The number of black professional baseball players is seeing its greatest decline since the 1950’s, while the amount of Latino players has grown consistently over the last few decades and the number of white players has been on the rise since 2004. So what is causing the severe decline of black MLB players?
Huffington Post writer, Alissa Scheller, implies that barriers such as economic costs and lack of funding for college baseball players are potentially dissuading young black men from entering Major League Baseball (MLB). While economic disadvantages may be keeping black men from entering the league, there are other factors contributing to the decline of black professional baseball players.
Although there are economic factors barring entry for children of all races with low socioeconomic backgrounds, these limitations only seem to be hindering the entry of black athletes into professional baseball. In theory, if the issue were primarily one of economic disadvantages then Latino Americans would be experiencing a similar decline in MLB presence, as Latino American poverty rates are comparable to black poverty rates, but this is not the case.
Some would argue that one reason for the decline is simply a lack of interest on the part of young black males. While this could be partially true, there is also the issue of coaches and athletic directors funneling athletes into specific sports.
Many young athletes play a variety of sports and decide which one to pursue professionally during their high school career, usually heavily influenced by coaches and the supporting staff of their respective teams. If coaches and scouts are funneling (also referred to as tracking) black athletes into sports such as basketball or football (generally considered “black sports”) and discouraging interest in baseball, then athletes are going to foster the abilities and skills required to become the best basketball or football player.
There are a variety of systemic factors such as economic limitations and tracking athletes that could be causing the decline of black baseball players. However, the greater concern here is what does the decline of black MLB players mean for the world of sports and race in America?
A major implication of this decline is that black children are seeing less people who look like them in Major League Baseball. It’s been said time and time again, representation matters significantly to the marginalized people and what we are seeing with MLB is a major decrease in black representation.
Another repercussion of the decline of black MLB players is the reiteration that baseball is a white sport, particularly since the number of white players has increased in the past 10 years. Pessimistically, I want to attribute this decline to society intentionally barring blacks in order to maintain the myth of white supremacy in regards baseball (and most other things in America). As we know, trends like these are seldom coincidental.
Additionally, the presence of Latino MLB players suggests it is not simply systematic racism at work in the league, but an intentional anti-blackness consequently dissuading black athletes from pursuing professional baseball. The decline of black MLB players also fuels the stereotype that black athletes are better at football and basketball but not suitable for playing baseball.
Baseball is illustrated as a mental game requiring strategic prowess to win. Contrary to football where, except for the quarterback, the players’ physical capabilities and strength are commonly the focus of analysis, not their mental facilities.
The philosophy that black athletes are not suited for sports requiring great mental capacity is not a new one. Prior to Doug Williams becoming the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, many questioned whether a black man had the mental ability necessary to carry a team to a championship victory (despite Williams’s leadership throughout the playoffs).
Decreasing the amount of black men in Major League Baseball reinforces the premise that white men are naturally better in positions and sports requiring quick thinking and mental prowess. Similar arguments were made to justify barring blacks from Major League Baseball over 60 years ago.
Jackie Robinson endured various attacks on his character, his life, and his livelihood, in effort to break down racial barriers and stereotypes in Major League Baseball. He could have played in the Negro Leagues or professionally pursued any of the other sports he played throughout college, but he wanted to take a stand for racial equality.
Reflecting on the perception that integration of sports was impossible, Rachel Robinson notes, “There had been predictions (at that time) that if you integrated sports, there would be riots in the stands and on the field, and races could not play together. He had to demonstrate that this was incorrect.” Robinson’s quote acknowledges the segregation of sports was due to white people’s perceptions of black athletes as opposed to the black players abilities and talents.
Although it may be a bit too early to call Reverend Sharpton, it would be a discredit to the legacy of Jackie Robinson, and all the other black athletes integrated professional sports, to sit by and watch as black men slowly but surely disappear from Major League Baseball.
So I leave it up to you, what do you think is causing the decline of blacks in MLB and how do we correct the problem?