After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, the league saw a steady increase of African-Americans. However, over the past two decades, the pattern has reversed and fewer and fewer African-Americans are playing the game that Jackie Robinson sacrificed so much for.
In 2011, 61.5% of baseball players were white, 8.5% African-American, 27% Latino, 2% Asian, and 1% other. (Lapchick) The 8.5% African-Americans is concerning because it is exactly half of what it was in 1990. Each year the percentage of African-Americans drops a little more, and more teams are without even a single African-American on their roster.
There are a few theories as to why baseball’s African-American community is diminishing. One theory is that baseball is just too slow and long, and more kids are choosing to play basketball and football when they are young. While this may be part of the problem, there is likely much more to it.
We believe another part of the problem is the Major League Baseball draft. Unlike in other sports, like football, the baseball draft is for U.S. amateur players only. If a baseball team wants an international player, they can sign him without having to go through the draft. As a result, Major League Baseball has made huge investments in developing and scouting players outside of the United States, especially in the Caribbean countries. In fact, every team in professional baseball has an academy in the Dominican Republic for talented players that combines both their schooling and baseball instruction. About half of the 30 teams have academies in Venezuela as well. (Isidore) The increased focus on these international athletes leads many inner city kids to be left out. Before, teams made investments in developing talent in the inner cities, but due to the convenience of being able to sign an international player without having to draft him first, baseball teams have shifted their focus to outside of the United States.
Another factor that is likely leading to the diminishing number of African-Americans in baseball is the number of scholarships that colleges can offer in baseball. Division one colleges can give out 85 full scholarships for football, but only 11.7 scholarships for baseball. (Isidore) Many inner city kids are unable to attend college unless they get a scholarship, so many switch from baseball to football in order to improve their odds.
While this system hurts many African-Americans, it has been very beneficial to Latino players. In 2011, Major League Baseball was 27% Latino, compared to only 13% in 1990. (Lapchick) The steady increase in Latino baseball players is likely to continue, because of the academies and the increased focus on international players.
In addition, the World Baseball Classic is an international baseball tournament that promotes the game all around the world. The event began in 2005 and takes place every four years. It was created by the International Baseball Federation, Major League Baseball, and the Major League Baseball Players Association. (World) The World Baseball Classic is unique in that in allows professional players to play for and represent their home countries. This has really generated lots of interest in the tournament, because the world gets to watch the best players in the world, not college and minor-league players like in the Olympics.
While the World Baseball Classic has done little to increase interest in baseball among African-Americans, the event is still very new and hopefully able to do so in future generations. The downward trend of African-Americans playing baseball is very unfortunate, but likely to continue unless Major League Baseball shifts it’s focus back to African-Americans growing up in the United States. While the increased participation internationally is great, the participation by African-Americans is a very serious problem.
Lapchick, Richard. The 2011 Racial & Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball. Publication. University of Central Florida, 21 Apr. 2011. Web. <http://tidesport.org/RGRC/2011/2011_MLB_RGRC_FINAL.pdf>.
Isidore, Chris. “Decline of Black Baseball Players Due to Game’s Economics.” CNNMoney – Business, Financial and Personal Finance News. 13 Apr. 2007. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. <http://money.cnn.com/2007/04/13/commentary/sportsbiz/index.htm>.
World Baseball Classic: Home. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. <http://web.worldbaseballclassic.com/index.jsp>.