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.