A Response to Chris Rock’s Video About Baseball

Recently, comedian Chris Rock was on HBO’s Real Sports (you can watch the video here, but be aware there is some profanity) and lamented the fact that there are few African-American players and fans. This fact can’t really be disputed. According to Gallup, 27% of players in 1975 were African-American while in 2003 (when the article was written) there was only 10%. They actually got this information from Sports Illustrated, but the Gallup article has several graphics showing a drop in interest in baseball among African-Americans. This is unfortunate, because there’s been a great history of African-Americans and baseball, beginning with the Negro Leagues and then in Major League Baseball after Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the color barrier in 1947. Many of baseball’s greats have been African-American from Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson to Ricky Henderson, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Barry Bonds (plus many more). I actually did research about this topic in graduate school for a paper on African-American and female baseball fans, so I will be using some of the information for that paper in this post. Part of that paper will be included at the end.

What I do have an issue with is some of the other things that Rock said. First, it seems like he was picking and choosing when he named two historically black colleges’ baseball programs. He stated that Stillman College only has one African-American player on it’s baseball team and that Howard University doesn’t even field a team. However, Morehouse College, third on U.S. News and World Report’s list of the best historically black colleges, not only has a team, but it would seem that almost all the players are African-American. The same holds true for Tuskegee University and Fisk University. Florida A&M has a team, too, with a large number of black players. I’ll stop there, but as you can see what Rock said was only part of the story.

Rock also lamented the lack of diversity in the broadcast booth.  It should be noted that Joe Morgan was a fixture on ESPN as a broadcaster for many years and Harold Reynolds has been involved in baseball broadcasting, too. I know that is only two, so I will concede Rock this point. Somehow I doubt it is the real reason why African-Americans have largely left the game.

One big misstep by Rock was calling it “old-fashioned and stuck in the past” noting “cheesy” organ music as the games. First, I think most sports cherish their history, but baseball probably does this the most. As for the organ music, I can only speak for Citizens Bank Ballpark, but organ music is very rare there. I wish there was organ music. Usually, they are blaring some top-40 song between innings. But, again, would playing hip-hop music between innings really attract more African-American fans? Towards the end of this post, I include my ideas as well as part of my research paper.

Rock goes on to mention the vintage-style stadiums that most cities have now and the frequent talk of the “good old days” of Babe Ruth, DiMaggio and, as Rock throws in, “Emmett Till”. His point, of course, is that nostalgia into our country’s history may be uncomfortable and painful for African-Americans due to racial discrimination and violence. This is understandable, but Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier before Till’s murder in 1955 and there were a growing number of black players in the 1950s. So when teams or fans are nostalgic about the past, that doesn’t necessarily preclude African-American players. Moreover, baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson every year and no player can ever again wear his number 42.

Rock also says that black people “don’t like to look back” and that “throwback Thursday is as far as they like to go”. I have to assume Rock was trying to be funny there, because otherwise that sounds pretty insulting towards African-Americans, as if they are ignorant of the past. That’s just not the case;  Jesse Jackson once lamented that “we live in an ahistorical country where people don’t want to remember or think about what’s come before.”  I understand Rock’s point, especially if he is referring to the pre-Robinson era, but as I’ve established, nostalgia can certainly included black ballplayers. Citi Field (one of the “fake, antique stadiums” to quote Rock) is based off of Ebbetts Field, a place that Robinson called home.

As for the “throwback” comment, the throwback baseball jerseys made by Mitchell and Ness were very popular within the African-American community, worn by many black athletes and entertainers. You can read this in more detail at the end where I include the section about African-American baseball fans from my research paper. As I mention in the paper, the wearing of these jerseys was more a fashion choice than a love of the game, but it was a great opportunity for MLB to build bridges.

As for Rock’s point about the game being too slow, he is right. This is not a racial matter, of course. Fans of all colors could probably agree with that statement. And, of course, baseball is trying to shorten the games, but that can only go so far.

Rock’s complaint that baseball is the only game “where there’s a right way to play the game, the white way” is without evidence or merit. Yes, baseball does have an “unwritten rule book” and excessive celebrating is frowned upon, but to say that is the “white way” is ridiculous. Rock again goes back to his “100 years ago” idea as if the 1970s didn’t exist when the number of African-Americans was at an all-time high, or the 1980s when Rock says that he and his friends were all into the Mets. Bob Gibson, one of the best and most intimidating pitchers of all time (who played in the 1960s and 1970s), was known throw at batters regularly. Here is a video of him talking about knocking batters down. Also, here is a chat between Joe Morgan and some fans. One asks him which player plays the game “the right way”. Morgan names Torii Hunter, Derek Jeter, and Dustin Pedroia. Rock’s assertion does not hold up to scrutiny.

Rock’s last point is that baseball is losing  the battle for young fans and finally lists some evidence in the form of stats. It’s true that baseball’s popularity is down from the past, as the NFL is king of American professional sports. But according to the Harris poll, this has been the case for 30 years, so it’s not like baseball is “dying” as Rock states. If it were, then revenue wouldn’t be as high as it now is. According to Jayson Stark,

 …nowadays, there is so much money flowing into this sport — even at a time when a lot of people somehow seem to think that baseball is dying — that teams we used to describe as “small market” have now crossed that $100 million threshold.

I’m not saying that baseball should ignore the fact that less kids are playing and watching baseball, but it’s not as serious as he makes it out to be. However, you can only change the game so much. While baseball is much less popular according to that poll, it is still more than twice as popular as the NBA and almost three times as popular as professional hockey. In fact, in the most recent Harris poll, baseball actually improved in popularity.

As I said in the beginning, I don’t disagree with Rock’s main point, that there are fewer African-American fans and few African-American players. That can’t be disputed, but a lot of Rock’s theories and reasons can be, as I did in this post. So, what is my theory? Basically it was a combination of great marketing by the NBA in the 1980s and 1990s during the golden era of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, etc. and the unfortunate indifference of MLB during the same span. Now THAT would have been a good time for Chris Rock’s rant, not now. Baseball has been trying to attract more African-American players and fans over the past fifteen years or so. Most notable is their RBI program (Reviving Baseball in the Inner-City) and urban youth academies.  The fact that these academies exist contradicts articles such as this one, in which the author agreed with Rock stating: “But don’t expect to keep coasting on history and nostalgia, MLB. Actually put in the work in the schools and the communities to draw interest to your sport. If you want black people in the stands and on the field, act like it.”

It should also be noted that while baseball has had an unfortunate decline in African-American players, it is still quite diverse, with 41.2% players of color playing in MLB in 2014.

As I mentioned, I once did research on this topic as part of a research paper in graduate school on female and African-American baseball fans. When Rock’s video made headlines, followed by some articles in support, I immediately thought of this paper. What follows is the section on African-American fans.

Just as gender can affect what a fan’s experience might be like at a game, so, too, can race. Unlike women, African-American fans have not been courted by Major League Baseball until fairly recently. The number of blacks at the ballpark has plummeted to a point where in recent years they have only accounted for six percent of people attending MLB games.[1] In 2004, according to a study done by Simmons Market Research Bureau (MLB does not keep track of such figures), only 8.7% of baseball fans around the country were black which is very close to the percentage of African-American major-league baseball players.[2]  Moreover, a Gallup poll taken in 1960 demonstrated that 43% of African-Americans said that baseball was their favorite sport, ten points higher than the national average. A combination of the polls in 1981 and 1985 revealed that that number dropped to 17% and in 2000-2002 that number dropped even lower to just 5%.  Baseball as a favorite sport among whites has also dropped over the same time period as well, but not as dramatically, and the percentage was higher for whites in 1981/’85 and 2000/’02, 19% and 13% respectively.  Clearly, basketball is the sport of choice among African-Americans today with 60% identifying themselves as basketball fans and 33% as fans of baseball. [3] What has caused blacks to stay away from the game? There are many theories, and the currently low amount of black major-league players is one of them. Some of them are unfounded while others make more sense. It will be shown, though, that MLB could possibly be on the right track to solving this issue. It can also be argued that this issue might even be irrelevant because MLB is as diverse as it has ever been.[4]  However, before the problem of today is addressed, the past will be explored to see how baseball has gotten to this point.

Blacks and whites began playing baseball at around the same time.[5]  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries baseball was the main spectator sport for blacks.[6] By 1867 teams of black ballplayers were well organized enough to play white teams.[7]  The first stable Negro leagues began in the early 1920s, but black fans could also go to Major League games.[8]  However, it was common for the ballparks to be segregated, with the blacks sitting in the outfield.[9] Unfortunately, black fans could be the target of racial slurs, even from the players on the field.[10] The fact that Major League Baseball did not accept blacks obviously bothered those in the black community.  Journalist Wendell Smith wrote the following in the Pittsburgh Courier:

 “Why we continue to flock to major league ball parks, spending out hard earned dough, screaming and hollering…begging and pleading for some white batter to knock some white pitcher’s ears off…is a question that probably never will be answered satisfactorily. What in the world are we thinking about anyhow?  The fact that major league baseball refuses to admit Negro players within its folds makes the question that more perplexing…Major league baseball does not want us. It never has…”[11]

Attendance at Negro League games could be strong. At the all-star game between the years 1935-50 attendance was between 19,000 and 51,723.[12] During regular games on holidays and weekends there were between eight and ten-thousand in attendance.[13]  One former spectator recalled, maybe with exaggeration: “I grew up in Harlem and used to see Satchel Paige, the Black Yankees, the Elite Giants and there were 20,000, 30,000 mostly black people in the stands, before Jackie.”[14]

In 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black major league baseball player of the 20th century and the color barrier was broken. The powers-that-be in baseball noticed the fact that African-Americans liked baseball. In 1946, a committee designed to study baseball issues, race being one of them, included the following in their report: “The appeal of baseball is not limited to any racial group. The Negro takes great interest in baseball and is, and always has been, among the most loyal supporters of professional baseball…The employment of a Negro on one AAA League club in 1946 resulted in a tremendous increase in Negro attendance at all games in which the player appeared.”[15] Indeed, when Robinson broke in with the Dodgers, African Americans showed up in large numbers to watch Robinson play. Fourteen-thousand black fans attend Robinson’s first game.[16]  Even Commissioner Bud Selig himself remembers when many blacks attend games. Recalling a Chicago Cubs game he attended in his youth: “As I looked around I remember saying:… ‘we’re the only white people in the upper deck.”[17]  Moreover, five National League teams set records in attendance in 1947, mostly due to Jackie Robinson.[18] Said a former teammate of Robinson’s: “Blacks came from all over to see him. Our people like having something to hold on to—Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Martin Luther King, and Jackie.”[19]  Owners were interested in black players in order to bring in black fans—but not too many—as they were concerned whites would leave.[20] Even Branch Rickey, the man who chose Jackie Robinson to join the Dodgers, himself was concerned about the potential behavior of black fans; he wanted them to be humble and calm during the game.[21] After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, many from the African-American community followed him into the ballparks of the National League.

Of course the ironic part about Jackie Robinson breaking into the Major Leagues is that it was the beginning of the end for the Negro Leagues. The Newark Eagles (formerly of Brooklyn) saw its attendance drop from 120,000 to 57,000 a year after Robinson went to Brooklyn. The next year it was down to 35,000.[22]  As Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier wrote in 1948: “When Negro players walked in…the big league doors…Negro baseball walked out.”[23] Where did these fans go? They went to Major League Parks to see Robinson and the other ex-Negro League stars.

Today things are a lot different. African-Americans no longer flock to major league ballparks as they used to. Those in the black community have noticed this. One former counselor at the Harlem YMCA said: “I used to take 30, 40 youngsters from Harlem out to Ebbets Field to see [Robinson]. So the habit of going to games was a clear one in our community. Now, though, I sit in the stands and they’re not there.”[24]  Bob Kendrick, the Negro League’s Museum’s director of marketing made the distinction as well when he said: “We were still going to the ballpark after the Negro Leagues ended in the 1960s.  Jackie Robinson was Michael Jordan historically and virtually every African American wanted to see Robinson play. Somewhere the black community disconnected itself from the game as we stopped attending and playing.”[25]  There definitely seems to be a disconnect between the African-American sporting community of the past and the present.

Why is this the case? There are several theories. One is that there are not a lot of African-American players on the field relative to the past and therefore black fans may not be as interested in the game. In 1975 twenty-seven percent of players in the major leagues were African-American. In 1995 that number was down to nineteen percent and in 2002 it dropped to ten percent.[26] In 2007 it was down to 8.4%.[27]  African-American ballplayers themselves have made note of this connection. Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies has said that his friends joke with him about playing baseball because so few blacks are on the field. Cliff Lee concurred: “I guarantee you there are many people from where I come from that don’t even know I play ball. I could say, ‘I’m Cliff,’ and they’d ask me what I was doing now. There’s just not a high interest in baseball. If I played basketball, it would be totally different.” And Garry Sheffield: “If I’m a kid and I don’t see any faces like my own, why do I want to play baseball when I can play football and basketball?”[28] Former baseball player Dave Stewart agreed: “You look at baseball and you do not see a lot of black faces in the seats and you definitely don’t see them on the field. As a black kid, why should you be encouraged to play baseball?”[29]  Fortunately, the 2008 World Series brought a glimmer of hope. Several of the star players in the Series were African American including Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Carl Crawford and BJ Upton.  Referring to this, onr black player remarked: “You flip the TV on, and the star players for both teams are African-American….I’ve been watching this series, hoping it could inspire others who want to play the sport.”  The Commissioner agreed: “It’s one of the most pleasant aspects of this World Series, for me. We lost a generation (of African-Americans). Hopefully, young African-Americans will be watching and see all these players.”[30]  The Phillies have also seen an increase in African-American fans at their ballpark due in part to Rollins and Howard.[31] Former Phillie Dick Allen called Howard a “Shining star for the [black] 8-, 10, 12-year olds.”[32]  Clearly, the lack of African-American players is a contributing factor to the decline in black fans.  However, what explains the drop in the number of African-American athletes that led to the drop in fans? Why aren’t there more black players in the pipeline to take the place of the ones who retire?

The answer to this question might be in the way baseball is marketed. Basketball markets itself much more to young African-Americans. In a survey of a group of young black men who play high school and college basketball, it shows that baseball (at least to African-American youth) is seen as more rooted in white culture. Some responses included: “Because all the pastime legends were white” and “Because it started out as only white and recently it has improved enough to let minorities in”. Also stated was the idea that baseball takes less athleticism than basketball. [33] Whether this is true or not (the first is not, and the second is debatable) the fact is that is the impression of an audience that has disappeared from major league ballparks. If baseball is interested in bringing this demographic back, it must market itself better, perhaps with a grain of history to demonstrate that while blacks were banned from baseball for a long time, they still played even back in the 19th century. Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s daughter and an educational consultant for Major League Baseball believes this to be the case: “We have to get black kids to understand that historically baseball’s been a great sport in our community.”[34] Bud Selig has admitted as much about the marketing: We’ve gotten away from promoting baseball in the inner cities. I think there was a void there in the 1970s, maybe back into the late 1960s, and going into the ‘80s. Now we’re trying to make up for lost time.”[35] Some others in this survey suggested it might help if baseball used black players in more of its advertisements. The young African-American stars who played in the World Series might help in this area. One respondent said: “There’s [sic] more basketball players who appeal to inner city kids.  They wear our clothes, shoes, and have our style. We sort of can relate to that.”[36] Basket ball has been linked with shoe companies whose products have become cultural icons in the hip-hop world.[37]  Jimmie Lee Soloman an executive VP with Major League Baseball, and an African American, agrees the sport needs better marketing: “We’ve got to take [the names of prominent black baseball players] and make them cool.”[38] MLB, therefore, recognizes that it may need to market itself a little differently if it wants to gain attention of young African-Americans. However, baseball might already have a foot in the door.

Baseball has made some progress here in terms of style and fashion. How much of it is Major League Baseball and how much of it is just independent fashion trends is another matter; the point is there is a way to make some impact on the African-American community. Currently, baseball caps made by New Era have become stylish in the hip-hop world.  The origin of this phenomenon dates to the early 1990s when Spike Lee asked New Era to make a red Yankees cap. He wore this cap courtside and the trend caught on. The trend of wearing these caps also has to do with the rap group Public Enemy who began wearing baseball caps. Today the New Era “59FIFTY” line of fitted caps is an “iconic hip-hop fashion product.” However, this trend does have more to do with fashion than a love of baseball.[39] The hats are quite popular as the company sold thirty-four million caps around the world in 2006.[40]  One design that did not help the company’s or baseball’s image was one that used gang colors and symbols from the Crips, Bloods, and Latin Kings on a New York Yankees cap (see figure four). Activists in Harlem , the Coalition to Protect Our Children, protested the design in 2007 to pressure shops to stop carrying them. Major League Baseball’s director of multicultural and charitable communications expressed concern as well and also supported the effort to ban their presence from stores.[41]  Similarly, “throwback” jerseys have also become popular among the African-American community, particularly the youth.  While these include other sports as well, baseball is among the choices. The trend began in Philadelphia with the Mitchell and Ness Nostalgia Co.  An African-American customer, Rueben Harley, convinced the owner he could market them to the hip-hop community.  Harley believes their big break came in 2002 when rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs wore a throwback Phillies jacket and a Hank Aaron jersey among others.[42] This strategy was successful as sales rose over $20 million in one year.[43]  Even before this, though, P. Diddy and fellow rapper LL Cool J included baseball jackets and jerseys among their wardrobes.[44] Also included in this popularity are throwback Negro Leagues caps and jerseys. Said one consumer: “I bought it because of the colors and because it was from the Negro Leagues, something I’d never seen before. You see everyone wearing that style, rappers and everyone who’s got a lot of money. The throwback stuff is big…” One former Negro Leaguer took notice and was delighted by the trend: “I think it’s fine.  I think it’s wonderful. It means they remember.”  The Negro League Museum’s director of marketing is also happy about this trend because the museum “…look[s] for any way possible to make this history relevant for today’s youth. The hip-hop or ‘streetwear’ aspect of this thing is just spiraling, and it gives today’s young people a better understanding of this phase of their history.”  The one downside is the prices of the vintage gear which can be up to $400 for caps.[45] In other words, baseball has its foot in the door of the African-American community, especially the youth. The fact that throwback apparel items, particularly Negro Leagues since that harkens back to the day when baseball was popular among the African-American community, and that is important. As seen in some of the above comments, there is an idea among African-American youth that baseball is too much of a “white man’s” game. Moreover, Sharon Robinson expressed concern that young people need to know about the history of baseball in the black community.  With these fashion trends, it could be the beginning of something.

Rueben Harley hears this lack of knowledge as well. He believes if Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard walked through North Philadelphia  that “none of the kids would know who they are. I wanna change that. And I’m gonna do it.” (Of course this was said a year before the World Series, and this may have changed matters.)  When he talks to kids in his neighborhood about playing baseball they say ’why you wanna play a white man’s game?” Harley calls his plan “Bus to the Ballpark” in which sponsors will provide for a bus to bring inner-city children to the ballpark where they meet the players and watch the game. [46]  He feels meeting the players is key:

“Ryan Howard is a wonderful human being with a great personality. Jimmy Rollins loves hip-hop and plays the game so hard. I want kids to know more about them…I want them to be aware of the way Rickey Henderson ran the bases…Derek Lee, he’s tall. I want them to know why he chose baseball over basketball.”[47]

Planting the seed of history through apparel might help. This is exactly the audience MLB wants to attract to the ballpark and turn into fans. Next, it needs to work on making the black stars that it does have more relevant, more accessible and more well-known. What Rueben Harley is doing could really help, especially if done on a larger scale. After taking kids to games he says “most of them come away loving the game.”[48] It may take a while, but these actions may reap benefits in the future.

Fashion is just one part of marketing. It may help MLB if they can better advertise the ballpark as a welcoming place for African-Americans. What Harley is doing will help, but there are other means as well.  For instance, an analysis was done on camera shots of the crowds that were shown on television during MLB games. Of those shots, more than 85% of them showed white fans only while only one in one hundred and thirty seven showed black fans together. This can lead to the impression that MLB ballparks are not the place to be for African-Americans.[49]  According to another study, this one done by Steven Phillip of the University of West Florida, African-Americans ranked playing basketball as the leisure activity at which they would most welcome.[50]  It was also demonstrated that African-Americans don’t feel as welcome in certain activities as Caucasians think.[51]  More significant for MLB is that Phillip states that feeling unwelcome can lead parents to devalue those activities for their children and therefore it could be difficult to break this cycle of staying away from certain activities.[52] This is a key finding, because it is what MLB has to work against, breaking this cycle. If MLB can make the sport attractive for young African-Americans, the cycle will be broken as they grow older and have children and teach them to love the sport.

Another possible reason for the decline in the number of black baseball fans is socio-economics. Some feel the game has priced itself out of the range of many African-Americans in a variety of ways. Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron believes one possible reason could be ticket prices: “We don’t make the game inviting enough to minorities (echoing the previous study). The prices are too high for a lot of black families. You don’t see enough black faces in the stands in Atlanta.  It’s not just here. It’s true in a lot of places.”[53] While the other reasons given are accurate this one misses the mark, with all due respect to Hank Aaron. Out of the four major sports, baseball has the cheapest overall ticket prices. In fact, as of 2007 the average cost of a MLB game was less than half of the next cheapest league, the National Basketball League. [54]  However, the cost of a game is only one part of the socio-economic factor.  Better-groomed baseball fields are located in the suburbs, away from the majority of African-Americans who may have less of an ability to pay for quality instruction at specialized camps. Suburban kids are more likely to play baseball year round. Furthermore, colleges do not give many baseball scholarships, making basketball and football a better option to go to college for free. Similarly, it’s not unknown for a high school athlete to go right to the NBA with a large contract whereas n baseball that is basically unheard of. Said Houston general manager Ed Wade: “If you’re a young African-American, and you see LeBron James out of high school getting $90 million and going straight to the NBA, and you have a choice of sports to play, baseball isn’t going to have that kind of role model.”[55]  Also, baseball has been a sport that the love of which has been passed down by fathers. Unfortunately, there has been a steep decline in the number of two-parent households among urban black families. [56]  Of course, there is a large percentage of Latin players in the game who come from countries in the Caribbean many of which are poor, so economics doesn’t seem to be a factor for them. However, some would argue they are courted more by baseball because they will sign for much less. Baseball player Torii Hunter agrees: “It’s cheaper…and you get the same talent as African-American kids…don’t be stupid, don’t be blind, don’t be naïve, because it’s right there in front of you.” [57] Moreover, many major league teams have baseball academies in various Caribbean countries, whereas only recent has something been created in a US city. Called the “Urban Youth Academy”, it is located in Compton, CA and is a ten-acre facility where hundreds of urban boys and girls are taught to play the game free of charge.[58]

Those are most of the reason given for the decline of African-Americans in baseball and MLB has tried to do something about this. Baseball has been involved with the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) program since 1991 which was started by a baseball scout. As of 2004, about one hundred and ninety RBI programs have been instituted in the US and at military bases overseas.[59] Unfortunately, though, the number of African-American kids has been decreasing here too, while the number of Latinos has been increasing, which is interestingly reflective of the makeup of MLB players. One scout said, “The RBI program is nice, but they’re not getting the best athletes. Those athletes are going into other sports.”[60] Baseball also has another program that involves players called the “Baseball Tomorrow Fund” which helps to build fields in inner city areas.[61]  Regardless, it will probably take a long time to fix the problem of fewer African-American players, and the resulting loss of black fans. Former Commissioner Fay Vincent thinks it’s “a twenty year fix.”[62]  However, Bud Selig is determined to turn this trend around: “Major League Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities and nothing is more important to us—as the sport of Jackie Robinson—then to replicate the fan base that once came out and cheered for Jackie, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson, Willie Stargell and many, many others.”[63] Baseball considers the issue an important one and is trying several methods to turn the numbers around.

However, if one doesn’t care about the historical argument of Bud Selig and is just looking at diversity in of itself, baseball is improving. In terms of “people of color”, 40.1%  of players in 2007 fell into this category, very close to its all-time high in 1997.[64]  Moreover, in 2007 two hundred and forty-six (twenty-nine percent) Major League Baseball players were born in foreign countries, including Puerto Rico. The vast majority of these foreign-born players are from Latin-American countries.  This is just slightly lower than the all-time high of 29.2% in 2005. The percentage is even higher in the minor leagues. In 2007 46.2% of the players were born outside the U.S.[65]  This fact is a point of contention, however, with Gary Sheffield, who is an African-American baseball player. He believes one of the reasons there are more Latin players today is because he MLB has done more to recruit players from Latin American countries than American inner-cities: “When you see Major League Baseball putting academies in other countries, obviously that throws up a red flag. You wonder why they ain’t going up in our neighborhood.” He also believes MLB chooses Latin American players because they are easier to control than African-American players.[66] However, as was written above, while MLB does heavily recruit in Latin America, it is making a concerted effort to attract more African-Americans to the game.

Not only has baseball improved its diversity on the field, but it has also improved its diversity at the higher levels of the game. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports of the University of Central Florida in its annual report on Major League Baseball gave the league its first “A-“ racial diversity in 2008. For gender diversity baseball received a “C”, not too high (and certainly too low a grade for this research paper), but the highest it have ever been. Overall, MLB received its highest point total ever for a “B”. [67]   For perspective, MLB received an overall “C” in 2003.[68]  These grades can be broken down into sub-grades. For example, in 2008, MLB received an “A” in race and a “B” in gender for its central offices. Baseball’s lowest grade for race came in the “general manager/principal-in-charge” category in which it received a “C”.  In this report, credit was given to Bud Selig for the improvement.[69] For comparison, the NFL received a “B+” for racial diversity and a “D+” for gender diversity in 2008.[70]  The NBA has done quite well, with an “A+” in race and a “B+” in gender.[71]  Therefore, while there is still room to do better, MLB is making good progress in terms of racial diversity. The question then is-if MLB is improving its diversity overall, does it matter that there are less African-American players in the fields and fans in the stands?  Certainly, in the long run, if there are less African-Americans on the field that most likely would mean fewer candidates for African-American coaches and managers which would affect diversity overall. On the other hand, the number of players of color is still quite large and may increase with the increase of Lain American players. Really, it all depends on one’s point of view. Many of the games legends have been African-American and from an historical perspective it would be good to increase the numbers of African-Americans in the game. From a racial diversity point of view, however, MLB is improving and that should be the goal.

African-Americans and women have both been marginalized in our country as well as the country’s pastime, baseball. That is not surprising as several writers have seen baseball as a mirror of American society.  While the presence women was welcomed and even desired at the ballpark, for many years they were regarded as practically incapable of learning the game and being “real” fans. Some women have given reason to think that they are there more for the men on the field than the game itself. However, the female fans who are real fans continue to go to the games and root for the home team as the overall number of them increases. The number of African-American fans, however, has been declining for some time, as has the number of African-Americans on the field. Baseball reluctantly let Africa-Americans play and enter the stands after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Blacks showed up in large numbers to watch Robinson and others play, but the number has been steadily for many years. Alarmed by the decrease in the number of African-American players, MLB has tried to remedy the situation through a variety of means. While there are many theories as to why African-Americans are staying away from the ballpark, MLB might not be too far away from making a reversal in this area as baseball figures into hip-hop fashion and in the 2008 World Series several of the top players were African American. At the same time, MLB is more diverse than ever which should be the goal. Much can be learned about American culture from studying our pastime. As New Yorker cartoonists Saul Steinberg once said: “Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem…It’s impossible to understand America without a thorough knowledge of baseball.”[72]

[1] Reilly, Edward J. Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond. New York: Haworth Press, 2003, 89.

[2] Lee-St. John, Jeninne. “Baseball in D.C.: Pitching to Black Fans” Time 11 April, 2005.

[3] Jones, Jeffrey M. “The Disappearing Black Baseball Fan” <http:www.gallup.com/poll/8854/Disapearing-Black-Baseball-Fan.aspx> 10 Dec. 2008

[4] Lapchick, Richard. “The 2008 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball” http://www.bus.ucf.edu/sport/public/downloads/2008_MLB_RGRC_PR.pdf (accessed 14 Dec 2008

[5] Seymour, Harold. Baseball: The People’s Game, 532.

[6] Reilly, Edward J. Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond, 88.

[7] Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball Was White. New York: McGraw Hill, 1970, 17.

[8] Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball Was White, 121.

[9] Zirin, Dave. A People’s History of Sports in the United States:250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play. New York: The New Press, 2008, 57.

[10] White, Edward G. Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself 1903-1953. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996, 135.

[11] Zirin, Dave. A People’s History of Sports in the United States:250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play, 86-87.

[12] ibid

[13] Johnson, Jessica A. “Down in the Dugout: Why Baseball is No Longer the National Pastime for Blacks” in The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2003-2004, Simons, William M., ed. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., Inc., 2003, 82.

[14] Smith, Claire. “Color Reaches People in Seats” The New York Times 10 April, 1997.

[15] Sullivan, Dean A., ed. Late Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball 1945-1972. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002, 17-18

[16] White, Edward G. Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself 1903-1953,156.

[17] Hyman, Mark. :The Racial Gap in the Grandstands: Major League Baseball is Aggressively Courting Latinos as African American’s Drift Away” Business Week 2 October 2006.

[18] Rader, Benjamin G. Baseball: A History of America’s Game, 3rd ed,166.

[19] Smith, Claire. “Color Issue Reaches People In Seats”

[20] White, Edward G. Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself 1903-1953, 151

[21] Ibid, 155-56.

[22] Ibid 152.

[23] Ibid  158

[24] Smith, Claire. “Color Issue Reaches People In Seats”

[25] Johnson, Jessica A. “Down in the Dugout: Why Baseball is No Longer the National Pastime for Blacks”, 83

[26] Veducci, Tom. “The African-American Baseball Player is Vanishing. Does He Have a Future?” Sports Illustrated 6 November 2008.

[27] “Baseball Works to Bring Blacks Back to the Game” <http://www.npr.org/templates/story.php?storyId=9450036> (accessed 13 Dec 2008).

[28] Veducci, Tom. “The African-American Baseball Player is Vanishing. Does He Have a Future?”

[29] Reilly, Edward J. Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond, 109.

[30] Christensen, Joe.”Working to Reclaim Lost Ground-The Star Power on Display in the World Series Should Help Major League Baseball’s Efforts to Attract more African-American players, Whose Numbers Have Dropped in the Past Decade” Star Tribune 25 Oct. 2008, 1C.

[31] Logan, Joe. “Phillies Fanatical About Young Fans” The Philadelphia Inquirer 31 March 2008.

[32] Smith, Claire. “He’s Got the Power-Howard; The Link to Black Fans? Slugger Ryan Howard Could be the link between the Phils and Black Fans” The Philadelphia Inquirer 26 July, 2006.

[33] Johnson, Jessica A. “Down in the Dugout: Why Baseball is No Longer the National Pastime for Blacks”,87.

[34] “Baseball Works to Bring Blacks Back to the Game” <http://www.npr.org/templates/story.php?storyId=9450036> (accessed 13 Dec 2008).

[35] Wittenmeyer, Gordon. “Baseball’s Blackout” St. Paul Pioneer Press 9 July 2006, C1.

[36] Johnson, Jessica A. “Down in the Dugout: Why Baseball is No Longer the National Pastime for Blacks”, 89.

[37] Veducci, Tom. “The African-American Baseball Player is Vanishing. Does He Have a Future?”

[38] Hyman, Mark. :The Racial Gap in the Grandstands: Major League Baseball is Aggressively Courting Latinos as African American’s Drift Away

[39] Walker, Rob. “Crown Jewelry” The New York Times 4 June 2006.

[40] Cadelago, Chris. “Newest Hip-Hop Baseball Cap Style Just Might Stick” San Francisco Chronicle, D7.

[41] “Harlem Residents Outraged by Sale of Major League Baseball Caps With Gang Colors” <

[42] Pennel, Randy. “Networking Inspires Retro Jersey Craze” The Cincinnati Enquirer 19 June 2003.

[43] Osegueda, Mike. “To Be Totally Today Get Yesterday’s Jersey” Fresno Bee 23 June 2003, D2.

[44] Vann, Korky. “Baseball Making Grand Slam in Fashion” The Hartford Courant, 1 October 1998, 17.

[45] Kirst, Sean. “Negro League Fashion Reaches All-Star Status” The Post-Standard 11 August, 2003.

[46] Hochman, Stan. “Big Rube’s Got a Dream: Inner-City Baseball Players” The Philadelphia Daily News 10 Oct. 2007

[47] Ibid

[48] Ibid

[49] Ogden, David C. “The Welcome Theory: An Approcah to Studying African American Youth Interest and Involvement in Baseball” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture Vol 12 No. 2 (2004), 117.

[50] Philipp, Steven F. “Are We Welcome? African American Racial Aceptance in Leisure Activities and the Importance Given to Children’s Leisure” Journal of Leisure Research Vol. 31 No. 4 (1999), 10.  I was made aware of this study through the article in the previous footnote. I don’t want to make it seem I made a connection between these two separate articles myself.

[51] Ibid, 14

[52] Ibid, 15, 17

[53] Wittenmeyer, Gordon. “Baseball’s Blackout”

[54] “Team Marketing Reprot” http://www.teammarketing.com/

[55] Verducci, Tom. “The African-American Baseball Player is Vanishing. Does He Have a Future?

[56] Veducci, Tom. “The African-American Baseball Player is Vanishing. Does He Have a Future?”

[57] Wittenmeyer, Gordon. “Baseball’s Blackout”

[58] Hyman, Mark. :The Racial Gap in the Grandstands: Major League Baseball is Aggressively Courting Latinos as African American’s Drift Away

[59] Chass, Murray. “Game Fights Trend of Fewer Blacks” The New York Times 19 April 2004, D5.

[60] Veducci, Tom. “The African-American Baseball Player is Vanishing. Does He Have a Future?”

[61] ibid

[62] Chass, Murray. “Game Fights Trend of Fewer Blacks”

[63] Wittenmeyer, Gordon. “Baseball’s Blackout”

[64] Lapchick, Richard. “The 2008 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball”

[65] “Record 246 Players Born Outside the US” <http://mlb.mlb.com/press_releases/press_release.jsp?ymd=20070403%content_id=1877328=p5_mlb&jsp&fext=.jsp&c-id=mlb (accessed 13 Dec 2008.

[66] “Sheffield Tires to Explain Controversial Remarks” <http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/19013033/&gt; (accessed 13 Dec 2008).

[67] Lapchick, Richard. “The 2008 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball”

[68] Lapchick, Richard. “The 2004 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball” http://www.bus.ucf.edu/sport/public/downlaods/2004_Racial_Gender_Report_Card_MLB.pdf (accessed 14 Dec 2008)

[69] Lapchick, Richard. “The 2008 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball”

[70] Lapchick, Richard. “The 2008 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Football League” http://www.bus.ucf.edu/sport/public/downloads/2008_NFL_RGRC_PR.pdf (accessed 14 Dec 2008).

[71] Lapchick, Richard. “The 2008 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association” http://www.bus.ucf.edu/sport/public/downloads/2008_NBA_RGRC_PR.pdf (accessed 14 Dec 2008).

153 Http://encarta.msn.com/quote_561660055/baseball_is_an_allegorical_play_about_america_a_html

This entry was posted by theyellowseats.

One thought on “A Response to Chris Rock’s Video About Baseball

  1. Good entry. Good research. I don’t want to hear about the slowness of games. Baseball is a refined spectator sport. Kids should stop peddling dope and learn how to keep score.

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