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 when we consider 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.”