70 Years After Jackie: Black Players Becoming Rarer
April 17, 2017

Saturday, April 15, marked the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, and becoming the first black player in Major League Baseball. All the teams across the country wore number 42 in his honor. The first statue of anybody was unveiled at Dodger Stadium, and it was of Jackie. But while MLB is celebrating African Americans in baseball, the truth is, their numbers are way down from a few decades ago. Although they are trying to address it, the question is why.

At first look from the desk of this white guy, the answer seems simple. Baseball is not * the * game like it used to be. There's football and basketball, and kids, not just of color, are gravitating toward those sports. There seems to be more money in it if you go pro, and you don't have to play in the minor leagues before you make it big. While a lot of that is true, you are less likely to suffer a major injury playing baseball (unless perhaps you are a pitcher) than certainly football, and believe it or not, the big leagues pay a lot better than the NFL does.

I have covered local collegiate summer baseball for a decade and a half now, specifically the Marysville Gold Sox, and thinking about it over the years (and I have), out of the over 300 players that have worn a Gold Sox uniform in that time, you can count on your fingers how many of them were African American. One, maybe two a year, and sometimes none. I never really asked why, but I did wonder. The Gold Sox organization doesn't seem to be racist, but the numbers speak for themselves. Then, examining a little further, there weren't very many players of color on the other teams, either.

This year, on two separate television networks, the idea was presented as to why that is occurring, and it's something that makes total sense, and has been around for awhile. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports had a note about it, and the MLB did a great half-hour show on Saturday, with host Harold Reynolds and six African American players, discussing the state of the game. When it comes to college baseball, there are fewer scholarships available than in the other sports. A major college football program gets something like 85 scholarships. Their baseball program? 17. There are more than 17 players on a baseball team, so that means kids are getting a partial scholarship to play baseball, and full rides for football and basketball.

The MLB Roundtable, with Chris Archer, Mychal Givens Josh Harrison, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, and Marcus Stroman, also revealed something else. Major League scouts don't really come to high schools much anymore. You are used to hearing stories of scouts that would drive for days or hours to some Podunk town just to watch a guy throw or hit, file a report, then drive hundreds of miles to watch the next guy. That's not how it works. Now, there are travel ball tournaments and camps that players need to attend so they can be seen, and those tournaments cost money. Money parents don't often have. Gloves, bats, balls, catcher's gear, and other equipment aren't cheap, either.

While the number of African American players in MLB is down, you could also argue that the number of American players, white or black, has been dropping due to the rising popularity of baseball in Latin American countries, and the declining popularity of the sport here. However, given the number of highly successful junior college, small college, and major college teams, with travel ball, summer ball, and everything else, that may or may not be true.

About eight percent of major league players are black. That number has stayed around that mark for the past several years, but it was close to 40 percent in the 1970s and 80s. Jackie Robinson had a lot to endure in his day, and had to keep his mouth shut, but if he were alive today (he'd be 98), you have to think he would be speaking out, and he wouldn't be happy.

Stassi watch: We told you last week that Brock Stassi's first major league hit was a home run. Since then, he is 1-for-8, a single and a run scored on Tuesday against the Mets. He's primarily been a pinch hitter, and had two starts at first base, but got a start in left field yesterday at Washington (the Bryce Harper two-homer game) for the injured Howie Kendrick. Brock is 2-for-16 (.125) with a home run, an RBI, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts, and 2 runs scored in 10 games played. Meanwhile, Justin Haley earned a save Thursday, pitching 3 1/3 innings and striking out 6 in a 11-5 blowout win for Minnesota at Detroit. Haley is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA and 8 strikeouts in 8 innings over 3 appearances this season.

Weather report: It's an odd quirk in the schedule that the Giants and A's were both home over the weekend. What's more odd than that, the A's were rained out Saturday and the Giants played. Both games were scheduled to start at 1pm, but the A's postponed their game early. Thinking that the A's were wimping out, I turn on the Giants game to find a sloppy AT&T Park and conditions that were less than favorable. The Giants lost to Colorado. The A's are playing a doubleheader against Houston in September.

Say it ain't so: I saw a published rumor (in Forbes Magazine of all places) that the Dodgers have rekindled talks with the Milwaukee Brewers about possibly trading for outfielder Ryan Braun. While the Dodgers have a problem hitting lefty pitchers, and the slugger is one of the best in the business at it, Braun has also been a steroid user, and had the audacity to try to blame the UPS guy for delivering a faulty urine sample when he was busted in 2011. I know no one cares about that stuff anymore, but character like that doesn't really belong in the game. The report said the Dodgers would likely give up Yasiel Puig, Brandon McCarthy, and two minor leaguers.

Photo: The unveiling of the sliding Jackie Robinson at Dodger Stadium, the first statue there in the park's 55-year history. Robinson never played for the LA Dodgers (his entire career was in Brooklyn) but attended UCLA and lived in Los Angeles for many years.

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