This is a must-click link from friend-of-HBT Graham Womack, who writes for The Sacramento News Review. His subject today is one well-known to HBT readers: the relative dearth of U.S.-born black baseball players. His story is not from the macro view, however, it’s on the micro level. He writes from the ballfields of Sacramento, once a hotbed of young black baseball talent, and shows us how that talent well has dried up.
The athletes aren’t gone, of course. They’re just playing different sports. Not because they’re flashier or hipper or any of the usual things people say when talking about what is supposed to attract youth and minority culture. Rather, it’s because of the cost:
John F. Kennedy High School product Greg Vaughn became one of MLB’s most feared sluggers in the 1990s. Leon Lee’s son Derrek went from attending Baker’s local youth baseball camps to playing for him on the Chicago Cubs.
But while Derrek was coming of age in the late 1980s, something else was starting to emerge that’s changed baseball dramatically: travel ball. Now, parents spend thousands to register their teens in travel tournaments in hopes of catching a scout’s eye.
That’s fine for parents who can afford it. “They’ll mortgage their houses to send their kids to a tournament,” Leon Lee said.
Yet it also speaks to a broader theme pushing African-Americans out of baseball: The sport’s gotten too expensive.
“If my mom had to pay $250, $300 for me and my brother and sister to play, being a single parent, it wouldn’t have happened,” Vaughn told this writer last year in an interview for BaseballPastAndPresent.com. “The bats are $400. The shoes, the spikes, the travel—it’s just really an expensive sport.”
Major League Baseball is making efforts to promote and, increasingly, underwrite, youth baseball. But there is still a tremendous gulf between the leagues of elite, well-heeled kids and the less-expensive Little League and school programs. The talent is developed and elevated at the former location and a pipeline to the big leagues has been created. An expensive pipeline which is closed to a great many people who, at one time, were finding their way to Major League Baseball.
The Dodgers shut out the Padres for three straight games to open the season. Which was notable on both sides of the ball.
The Padres were outscored 25-0 in those three games, which is bad, but it was the length, not the depth, of their futility which was noteworthy. Specifically, they set the MLB mark with 27 straight scoreless innings to open a season. The old mark was 26 by the 1943 St. Louis Browns, according to STATS.
The Dodgers didn’t set a record, but they did match a mark set by the 1963 Cardinals in winning their first three games by shutouts. None of the individual pitchers got shutouts themselves because that just doesn’t happen in baseball anymore, but Clayton Kershaw had seven shutout innings and and Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda each had six shutout innings of their own.
The Padres now go to Colorado. That should help.
An interesting column from Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune about the Cubs’ upcoming TV deal.
Their current deal expires after the 2019 season and, given how these negotiations go and given how the Cubs are on the upswing as far as popularity and team quality are concerned, some might be thinking that the organization will max the heck out of the TV dollars with a multi-billion dollar deal like the Dodgers entered into with Time Warner.
The problem, of course, is that the Dodgers’ TV situation is kind of a mess, with far more households in the Los Angeles area unable to see the Dodgers than those which are. We’ve been over that at length and Rosenthal recounts that at the start of his column. You can just skim that part.
The interesting stuff comes after that. Specifically, Rosenthal’s argument that the Cubs should at least consider being the first elite, gold-plated sports brand that doesn’t seek to maximize TV dollars for their own sake in the interests of a more sustainable model which does a better job of reaching fans than an exclusive pay TV model does. Rosenthal notes the NFL’s deal with Twitter which was just announced and rumblings of how other online players, as opposed to just cable companies, might get into the business of steaming games to the masses without cable carriage disputes or, possibly, blackouts. Games streamed via Facebook? A true a la carte TV experience via Amazon? Why not?
We’ve talked about that topic an awful lot here lately ourselves. About how baseball should find a way to get its product to the most people. It’s a business, obviously, but like any business it needs to balance short term and long term growth. The cable deals which have plowed so much money into the game in recent years are the epitome of a short term strategy it seems to me. It’ll be interesting to see if post-Dodgers TV deals — like the one the Cubs will soon seek — thinks about these things a bit differently.
(thanks to Chris Jaffe for the heads up)