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Where are all the black players in baseball?


Edwin Jackson

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Updated: May 16, 2013 6:15AM

I was looking.

What I saw was even more depressing than watching the World Champion San Francisco Giants come from behind to knock off my beloved Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Thursday afternoon.

Where are the black folks?

I was looking high and low, after reading about the first meeting of a 17-member “diversity task force” launched by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. The group gathered in Milwaukee last week to examine the whys and wherefores behind the dwindling ranks of black baseball players around the nation.

“I don’t want to miss any opportunity here,” Selig told the New York Times. “We want to find out if we’re not doing well, why not, and what we need to do better. We’ll meet as many times as we need to come to meaningful decisions.”

Only 8.5 percent of the players on Major League Baseball’s opening day rosters were African American, the Times reports. In 1986, black representation stood at 19 percent, according to research by the Society of American Baseball Research.

This new push coincides with the release of the movie, “42.” The new biopic chronicles the saga of Jackie Robinson, the African-American player who broke baseball’s color barrier.

The Cubs have three African Americans taking their turns under the Wrigley ivy, according to spokesman Julian Green. The Giants may be able to hoist their World Series trophy high, but the team has no African-American players on its current roster, according to the Times. So there!

So what? As a black Cubs fan from Chicago’s South Side, I am burdened with a long-lived inferiority complex. I should be a White Sox devotee. The Sox belong to the South Side, the Cubs are for North Siders, and never the twain shall meet (except when we stoke our fiery rivalry in the subway series).

Still, I treasure lazy summer memories of following the Cubs with my father, on the old black-and-white. Especially the African Americans. Home run king Ernie “let’s play two” Banks, sweetly swinging Billy Williams, and my puberty-inspired crush, Fergie Jenkins, the lanky pitching workhorse. I cheered from the Wrigley bleachers for the likes of Andre Dawson, Lee Smith and Corey Patterson.

Our presence on the field was some consolation for the Cubs’ perennial losing seasons. At least “we” were in the game.

Now, barely even that.

Selig and other experts offer some reasons. Other professional sports, particularly basketball, have been more aggressive and savvy in recruiting and training. The mechanics and economics of baseball make the sport less accessible to urban blacks. A basketball hoop is cheaper and easier to mount than a baseball field. Basketball and football enjoy a broader fan base among African Americans.

The task force will look at ways to boost resources for training and mentoring programs, and other strategies to grow the talent pipeline.

For example, the Chicago Cubs organization is a big backer of the RBI program, an initiative providing inner-city youth the opportunity to play tournament ball and compete for scholarships.

The fans follow the players. Baseball must do better — lest it will turn into hockey.

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