By: Sammy Smith
With the month of September just beginning, it’s an exciting time for America’s pastime. The MLB season is winding down, and an abundance of storylines are floating out there.
Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are having MVP-like seasons. Both New York teams are fighting for playoff spots. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants are battling for the NL West. And the NL Central is home to the three best teams in the National League. Yes! The Chicago Cubs are actually very good this year.
Even with all these storylines, if my black friends and I are discussing sports, baseball NEVER comes up. In fact, if you were to bring up baseball, most of the time the response will be, “Nobody gives a damn about baseball!”
Why is that? Years ago, baseball was very popular among African Americans. Players like Josh Gibson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Barry Bonds all dominated the sport. Lately, nobody seems to care.
Recently, Chris Rock did a piece with HBO Real Sports detailing the demise of black interest in baseball, and he made some fairly good points.
- Participation in the Majors
According to the MLB and the New York Times, the highest percentage of African Americans in the majors was 19 percent in 1986. Since then, that number has dropped to 8.3 percent and continues to fall.
Baseball is an expensive sport to play in the United States. Overseas, less economically developed countries like the Dominican Republic can dominate the sport without the monetary resources, but here it is different.
Now, AAU and travel baseball are very expensive but a necessity if kids want to continue to play the sport and be recognized. As sad as it may be, some inner-city families cannot afford the cost of equipment, travel, tournaments, and camps.
- Baseball is Boring, Old Fashioned, and Slow
Chris Rock was absolutely right when he said, “The world has sped up, but the game is slower than ever.” A report from Forbes states that in 1981, the average length of an MLB game was 2 hours and 33 minutes. In 2014, the average length was 3 hours and 2 minutes. For a non-contact sport with little to no action, that is an extremely long time.
Also in the MLB, there are secret rules. Celebrations are almost always a no-no, making it very hard for a fan to enjoy the occasional good play.
This is something Chris Rock didn’t touch on that I see as baseball’s biggest problem. Unlike other sports, baseball does not market its star African American athletes.
To be blatantly honest, most black people don’t care about things that other black people don’t participate in. If tennis didn’t have Serena or golf didn’t have Tiger, we wouldn’t particularly care about those sports either. Even black participation in politics rose dramatically during President Obama’s tenure as a national politician.
Just take the Little League World Series for example. The African-American community cared very much about last year’s LLWS because of the storylines featuring Mon’e Davis and Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team. This year? Not so much. I haven’t heard anyone utter a word about the LLWS.
When you think of the MLB, you think of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Alex Rodriguez, NOT Andrew McCutchen. Most black people don’t know who Andrew McCutchen is, much less that he is a top 10 player in the game. However, if baseball wants to fix the problem, they have to find an African-American player to be the face of the sport in order to pull in black support.
Baseball has a lot of work to do if they want to regain black support. Chris Rock was right about one thing: black people decide what’s cool and what’s not. It’s no coincidence that as black interest in baseball has waned so has viewership and Little League participation.
Baseball needs black people, not for monetary reasons of course. Baseball is still as profitable as ever. Despite viewership being down, revenue is at an all-time high.
Still, the MLB is concerned that it is losing Young America’s interest. As Chris Rock said, “You lose Black America, you lose Young America.”
With an average viewing age of 54, baseball is in jeopardy of losing an entire generation of fans. Even though they are taking steps in the right direction, the sport has a long way to go.
Until then, this season will continue to have an abundance of great storylines, and me and my friends still won’t give a damn.