race demography of sport participation and I would add that an examination of who can afford to play is also most indicative. I believe these stats would cross racial lines to show that fewer poor people are playing sports.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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