The New York Times reported yesterday that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is creating a new committee to study the decline of African American participation in baseball. The committee includes Detroit Tigers president Dave Dombrowski, former New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel, Stanford University athletic director Bernard Muir, and baseball scouting bureau director Frank Marcos.
"We want to find out if we're not doing well, why not, and what we need to do better. We'll meet as many times as we need to to come to meaningful decisions."--Bud Selig
The decline in the numbers of African American major league players has been going on for 25 years. I've occasionally broached this issue while talking with other baseball people. The general consensus is that the decline is a very genuine and serious problem that hurts the sport, but real solutions seem elusive.
The off-the-record conversations are often illuminating. At its core, the issue is entwined within the broader realms of politics and economics, issues which baseball folk are often reluctant to discuss publicly for obvious reasons.
The causes of the problem seem simple enough on the surface. The NBA and NFL are more popular than they were 30 years ago and scoop up many premium athletes who would have played baseball in the past. It is simply easier to organize a pickup game of basketball than it is in baseball. The NCAA's strict limit on scholarship money for baseball programs makes it more difficult for non-wealthy players of all backgrounds to develop their skills in college, which disproportionally impacts African Americans due to the continuing tangle of race and economic class in this country.
What can be done to solve this?
The RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program has been expanded and more can be done there, but it is clear that the RBI program alone won't turn this situation around. Some organizations have taken more direct steps under their own initiative. The Chicago White Sox under Jerry Reinsdorf are a great example, but I'm not sure there is a consistent effort there from other teams. Could that can be emphasized more strongly?
The increased awareness of brain injuries in football might also come into play here. You're less likely to end up with a debilitating, life-ruining brain injury as a baseball player, although I'm not sure how that can be emphasized or exploited by MLB without getting too crass.
Can you think of any other ideas?