A dearth of black ballplayers, a dearth of black fans

53 Comments

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.

Kendrys Morales pitched a scoreless inning Sunday

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nothing went right for the Blue Jays this weekend. The club was swept in a four-game series against the Athletics, including a 9-2 loss on Sunday. Not wanting to burn out his bullpen in a lopsided game — and perhaps thinking about the general entertainment value involved — Blue Jays manager John Gibbons decided to send designated hitter Kendrys Morales out to pitch the ninth inning. And in typical baseball fashion, he saw better results than some of the dudes who do this all the time.

Morales, who actually pitched in Cuba nearly 20 years ago, worked around a walk for a scoreless inning. He induced three fly outs and topped out at 87.4 mph on his fastball, per Brooks Baseball. He received a standing ovation on the way back to the dugout. Morales hasn’t been hearing that sort of thing for his contributions with the bat recently.

Morales, 34, is batting just .163/.248/.279 with three home runs through 32 games this season. There’s been some understandable clamoring for top prospect Vladmir Guerrero, Jr. to cut into his at-bats. For his part, Morales has been doing everything he can to break out of his slumber at the plate, including ditching the glasses he started wearing during spring training. Hey, whatever works. Morales also had two of Toronto’s four hits on Sunday.

On the heels of Morales’ first MLB appearance on the mound, it feels rather appropriate that the Blue Jays will get their first look at Angels sensation Shohei Ohtani — at least as a hitter — beginning on Tuesday.