With the number of African-Americans playing Major League Baseball declining over the years, there have been a number of efforts to increase those numbers and by extension bring African-American fans back to the game of baseball.
Although the numbers of American-born blacks playing baseball on the field fell from 10 percent in 2010 to 8.5 percent in 2011, Major League Baseball has done well in its hiring in the area of race and gender, according to Richard Lapchick, head of the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports.
While there hasn’t been a scientific or empirical study of the correlation between the number of African-American players on the field and fans in the stands, Jimmie Lee Solomon, vice president of baseball operations, believes that the two are connected.
“From an anecdotal standpoint and as a black man, I think it makes a lot of sense that a lot of people like to see that they’re welcome,” Solomon said. “They want to feel that the industry that they are supporting is inclusive and they want to feel comfortable. They want to feel that the industry has embraced them as a people. When you see more African-Americans on the field of play, we do as African-Americans enjoy seeing people who look like us in those positions of celebrity.”
Solomon said African-Americans sports fans will gravitate to a sport that has people in front office positions such as general manager or team president.
“I think it all goes hand-in-hand, if a sport represents a society adequately, there will be people in positions of great authority,” Solomon said.
At the start of this season, there were three black general managers. Overall, 12 percent of the coaches in Major League Baseball are African-American and two of its managers are American-born blacks — Dusty Baker of the Cincinnati Reds and Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers.
But even with such programs as Reviving Baseball in the Inner City (RBI) and the Urban Youth Baseball Academy in Compton, Calif., which was built in 2006, it’s going to be a long time to truly measure if more African-Americans playing the game will translate into more fans coming out to the ballpark, Solomon said.
It’s very hard to tell right now,” Solomon said. “And will we ever get back to the numbers of the mid-70s? No, we won’t. We can maintain 12 to 15 percent and that’s representative of African-Americans in our society.” (In 1974, African-American population in baseball was 27 percent).Lapchick noted said his institute gave MLB a grade of A in its diversity efforts in MLB’s front office, assistant coaches, players, and diversity initiatives. The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports gave baseball an A-/B+ in the area of managers, team senior, and professional administration.
“The Commissioner and his team in the League office, led by Wendy Lewis, Sr. vice president for Diversity, have had a remarkable positive imprint on the diversity record for Diversity Initiatives which include the fifth annual Civil Rights Game, Jackie Robinson Day and Roberto Clemente Day,” Lapchick said in his report, which was released last April.
In a 2009 interview with Diversity Spectrum, a website that focuses on diversity issues, Selig said baseball is more multicultural than it ever has been: “As the sport grows worldwide and it is through a lot of things that we’re doing, it’s important for us to be leaders in every way shape, and form. It means a great deal to us and I’m very proud of what we’ve done and we need to do more and we need to do some things better.”
In terms of its business off the field, one of the major diversity initiatives that MLB has is its Diverse Business Partners (DBP) program. This effort is geared to create partnerships between MLB and minority businesses. The DBP has been often recognized as “America’s Top 50 Organizations for Multicultural Business Opportunities.”
“It’s been a part of Commissioner Selig’s leadership and his mentorship of the program that has not only made us successful in creating a leadership model,” Lewis told Diversity Spectrum back in 2009. ”(Selig) intimately knows how good it’s been for our business, it’s helped us in terms of profits and efficiency. It’s been good for our communities as well. We have a vested interest in making our program even better and more expansive than it is.”
According to Solomon, programs like the DBP shows that baseball is willing to share its wealth with African-American and Latino communities and businesses.
Solomon said while African-American and Latino business have been helped through their partnerships with MLB, having more black players in uniform will do more to bring African-American fans out to the park.
“They’re not celebrated as much when we have more African-American or Latino ball players on the field,” Solomon said. “I’ll bet you for every story you hear about a club or industry doing business with African-American or Latino businesses, you’ll get a 100 stories about an African-American or Latino player and their exploits on the field.”