Last week the Associated Press filed a story about the prevalence of minorities in major league baseball. According to this story, black representation in major league baseball has dropped to nine percent. While that only slightly under-represents the black population in the United States, it is a significantly smaller percentage than the other major sports.
The story does not go very far to discern the reason for this trend except to quote Joe Morgan hypothesizing that African-American kids do not feel welcome in baseball. The story also quotes Commissioner Bud Selig saying “We know that we have work to do. We'll continue to intensify our efforts.” But I'm one of those “Work Smarter, Not Harder” people. I think that it is important to really figure out why multiple teams, including the World-Series-attending Houston Astros, had zero black players before diving headlong into some vague initiative to change it.
This story did not mention any systemic barrier preventing qualified black athletes from achieving major league status. The problem addressed in this story has to do with the pool of potential baseball players. As Morgan says, that could be because of a perception among black youth that they aren't welcome in baseball.
However, it could also be a reflection of a general downward trend in the popularity of baseball, say from a certain strike about 10 years ago. The eight-year-olds of 1994, alienated by baseball, could conceivably have turned their attention to Michael Jordan and eliminated themselves from today's baseball consideration.
With fewer athletes interested in the baseball, the reduction in the pool of candidates of the minorities would be more apparent than the reduction in the pool of candidates of the majority, simply because of the numbers. When a potential baseball player of any race decides to pursue a different sport instead, there are going to be more white potential players to take his place.
If that is the case, then baseball needs to work on improving its esteem with young'uns across the board, not just zero in on the inner cities. Furthermore, baseball needs to act now to capitalize on the current waning popularity of basketball and reap the benefits 10 years from now.
But how can baseball appeal to the eight-year-olds of today? Appeal to their parents.
Baseball already has a reputation for being wholesome (steroid scandals notwithstanding) and for providing role models (if increasingly monochromatic ones). But baseball also seems stodgy and old-fashioned. This sport that used to be the trendsetter is now so steeped in tradition that it's become antiquated.
Case-in-point: baseball's relationship with the “minority” that makes up more than half of the population. Major League Baseball doesn't let women play: fine. I find it unlikely that there has never been even one woman through history who could have played, but fine. That still doesn't explain why there are no female managers, general managers, bench coaches, hitting instructors, pitching coaches, or base coaches. I cannot accept that there has never been a woman who has been qualified and willing to do one of these jobs, so I can only assume that they have been prevented from it, or, at the very least, never been recruited to.
It's difficult for an old sport, such as baseball, to decide which of its habits are venerable and which are just outdated. The system that has churned men from prospect to player to coach is well seasoned, but if room is never made for a woman in that system, there will never be room for one. And in an age where a family's entertainment choices are made increasingly by women, it would make sense for baseball to try to appeal to women, who, if alienated by baseball, could conceivably turn their attention to the WNBA or other sports and effectively eliminate their children from tomorrow's baseball consideration.