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Here’s why fewer black kids are playing baseball

Apr 19, 2013, 8:55 AM EDT

Little League

Tim Keown of ESPN.com tells that committee that MLB has set up to investigate the decline of U.S.-born blacks in baseball what’s really going on. It’s not about baseball not being cool or flashy or whatever. It’s about the money. It’s always about the money:

The committee members need to see the industry of youth baseball for what it has become: A business enterprise designed to exclude those without the means and mobility to participate. Over the past 15 to 20 years, the proliferation of pay-for-play teams in youth baseball — and the parallel proliferation of parents willing to pay for them and coaches willing to cash their checks — has had more of an impact on African-American participation than anything another sport has to offer.

As the father of a son living in an affluent and mostly white suburb I’ve seen this first hand. It happens in baseball. Soccer too. The local league set up by the parks and rec department is for those who aren’t serious. Anyone with some amount of talent — identified as young as age six, I’ve observed — is steered toward more intense leagues, which tend to be pay-to-play and which involve a lot of travel.

When you look at the schedules involved — games 20 miles away at 4pm, games 30 miles away under lights at 7pm — I have no idea how any kid can meet the obligations of these leagues without having at least one full-time stay-at-home parent who will pick the kid up at school and schlep them out to wherever. Run those obligations against whatever socio-economic demographic numbers you can find and you’ll see why these sports select for well-off white kids.

(thanks to Ethan for the heads up)

  1. xhosa17 - Apr 19, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    This issue isn’t new. From the time I started t-ball at 4, till I stopped playing 20 years later, I was the only black kid on the field 95% of the time. Little league, middle school, high school, legion ball, U18 travel (national) and college (JUCO, D1) was all the same from a demographic standpoint. Turn on the LLWS or CWS and the results are the same.

    I’m in NYC now so the reasons are obvious. As for the suburbs? I don’t really know, but I do believe that money isn’t the core issue. At any rate, my 8 month old nephew already has a full set of baseball gear courtesy of his Uncle :)

    • watchdawg1103 - Apr 19, 2013 at 6:00 PM

      I agree and was lucky. I was one of 3 black kids in our entire little league any given year. Top was 5 maybe. It never bothered me really because I love the game. Part is money….baseball equipment is expensive…and another other is time. My mother worked nights and dad worked days. They designed this on purpose so someone would always be with me daily when I was young. The arrangement worked out well for me in terms of baseball games and practice. Since it was my favorite sport to play, they made it happen for me. But these days companies kill the employees so it’s hard for some parents to get off early or even on time to take their kids to these games. I live in a somewhat uppity part of Atlanta. Seriously the majority of these people own their own businesses or have stay at home moms or nannies that help out. Not everyone has this luxury. Hey, I’m not mad at them. I’d love to be in those shoes but it does help for times like this. I spend time now coaching when I can and giving private lessons to try and give back.

      Basketball you can play one on one and all you need is a ball. Courts are everywhere. Football you can toss with a few people and just need a ball and a field. Baseball on the other hand, someone needs a bat, EVERYONE needs a glove and you can’t really play that without a good number of people at least on top of finding a baseball field or big enough area to play on. Plus if you want to get rich quick, NBA or NFL is the way to go. You jump right from college to the pros. With baseball, although there are a few exceptions like Bryce Harper for example, you’re probably going to spend a few years in the minors, then come up and earn your first million by age 25. The other sports will give you a jump start on that rich lifestyle.

  2. youdogoodatbaseball - Apr 19, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    How is this different than AAU leagues in basketball? Are those leagues paid for by someone other than the families of the athletes?

  3. steelerfanforlife - Apr 19, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    I hate posting on this site because most of you have forgotten more about baseball than I can remember but I disagree with Craig. All sports have travel teams, soccer, football, basketball, baseball, ect. I see plenty, in most cases more blacks, Hispanics on those teams. They seem to have the money for those sports!
    Baseball has done a horrible job of marketing the sport and its players. Robinson Cano, Andrew McCutchen could walk down the street in any city but their own and I bet no one would recognize them! Kobe, Lebron, Derrick Rose couldn’t walk down the streets of Fargo without being mugged by fans. Baseball has become a game of stats, WAR, Whip, ect, ect. We don’t idolize the players like we used to, we only care about the stats. Kids just don’t care about baseball. Nobody goes to the baseball field and pretends they are Justin Verlander but every kid goes to the court and pretends their Lebron. Baseball has lost it’s identity and kids, especially African American kids just don’t have anyone to idolize anymore!

    • xhosa17 - Apr 19, 2013 at 1:13 PM

      This, 1000 times over. MLB has done a miserable job of marketing itself in certain communities. At least in comparison to other sports.

      But given the way that “recruiting” works in Latin countries, I guess there’s no incentive to market US cities.

      • historiophiliac - Apr 19, 2013 at 4:53 PM

        That’s the part that troubles me: MLB has found sources that they can exploit instead. They are less interested in reaching out to groups here because they can’t take advantage of them in the same way. It leaves a bad taste.

    • djpostl - Apr 19, 2013 at 3:38 PM

      A lot of truth in there….that shows how shallow and vapid a lot of people are. It should always be about the name on the front of the jersey and not on the back. Always.

      If they want to worship people like LeBron, whop care as much/if not more about their “burgeoning acting career” and everything else as much as they do the sport they play then let ‘em.

  4. rcali - Apr 19, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    Don’t some kids in latin america, cuba, and mexico play with sticks and stones where ever they can find a spot? I’d love to see the report on what happened to all those millions spent by MLB to build fields and supply those fields with equipment in these “inner city” type spots. Yes, let’s make more excuses for people.

  5. roanboon - Apr 19, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    I think the lack of interest is also due in part to role models. The NBA has marketed it’s elite players as icons, most of whom are black. I don’t see many youngsters emulating someone like Michael Bourn, but definitely Kobe or LeBron. (case in point: are there any baseball players known only by their first name?)

    • mannyicey - Apr 19, 2013 at 1:57 PM

      Wow! Many black kids aren’t playing sports to emulate role models. That’s another misconception. Many black kids like sports that they think is exciting. It’s something that they want to play.

      But this role model business is overrated. If a kid wants to play basketball, of course they would want to play like Lebron or Kobe. Like they want to play quarterback like Manning or RGIII. Or if they pick up a golf club, they would like to play like Tiger. Or if they pick up a baseball bat, they want to play like Chipper (if you’re in Atlanta.)

      But if they are looking for a role model, they look at a family member- father, uncle, or close family friend. Just like everyone else.

    • gostlcards5 - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:40 PM

      Ichiro…only one I can think of.

  6. greysolon - Apr 19, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    They don’t play because they find baseball boring and it is seen as a “white sport”.

    They don’t play because it ISN’T basketball– which they love, are good at, and there is a very real, very important social aspect to the game of basketball for them.

    American black kids play basketball all the time because it is a sport which you can do just hanging out with your buddies all the time, or you can work on it by yourself.

  7. jvm127 - Apr 19, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    So what is the answer? More affirmative action? In this case maybe we can assign a surrogate mother or father or nanny to the family to make it “fair” so the kids have a driver to and from their games. Or better yet maybe we can just give the single parent enough money so they don’t have to work (like they don’t already get that anyway) so they can drive their kid to baseball games and make little league more “fair” – I do realize some of you are probably nodding your head and saying YES we should absolutely do that! And all of you that are are, in fact, morons! Take some damn personal responsibility. If you bring your child into a broken home without a father (70+% of all black kids are fatherless) then you WILL have certain problems. One of the many problems will be not having anyone to help out with transportation to and from activities. But, seriously, that should be the least of the problems of not having a father in the home!

  8. castaluccio - Apr 19, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    Brown, Sayres, Peyton, Jordan, Johnson all went from college directly to the NFL and NBA, respectively. Jackie Robinson, Mays, Aaron, Bonds, and Frank Robinson, not to mention Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Williams, Cobb, etc. all spent time in the minor leagues prior to their respective call ups to ‘The Show.’ Is it any wonder that American-born black youths gravitate towards football and basketball?
    As a group, African-Americans tend to be less affluent than White Americans; so, it makes sense that these youngsters would choose the quickest path to the ‘big payday.’ Also, back when, neither the NFL nor the NBA paid as well as MLB and MLB had first call on most class athletes, white or black; that has changed since television and both sports are very prominent in American homes. And neither sport requires the land and superstructure required by baseball. A youth football league can set up two fields on one baseball diamond and doesn’t require fences and an expensive metal backstop, etc.
    So, yes, it is economic. Now, what can Selig and MLB do to change the economic structure of the United States to ensure that more American-born black athletes choose baseball over either football or basketball?

  9. greysolon - Apr 19, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    Why is ‘black kids not playing baseball’ a supposed problem everyone has to solve?

    Why are people so hung up on being able to see certain colors of skin on a baseball field? I could not care less if my team was all white, all brown, all black, or all asian. Just give me good baseball.

  10. djpostl - Apr 19, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    They’re all about the million dollar move and the five cent finish. They want that highlight reel moment as much (if not more) than they want to win.

    This is as much a generational thing as it is anything. ESPN did for sports what MTV did for music.

  11. glciii - Apr 19, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    Most of these answers as to why black kids don’t play baseball are completely wrong. There is some truth to the cost aspect though. As one who lives in a Black Community and coaches both basketball and football to these kids and their parents it comes down to the easiest vehicle to college.

    Basketball and Football scouts will travel to Beirut if they hear that a kid can play. Baseball expects the kids to come to them through travel teams and their tournaments. as some have already stated membership on these teams are expensive. Much more that AAU which is often subsidized. Because of that the chances of getting seen as a baseball player are lessened. These kids have to make a choice early on and baseball is often the loser.

  12. greysolon - Apr 19, 2013 at 5:00 PM

    The funniest part is the “It’s Our Fault” attitude of white people. Blacks don’t play baseball? It must be because white people have traveling teams! It just could not be because blacks have made a decision to not play baseball– it has to be because of some sort of repression.

    White leftists are the real racists. They’re always so worried about how to make blacks into what they want them to be– “Play the sports I want you to play” “Talk the way I want you to talk” “Believe in white things like gay marriage or we’ll vilify you”

    Guess what? Most blacks don’t care about baseball, are not politically correct, make fun of gay people, and often treat women as sex objects. They just want to make a good living and be who they are. It’s not the white sports plantation, so live and let live and stop trying to pry people into your sports fantasyland.

  13. scoocha - Apr 19, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    Could it be due to laziness? Most likely. Why wait 10 years for a shot when in NBA and NFL you know within 1-2 years if you’ll be homeless/jobless without any education.

  14. anxovies - Apr 19, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    You can buy a bat, a ball and a decent glove for the cost of a pair of good basketball shoes, so I don’t think the equipment is the reason. You don’t see a lot of Black kids playing soccer, either, and that takes about the same amount of money for equipment as basketball. Using Occam’s Razor, the reason that sports-minded Black kids don’t play baseball is because they want to play other sports.

  15. greysolon - Apr 19, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    The young players who later went to the Negro Leagues had less money, fewer places to play, less coaching, and faced much much more racism than the black kids today. Yet they all loved the game and played it whenever they could.

    And many also used it to make a good living. Now sports-minded black kids look to basketball for the money.

    Plus, black kids in those days had actual fathers and were more family oriented. Baseball is a game handed down from father to son. Now 70-80% of black kids have no father– incredible— and spend most of their male time hanging out with other boys. Basketball courts are perfect for that.

  16. speedkillsslowdontit - Sep 6, 2013 at 12:29 AM

    This is probably wrong in general maybe its the case for certain black kids. However, like many have mentioned basketball has travel clubs as well. I live in Moreno Valley its not the richest city or the most poor but it has a large black populous. There are tons of travel teams here. Also football is expensive as well. I see black kids with several pairs of LeBron James (250$) shoes, 15 dollar Nike elite socks, 60 dollar TF-1000 basketballs. Teams travel to Vegas, Arizona, Orlando. Football can get expensive too, most leagues are 325 just to sign up nowadays. Money isn’t the problem. I was a black kid once lol. I liked playing all sports including baseball. I loved players like griffey and Mark McGuire. I had a very strong accurate arm, I was fast, and I could catch really good. So my coach made me a fielder, I hated it. It was boring. Especially as an 8 year old. I had a similar experience in football, my coach made me a receiver which at 8 (when they never through the ball) means you’re basically a blocker. I hated it. Luckily by the time I was 10 I started playing defense so I grew to love football. In basketball I played point so it was always fun.

    So thats why I didn’t play baseball, I did for a while and it was boring. Only batting and pitching are fun. I was an athlete I liked to run and jump and show off my strength. You do that more often in basketball and football.

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