Why Aren’t More African Americans Playing Baseball?

By: Brandon Patton

A friend of mine recently brought up a professional baseball player whose pay stub somehow leaked onto the web. The athlete is Andrew McCutchen, star outfielder for the Pittsburg Pirates, who in 2012 signed a six year deal worth $51.5 million according to Spotrac.com. The stub showed McCutchen  makes more in two weeks than what most Americans will see working their entire lives. Andrew McCutchen is African American. I am African American and this made me wonder, why aren’t more African Americans playing baseball?

Why Not?

I asked a group of friends if they ever chose to play baseball growing up. One friend stated he only played because his parents played the game, but it wasn’t exciting when compared to other sports like basketball and football. Another friend said he played, but he could never play during the summer because he was always working. He also said once you get past youth baseball, you have to commit much more of your time to the game. He explained that he was still very skilled and tried out during his junior year of high school, but because other players had played for the coach’s summer team, they made the team and he did not.

Tim Keown from ESPN wrote about the issue calling it a yearly parlor game. He said, “It works like this: Everybody on the field dresses up in No. 42 jerseys while baseball’s cognoscenti stroke their collective chin and ponder why so few people on the field look like Jackie Robinson.” Keown explained that “the path to the big time is slower, but why don’t more people associated with baseball trumpet two facts — the number of players who get paid is far larger than the NBA and the money is 100 percent more guaranteed than the NFL?”  The article called the decision by former MLB commissioner Bud Selig to form a committee looking in to the decreasing number of African American players “noble and necessary.”

Chris Rock’s Take

Comedian Chris Rock appeared on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble and discussed how he was, in his words, “an endangered species: a black baseball fan.” He talked about growing up watching his favorite team, the New York Mets, winning it all in 1986 with players like Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson (all African Americans) and being able to talk about the games with other African Americans. Now he says when he asks other African Americans about the Mets, they don’t even recognize the team name, to put it nicely. This made me wonder, maybe there aren’t enough stars that look like us to be able to relate to the game? Chris Rock brought up how Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) like Stillman College have one black player out of 36 total. That, sadly, is even better than Howard University, another HBCU, which doesn’t even have a baseball program. The biggest concern Rock had was the game of baseball in general is too old fashioned.

Too Old Fashioned?

Baseball is a slower game when compared to other sports. According to CBS sports writer Mike Axisa, the average game in the 2015 season so far has 76 plate appearances taking 182.1 minutes per game. He went on to say that “the average time of game is down 8.0 minutes from last year, which is relatively substantial.” Sportingcharts writer Chad Langager wrote “during the 2013 MLB season the average number of runs scored in an average game was 8.33 runs per game. On a per team basis, this equates to 4.17 runs per game.”  What can be done to make the game more appealing?

You have homeruns, fast pitches and occasionally triple plays during games, but for the most part you are waiting for something entertaining for long periods of time.  In basketball there are incredible dunks, impressive blocks, and three pointers at a fast pace. In football there are always hard hits, ankle breaking jukes and amazing receptions, almost defying human logic at times. After big plays in both sports though, you can always show emotion and celebrate in some kind of way. In baseball, time and time again it is shown that if you celebrate after a crushing homerun, you better be prepared to have a baseball thrown at you going north of 90 miles per hour your next go round.

So why aren’t more African Americans playing baseball?  Is the game too slow? Is it too old fashioned? Are there enough players that look like us to inspire youth coming up? Despite baseball players being paid far more per person than NBA players and the money being 100 percent more guaranteed than the NFL, the African American population in baseball continues to decline.  Maybe one day things will change, but an answer sooner rather than later is needed more than ever.

I am a CBS 62/CW 50 Community Affairs Intern. I am a huge sports fan and of course you have to love your hometown teams! I currently attend Eastern Michigan University, I truly love my family and Bullmastiffs!

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