In an article examining the lack of American-born black baseball players in the Major Leagues, the New York Times curiously left out what may be one of the main contributing factors–the lack of fathers in many black communities.
In an article last week, the Times wrote about some of the reasons black players only made up “8.5 percent of the 25-man rosters on opening day” when they made up nearly 20% of the Major Leagues in 1986.
“The decline is staggering,” the Times wrote. “In the last generation, baseball has lost more than half its percentage of African-American players. Several teams, including the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, have no African-American players.”
Major League Baseball recently created a diversity committee to examine the issue in more detail, and the article discusses youth initiatives like the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program that have tried to get more blacks to play baseball in addition to some of the barriers black players may face–like a lack of full Division 1 baseball scholarships, declining interest in baseball, and socioeconomic factors, which are exacerbated when a child grows up in a single-parent household.
What the Times neglected to mention, though, is that baseball is inherently a father-son sport where traditions, history, and the game’s intricacies and stories are passed down from father to son, from generation to generation. Unlike sports like soccer, basketball and even many football positions, there is less probability that baseball skills could be picked up–let alone refined–on the playground or streets.
But in many of today’s black households, there are no fathers to pass down these traditions, let alone play catch with their sons and take them to or coach their Little League games.
When Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Democrat who would represent New York in the U.S. Senate, warned Lyndon Johnson’s administration about the devastating impact the lack of fathers would have on black communities in 1965, liberals vilified him. And the numbers have gotten worse. As studies have indicated, in 1950, 17% of black children lived in single-parent households. And in 1965, only 8% of “percent of childbirths in the Black community occurred among unmarried women.”
Yet, many in the mainstream press still refuse to acknowledge this reality and frown upon those who do. And when it comes to baseball, the lack of black fathers in black communities is even more relevant.
As Ralph Wiley noted in an ESPN article, “make no mistake, baseball is a strictly inherited game; it’s not something you can pick up on the street like basketball or even football.”
“It is a game of acquired, refined, specialized skills that are hardly translatable to any other sport. It is a game of inherited knowledge,” he said. “Its Byzantine set of rules, skills, dimensions and culture are so esoteric and oftentimes so bizarre that they must be explained, passed down, by rote, statistic, history, usually from father to son, most often from an early age.”
The lack of black fathers is not the sole reason why American-born blacks are not playing baseball as much as those who came before them, but it is an important factor that must be mentioned in any piece that examines why there are fewer American-born black baseball players than there were nearly 30 years ago.