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A dearth of black ballplayers, a dearth of black fans

Jul 19, 2011, 4:30 PM EDT

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees Getty Images

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.

  1. mvpolamalu - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:40 PM

    Why are all soccer fans either english or spanish?

    • kopy - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:43 PM

      I don’t know where you’re going with this, but Brazil, France, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, Czech Republic, Korea, and every country in South America say hi. Plus all of the ones I didn’t mention.

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:48 PM

        There were a few in Japan over the weekend, too.

      • kopy - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:50 PM

        Good point. My head was exploding too much to think straight. I also know that Brazil is in South America.

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:06 PM

        Understood. The original comment was just idiotic. The US is the only country where soccer/futbol isn’t akin to a religion.

    • hermitfool - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:50 PM

      It is our patriotic duty as Americans to hate soccer.

  2. spudchukar - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    This troubles me too. Growing up in St. Louis, some of my fondest memories were interactions with the black community at games. Hell, there aren’t even any black vendors anymore. My neighborhood was predominately black, but I was sheltered from most adults. But at the games it was different. Here I had the good fortune of learning the humor, personalities, and mien of adult Afro-Americans. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to claim the camaraderie I experienced at the ball park enlightened me. And I miss it, and an entire generation is missing it too.

    • paperlions - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:50 PM

      Same here. When I was in high school and during the first couple of college summers, we’d go to Busch stadium without tickets and just buy tickets from folks that had some extras just before game time….often the tickets must have been freebees from work because we’d be in a section where everybody seemed to know everybody else….and often the section was over 50% black….just a bunch of people at the park enjoying a game and having a good time.

    • chadh88 - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:43 PM

      Not sure which Busch Stadium you frequented more, but I remember going to the ball game being about the only I time I would see blacks when I was younger and I am only 26. Granted I grew up a couple hours out of St Louis, and the Rams certainly have a more diverse fan base, but I still see plenty of black ushers and walking vendors and fans every time I catch a game. Only been 3 times this year, and I’ll admit that the vendors at the food stands are predominately white, but there are still plenty of black fans.

      As an aside, my theory on this is that the decline from the 80’s until now has more to do with the ball team LaRussa is putting on the field. Not to try and paint a bad portrait of the skipper, but I have rarely seen any African Americans on the major league Cardinal club since he got the job (there have been plenty of dark skinned latinos). I know it is down all over, but St Louis seems to have less. Maybe a coincidence, maybe by design, but Americans like the feeling that they could be doing the same thing and without anyone to root for it seems only logical blacks would gravitate to football and basketball. If you really want to see a white crowd go to a Blues game. I swear I saw more black people at Monster Jam this year than the 5 Blues games I attended.

  3. yankeesfanlen - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    If Curtis Granderson, one of the most intelligent and well spoken Yankees, is in playing the game and giving lots of support to community outreach, can’t come up with a meaningful way of addressing this, I’m sure I can’t.

  4. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    It’s simple in this aspect: you get more African American (as opposed to black, which is obviously meaningless when speaking on nationality) fans and you’ll end up with more African American players down the road. Build more ballparks!

    • explodet - Jul 19, 2011 at 6:36 PM

      So black players from the Dominican don’t count?

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 19, 2011 at 7:39 PM

        Dominican players are Hispanic. And that would be the whole issue about using the different terms.

  5. bleedgreen - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    There used to be baseball fields all around parks for kids to play in, but now with so much funding cut, theres no way for them to keep up with a field. A basketball court has little to no upkeep, and you can play football with little to no extra equipment, just markers for an end zone. You also NEED an umpire to call balls and strikes. You don’t need a ref in basketball or football.

  6. Jonny 5 - Jul 19, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    It’s only a problem if you expect black people to attend baseball games, or expect black people to enjoy baseball as much as other sports. I’m not sure that it matters much myself. I think too many people are too eager to hang a sign titled “problem” on things don’t really matter. The fact is “some” black people love baseball, and “some” play it and love it. Just like “some” whites and “some” hispanics. You can’t regulate these things, and you can’t force people to try to do something they aren’t interested in. I keep hearing of this “problem” and think it’s silly to label it as such. It’s just a fact and while it may make people think, it’s not really a “problem”. Curtis is just making a point that few black people come to the park to watch baseball, he’s correct. That doesn’t mean it’s a problem. Maybe it would be good for the MLB to try to reach out to that demographic more than it does now from a business standpoint, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go here. As of now, it is just what it is.

    • ThatGuy - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:05 PM

      Agreed completely. As for the dearth of black ball players argument, a couple months back when a similiar post like this popped up I got curious and looked at the percentage of the population that was considered African American(according to the most recent Census) compared to the percentage of players that the article claimed as African American. They were with in a couple percentage points of eachother, which made me think this premise of not enough black people is over blown. I don’t remember the exact rates, and don’t feel like looking up the information again but im sick of hearing this argument when the rates in MLB and the rates in the game are the same, which even means African American’s have a higher percentage than they should based on population because the MLB has a subset of players that wouldn’t count in the censurs(non American’s obviously)

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:24 PM

        I hear both of your arguments but comparing it to the census doesn’t make sense. I’m sure the NBA, NFL and NHL do not match the census data by even a little bit. It’s sports, it’s not a demographic region of geography. That may show a little bit as to why there aren’t as many African American fans (b/c there’s less African Americans in general in the U.S.), but it is not showing why the number of African Americans in baseball has declined for decades. That, to me, is a problem for the sport of baseball. How big of a problem? Not very, b/c I think little things can change that fact and go along way. I think talking about it is a good start, so again, kudos to HBT.

    • jjschiller - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:12 PM

      The “Problem” is for the game itself. Baseball is one of the sports chosen by a fair proportion of the athletic white kids in our schools. It’s one of the sports chosen by a fair proportion of the athletic Hispanic kids in our schools.

      It doesn’t appear to be the case with the athletic black kids in our schools. If the would-be athletes who are black are choosing football and basketball, then baseball at all levels (high school, college, Minor and Major League) is missing out on some talented athletes.

      I’m glad Jason Heyward chose baseball. I’m glad Curtis Granderson chose baseball. I’m glad C.C. Sabbathia chose baseball. If those three had chosen football, I’d be one of the ones missing out.

      • cleverbob - Jul 20, 2011 at 8:18 AM

        Good point. I’d venture that most professional athletes excelled in multiple sports growing up, resulting in the need to make a choice when they finish high school. I’m glad Dominic Brown elected to go with baseball instead of taking a football scholarship.

    • 5thbase - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:15 PM

      Jonny, I think in many ways you are correct. It’s only a sport and there are much more important things in life.

      However, knowing the enjoyment and learning opportunities my sons have had through playing the greatest sport ever conceived, I find it sad that large portions of our society have been priced out of the opportunity.

      MLB is a business but it would be nice if they realized that their business interests coincide with the availability of the game across all of society. I think the point here is that at this current time, that realization has not been made in a manner that’s resulted in an effective plan.

    • bleedgreen - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:22 PM

      100% in agreement. Why do blacks HAVE to attend games? If they don’t want to, they don’t want to. Why is something a failure if only 1 demographic likes it? And its not even 1 demographics, its multiples. Asians, Hispanics, Caucasians…. they seem pretty into baseball. The fact that blacks aren’t doesn’t mean anything other than they don’t like it. Stop trying to FORCE things to be equal when all parties involved are OK with it how it is.

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:30 PM

        You see, that’s just going the distance on this when no one took it that far. No one is talking about “force” or “have to”, but you make it like an affirmative action thing. The point is that there once was a LOT of African American ballplayers and fans (remember, albeit for f’d up reasons, there was a whole entire league devoted to African Americans?). This has changed dramatically and for many reasons. My issue is that I only wish that every single major sport could be a viable option to play and love for every kid out there. Baseball and hockey are less accessible to the poor, urban youth (which the census will show you is predominately black). That said, F hockey. Like I said above, I don’t find it to be a huge issue, but it would be nice to see some inititives to fix the decline.

      • bleedgreen - Jul 20, 2011 at 9:14 AM

        My point was that if a certain ‘group’ doesn’t like something, then there is OBVIOUSLY a problem and something needs to change. No one can just accept that not everything can be everything to everyone. ‘Pedophiles don’t like baseball, what can we do to win that almighty pedophile dollar?’

  7. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    Craig, in reading the comments here, I’m willing to bet there are less than 10 African American readers that frequent HBT as well. I’ll will keep my own genetic composition to myself, but I’m not white, and I’m guessing that I’m in the minority (no pun there, I mean that numerically, which is what it is supposed to mean, but the actual definition has been lost on most of America for so long I have to write this parenthetical). My question is: how can HBT entice more black folk and non-white Americans in general to HBT? As a regular reader, I feel you do really well touching on the topics like this one, and by touching on them, you will likely garner more interest from these less-represented groups. Keep up the good work because posts like these can’t hurt the cause.

    And yes, I think it is a problem. More African Americans in baseball and at the parks can only improve baseball as a whole.

  8. The Rabbit - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    I raised my son in a completely integrated suburban town. At the time, the local leagues represented the demographics of the community. I’ve heard that it still does.
    Youth baseball leagues can be expensive but I am curious as to how much of the problem today is the availablility of urban real estate. You can stick a basketball court on a reasonably small lot. With 20 years of urban land speculation in the major cities I lived, incentive zones to develop inner city businesses, etc. is there a dearth of inner city space that can be cobbled together in a neighborhood to put a field, particularly the size you’d need for teams older than little league?

  9. 5thbase - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    Sadly I think this is a commentary on social economic realities of the age. Like anything else these days, if you’re serious about something it costs a ton of money. My sons, 14 and 12, play baseball at a very high level against some of the best competition in the country. I don’t think they’ll be pro players, but pro players are going to be more likely to come from this kind of background. And it’s really expensive. Add to that the fact that MLB is marketed horribly and there isn’t a real compelling reason for the game to be popular in a lot of communities. Baseball fans are largely those who played the game (I believe more so than any of the other major sports), so these kids not playing today means they won’t be fans tomorrow.

    I think their are numerous problems with the RBI program, the biggest of which is that it’s not a competitive outlet for the best and most serious athletes. Like Little League, I think it can be a great entry into the game, but in both cases, to really pursue the game at a high level you have to move on to something more serious. And the areas where kids aren’t playing don’t tend to have good school programs either, so there is just really nothing to capture the interest of potential top end players and their competitive drive.

    I live in Phoenix now, Atlanta and Milwaukee previously, and it kills me that these multi-million dollar stadiums are built in the heart of cities, and yet there aren’t kids playing baseball games anywhere for miles around. I really think the local clubs should take the lead without counting on MLB and programs like RBI to take care of their city, especially since each city is so different. Instead of paying Eric Byres $30M to do nothing, the Diamondbacks could have made a real investment in the game and the future of the franchise. An endowment that would fund $1M a year would go a long ways if you made it about baseball and not photo-ops. The great coaches that love to work with kids and teach them the great game are out there, the funding is not.

  10. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    From article and the comments I gather that consensus is:

    **Latinos are not black enough (how many non-latin blacks play/attend soccer?)
    **There are more black people in the ballpark in the Bronx and Chicago than in Arlington
    **All black people are too poor to play baseball
    **Only black people are too poor to play baseball
    **A sport that does not have an inflated african-american population has a problem (except Hockey, where I don’t hear about thins sort of thing nearly as often despite FAR fewer black players and fans)
    **White people should do more to make black people watch and play baseball

    African Americans (and other black people) fought long and hard for the right to whatever they want, and if that means passing on baseball that is their choice and I don’t see why white people feel they need to change things.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:41 PM

      1. Latinos are black or white or whatever. I think the fact that African Americans and black people are two different things has been lost a few comments above, but not a big deal.

      2. There are more black people in Chicago and in the Bronx so what now?

      3 and 4 are just ridiculous if you think you gleaned that from anything written above.

      5. Hockey sucks ass so leave that convo to pro hockey talk or whatever.

      6. White people are the only folks who notice statistical trends so again, what?

      The fact that people keep reading into these articles as if things MUST be changed is absurd. Get over yourselves. Trending and statistical analyses are always something to look into…one would think a baseball fan would get that point more than anyone.

  11. genericcommenter - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    My son plays little league in a mostly white city ( though we technically live outside city limits in a much more diverse area). I notice that most of the better players his age are black. However, many of them are children of professional athletes or other occupations of means and athletic experience. Some former NFL and Arena players and a lot of former professional NCAA players.

    Another thing, and I don’t know if this would apply more to black children, but common-sense says it probably does: Specialization at an early age. This might help a child become a pro, but it also forces him to choose one sport over another at a young age. Most of the good baseball players who are black are usually very good at football and/or basketball. If they have to pick one sport to focus on for the next level, baseball isn’t going to be it. The most glory goes to football players and continuing at least to the college level seems the best bet with that.

    When I was a kid, if you were into sports you played them all ( or at least one for each season), and you took the off-season “off” to play something else. And the very best athletes developed at all their sports and often didn’t choose just one until they got the chance to go pro/college in one. If you think about the odds of making it and the attributes required ( or valued by scouts in each sport), white players are much more likely to get tracked into baseball than black players who might be seen as more gifted football or basketball players.

    • The Baseball Idiot - Jul 19, 2011 at 6:15 PM

      “professional” NCAA players?

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 19, 2011 at 6:55 PM

        Misplaced modifier. GC did not need the professional at all.

  12. chadh88 - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    So is PBT going to have a story on the lack of Caucasian American players and fans?

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:50 PM

      I thought this was answered years ago in a little movie called “White Men Can’t Jump”? Plus, there are plenty of anglo-american fans of the bball, so yeah, well said or something.

  13. flapjack3285 - Jul 19, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    What’s strange is that the Harris poll last week that said the Yankees were the most popular team had this demographic breakdown.


    White 34
    African American 38
    Hispanic 45

    Read more:

    • Utley's Hair - Jul 19, 2011 at 6:54 PM

      But that is percentage of the individual groups. While there is more of a percentage of baseball fans among African Americans as a group, does anybody have the numbers for African Americans as a percentage of Americans as a whole? That is where you can figure out where those numbers fit in.

  14. yankeesgameday - Jul 19, 2011 at 6:04 PM

    Boy, I might get hammered for this, but I wonder if there is a connection to the publicized connection between broken families in the African American community where so many children are not growing up with fathers in their household.

    Baseball is really a game passed on from father to son; in games of catch and conversations about great players on front of the tv.. TOGETHER.

    I don’t know the numbers, and I can’t look them up right now, but you’ve all hard the kind if thing I am discussing: generations of kids being raised by single moms and grandmothers who just plain dont have a dad to pitch to them after school in the backyard. Baseball isn’t a game you can take up later in life because it’s an everyday game and if you start playing at twelve you’re already ten years behind some kids.

    The root of football is running, and everyone runs, but not everyone hits the ball a 1000 times a week from the time they were five. Children with motivated dads do that.

    I just think if the family crisis in the African American community were worked on first we might find so many more African American kids growing up with a love for the game that they learned from their Dads.

    • amr5026 - Jul 19, 2011 at 6:30 PM

      I actually think this was a reasoning brought up by both CC Sabathia and President Obama, so I don’t think you’ll be hammered for this. CC even remarked that basketball is more popular because you can shoot hoops yourself. That being said, as a kid, my father was the one who taught me baseball and even coached my teams. Maybe this does play a factor.

  15. dbick - Jul 19, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    Today I learned curtis granderson and the yankees count black people in the stands for something to do.

  16. jsarge99 - Jul 19, 2011 at 6:42 PM

    Black players excel at athletic sports like, football, basketball, track. White people excel at less athletic sports like baseball, golf, and NASCAR.

    • spudchukar - Jul 19, 2011 at 7:12 PM

      Anyone who believes Baseball isn’t athletic either hasn’t played the game, was so damn awful at it that the level of skill required escaped them, or has a bone to pick with the game. It is misguided generalizations like this that reinforce bigotry. And it has no place in adult dialogue of the subject.

    • Richard In Big D - Jul 19, 2011 at 7:24 PM

      If you don’t think it takes a great deal of athleticism to throw a ball 95 miles an hour into a shoebox 60 feet away, or hit said ball with a stick and then run 90 feet in 3 seconds, give or take, you are sadly mistaken. Ditto for muscling a 4000 pound rocket ship on wheels, without power steering, through 1000 left turns at 180 miles an hour while in a 140 degree oven.

    • cur68 - Jul 19, 2011 at 11:22 PM

      Hmmm, you’re calling me white aren’t you jsarge99? You must be because I play excellent golf. I just played today in fact. Its funny because for the last decade or so the best golfer in the world and I looked a lot a like. We certainly share a noticeable skin tone. Also, unless I’m missing something Curtis Granderson, CC Sabbathia, Derek Jeter, Prince Fielder, Rciky Weeks, BJ Upton and a whole list of other black ball players excel at baseball. Maybe your bland, general statement doesn’t hold up under much scrutiny? I bet if you looked hard enough you’d find a black person who can really drive a car well. Like world class well. I think you’d find that his name is Lewis Hamilton. I bet he’d pwn at NASCAR.

  17. Chris Fiorentino - Jul 19, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    I agree 100% with J5 above. Why do more Blacks have to attend baseball games? If they don’t want to go, then they won’t go. Why is it our business? Now, if there was an outcry that blacks couldn’t afford tickets…or couldn’t afford to play the game, then that is one thing. To say baseball costs a lot of money, though, doesn’t make a lot of sense. The only difference between a kid playing the field and a kid playing basketball is a glove.

    No, the fact is that blacks may be better at other sports or maybe they just don’t like baseball. I don’t think it is a socio-economic problem. Or a racial problem. Basically, it’s not a problem at all. period.

  18. kingjoe1 - Jul 19, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    who cares? We waste too much time worrying about this crap

  19. Elwood Larf - Jul 19, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    Notice Granderson said “African American,” not “black.” There are plenty of black players, just not a lot of black American players. Just because you come from a Spanish speaking country doesn’t mean you aren’t black anymore. I’m sick of this crap.

    • mox19380 - Jul 20, 2011 at 10:21 AM

      great point. although i guess from a cultural standpoint the difference between a dominican black person and american black person are very different so perhaps that’s why there is the division…

      It’s like Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans. Perhaps to some they just look like white people but ask the two cultures and they probably feel very very different

  20. winstonhussein - Jul 19, 2011 at 8:14 PM

    After we fix this, can we work on the number of European-Americans playing in the NBA?

  21. Jonny 5 - Jul 19, 2011 at 9:35 PM

    I just wanted to add to what I said earlier, just so nobody misunderstands me. I don’t pay much attention to race. Sure, I notice the differences I see, but I don’t pay attention to it, or care. “Race” is a social construct created from some human need I don’t quite understand. Do yellow Labrador retrievers and black ones care about the difference or even notice? I can’t explain why this situation exists, and it may just come down to advertising or just a difference of taste. With that said i’d like to see MLB take interest in appealing to a more diverse crowd as it would only improve the game.

  22. mongome - Jul 19, 2011 at 9:53 PM

    I was at a chess tournament recently, did not see a lot of Eskimos there, was going to ask Obama to look into it. Must be a socio-economic reason.

  23. trickybastard - Jul 20, 2011 at 12:11 AM

    Why don’t we count Asians? Why do black people get all the attention?

  24. bcirej - Jul 20, 2011 at 5:54 AM

    First it’s a “problem” when the number of blacks playing is low, now it’s fans too? When do I see the articles about the “problem” of the dearth of whites in basketball? Is that because white sports fans don’t care about color or race of the athletes, just like the sport. But black fans have to have black athletes to watch? That is ridiculous! Either you are a fan or you are not a fan. Black athletes dominate the numbers in basketball and football, and now they are concerned that not enough are playing baseball? Get passed it, there are bigger, real problems in the world.

    • mox19380 - Jul 20, 2011 at 10:17 AM

      I think the difference is even in sports where the athletes are predominantly black the fans in the seats are still predominantly white or a least a lot more diverse.

      I am frustrated as a black season ticket owner to the phillies when even I walk down the concourse and point out a black person. I don’t necessarily think anyone is saying it is a “Problem” as much as it is just a good question to ask on a sociological, economical and pop culture level. And why not. Just because it doesn’t mean anything to you doesn’t mean it shouldn’t mean something to someone. I personally would love a definitive answer because I hope when I have a child to be able to pass my love for the greatest sport in our country on to him.

  25. mox19380 - Jul 20, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    If I had to give a reason. It would be to the chances of success. A black person can look at the three major sports blacks participate in on a major level and say, “which sport do I have the best chance of being successful?”

    Clearly baseball is a sport with great cultural diversity compared to the NFL, NBA, NHL but that also means it’s more difficult to become a professional MLB’er. But if they look at the NFL and NBA for whatever genetic reason it appears that blacks have some sort of disposition towards success in that sport. So if you told a child, “you have better odds becoming a millionaire in This sport more than any other”, which would/should they choose?

    …as for fans go. fans like to relate to their athletes and race (as simplistic and short sighted as it is) is something that can help a person relate to another. Simple as that.

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