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George E. Curry of NNPA and Blackpressusa
Published: 04 April 2007

When someone mentioned baseball in the past, certain names immediately came to mind: Jackie Robinson, Satchell Paige, Buck O'Neil, Willie Mays, Don Newcomb, Frank Robinson, Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin, Joe Black, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Willie Stargell — all African Americans.
The 2007 baseball season got underway over the weekend and this year, 60 years after Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier, there are fewer African Americans on the playing field than two decades ago. Last year, only 8.4 percent of major league players were Black, compared to 19 percent in 1995, according to the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. Meanwhile, the percentage of Latino players has increased to 29.4 percent, Asians are 2.4 percent and Whites are 59.5 percent.
Because major league baseball has set up training camps in Latin America, making it cheaper to scout and sign budding players, some critics, such as former Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, says professional baseball is "outsourcing" Black talent.
On some teams, Black players are all but forgotten. In 2005, for example, the Houston Astros was the first team since the 1953 Yankees to play in the World Series without a single African American player.
Compare that to 1971 when the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded the first all-Black and Latino starting lineup. That was the same year the Pirates won the World Series.
Newsday columnist Shaun Powell wrote earlier this month: "Come Opening Day, there might be more Blacks in the Rush Limbaugh fan club than on the field for both New York teams combined."
Powell continued, "In fact, every time the memory of Robinson is honored with a ceremony, there are more elderly Black faces paying homage than young ones.
And even on teams that have African Americans, they tend to be "stacked" in certain positions. They are underrepresented in certain so-called "thinking positions" — especially pitcher, catcher and third basemen. For example, only 3 percent of pitchers and almost no catchers are Black. By contrast, 28 percent of outfielders, a position that relies on speed and quick reactions, were African Americans. That's nearly three times the African American representation in professional baseball.
Though few people expect Blacks to again make up 27 percent of major league baseball, many feel the numbers can increase if more emphasis is placed on training, recruiting and nurturing Black players when they are young. After all, that has been the key to attracting so many Latino players south of the border.
While some bemoan the loss of African American players, the combination of Black and Latino players reached 40.5 percent last season, just shy of the 42 percent high in 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut.
As major league baseball keeps striking out with Black players on the field, it is hitting home runs, in some cases, when it comes to Blacks and Latinos in the front office. This season, 20 percent of major league baseball's managers are people of color.
Of the 30 major league teams, African-Americans were 16 percent of the coaches in 2006, up 1 percent over the previous year.
Whites still dominate as team physicians. From 2005 to 2006, White team physicians increased from 93 percent to nearly 95 percent. African Americans decreased from 4 percent to 3 percent.
There are still no Blacks serving as CEO/President of any major league team. Except for one Latino, all team owners are White.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach.

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