Coincidentally, an article appeared in the New York Times a day after I published this post. It’s titled “The Unbearable Whiteness Of Baseball “ and lends another perspective on the question at hand . Your comments and thoughts (see below) will add to the discussion…..
My wife, who is hardly a fan of baseball though she puts up with me spending some time doing this…..asked me a question that deserves an answer. She wants to know why it is necessary for baseball to go to Cuba to scout and sign future major league ballplayers.
Throw in the steady influx of Japanese , Dominican, and Korean talent and you have the fuller picture, but…….
That’s a fair question, right? The inference being – why do we have to go elsewhere to find new talent to play in what is commonly referred to as America’s Pastime…….
Needless to say, that got me going because a good question deserves a good answer…..
The simplest answer would be the same as why Great Britain came to North America in the 16th Century to establish colonies – tobacco and cotton! These were commodities absent from their economy in the Mother Country and much desired as a lure for wealth and consumption by their citizens.
So too with Major League Baseball today where demand for talent is high but supply is low in our Homeland. When that happens, it’s only natural that a alternative source will be sought to fill the void. But the real question remains – why is this so?
It’s no secret that we are witnessing a steady decline in the number of black ballplayers in the game at the same time there has been a steady rise in the numbers of players of Spanish origin. According to Sports Business News , The percentage of Latino players increased from 28.4 percent in 2014 to 29.3 percent on 2015 opening day rosters while the percentage of black players increased to only 8.3%. At the same time,
the percentage of Asian players decreased from two percent in 2014 to 1.2 percent at the same time the
percentage of white players decreased from 60.9 percent in 2014 to 58.8 percent in 2015.
These are just numbers but anyone looking at the starting lineup of any team today can see for themselves …..to the point where a manager may not be considered for hiring in the near future unless he is literate in both English and Spanish.
It’s also no secret that the most talented Black Americans are gravitating more towards basketball and football to fulfill their dreams of playing pro ball. Culturally, that makes sense. But, it also makes sense that there is precious little space to play baseball in densely populated urban areas where a good portion of the black population lives.
By all accounts, MLB is aware and trying to react. But that is the problem in a nutshell…..they are reacting to something that has already happened and that becomes a difficult hurdle to overcome. More work needs to be done in this area and a infusion of funds will be necessary to construct and monitor those venues to insure they are safe and effective with quality teaching and mentoring meaning that players will need to be recruiting and participating.
But as long as it took for the trend to develop, it will take equally as long to negate what has already occurred. Baseball has many attractions that can be used as a marketing tool to convince young athletes that their future is better served by baseball.
For instance, (to a prospective two sport draftee) “What is the average longevity of a NFL player compared to a major league ballplayer……and how many ballplayers do you know who are suffering from permanent brain damage? And what about your pension benefits…….have you taken a look at that……..you should because you’ll see that MLB trumps football in every way “………..but again this requires a concerted effort by MLB, and not just a once or twice splash similar to those I’ve seen by the Yankees a couple of days each summer in the playing fields adjacent to Yankee Stadium.
In many parts of our country, citizens of Latin descent are already the second largest minority. And as we have seen by the events in Cuba in recent weeks, they love their beisbol. Moreover, it’s not that they have athletic talent and we don’t – it’s that they have more baseball talent. Can you name, for example, five players of Latin descent playing in the NFL or the NBA? You can’t and neither can I because there aren’t any.
I miss Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays and a host of others. And this gets a little tricky here but I’ll put it out there anyway………. I also miss interviews without the need for an interpreter to be present to put the player’s thoughts into English. And when one in four major leaguers is now of Latin descent, and very few have bi-lingual abilities…….that sort of limits the choices media makes in selecting players to interview in what is still a English speaking nation.
Because it doesn’t hurt to remember………..when Great Britain insisted on imposing their culture on the colonists giving them the sense that they were being used….the colonists successfully rebelled against them. Now, I’m not suggesting that will or should happen in this context. But, it is certainly something MLB should be mindful of.
Therefore, at the very least baseball can better encourage these players to learn English by providing tutors for them that will enable better assimilation into our culture, at least for the time they are here. For baseball as well as the players, that would be a win-win result.
And in the meantime, baseball needs to continue to explore ways of bringing the black portion of our culture back to our game because their contributions are sorely missed. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and that’s the problem because it appears to me that MLB is satisfied (just as the British were until it was too late) to pick the low hanging fruit on the tree while ignoring the disease within……….