A dearth of black ballplayers, a dearth of black fans

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I missed this story from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram over the weekend, but a bunch of blogs are picking it up today. It’s about the relative dearth of black ballplayers compared to years past, what is driving it and the effect it has on the fewer black ballplayers who are in the game today.

We’ve covered this territory many times here before.  And, like most complicated issues, there are no easy answers. Hell, there aren’t even easy questions everyone can agree on.  There are several reasons why there aren’t more black ballplayers. Some of them economic (baseball programs are expensive to maintain), some of them sociological (baseball isn’t all that cool compared to other sports) and some of them likely just random.  And that’s before you get into the matter of what, exactly, can be done about it.  And of course it’s all complicated by the fact that, overall, baseball is probably more diverse today than it ever has been, so how big a problem is this really.

The framing device of the story is a bit more interesting to me, however, in that it goes beyond just the players. It goes to the fans. It features Curtis Granderson and a little game he plays with his teammates at the ballpark:

Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson moved to the top dugout step, looked into the stands of Rangers Ballpark and challenged his teammates.

“Count the number of African-American people here at the stadium who aren’t working at the stadium and see if you can get to 10,” Granderson said.

A teammate will point at a black man only to hear Granderson reject it because, “He’s Latin.” Or, “You already counted him.”

“At first, it starts off as a joke,” Granderson said. “And then as the game moves on, you’ll get to 10, or maybe 15. Depends on where you are, too. Places like Chicago or New York, other places, it’s easy. Here, it’s hard. So after a while it becomes, ‘Told you so.’ “

I can’t say that I haven’t made that same observation whenever I go to the ballpark.  And it strikes me that, just as important as promoting youth baseball programs through things like the RBI initiative, baseball should figure out how to get more black people in the stands too.

I mean, when did you fall in love with baseball?  If you’re like most folks, it happened while you were watching the game.

Mets invite Tim Tebow to spring training

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Tim Tebow isn’t letting go of his major league dreams just yet. The former NFL quarterback is slated to appear with the Mets during spring training this year, extending what initially looked like an ill-fated career choice for at least one more season. Per the club’s official announcement on Friday, he’ll join a group of spring training invitees that includes top-30 prospects like Peter Alonso, P.J. Conlon, Patrick Mazeika and David Thompson.

Tebow, 30, hasn’t taken to professional baseball as gracefully as expected. He batted a cumulative .226/.309/.347 with eight home runs and a .656 OPS in 486 plate appearances for Single-A Columbia and High-A St. Lucie in 2017. While that wasn’t enough to compel the Mets to give the aging outfielder a big league tryout, there’s no denying that Tebow brought substantial benefit to their minor league affiliates — in the form of increased attendance figures and ticket sales, that is.

Even after the Mets were booted from the NL East race last September, they resisted the idea of promoting Tebow for a late-season attendance boost of their own. That’s not to say they’re planning on taking the same approach in 2018; Tebow will undoubtedly get his cup of coffee in the majors at some point, but for now, a Grapefruit League tryout is likely as close as he’ll ever get to playing with the team’s big league roster on an everyday basis.