Tonight’s World Series features teams with two of the most storied histories in baseball.
The Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals are two franchises that old school baseball fans can easily identify with.
Unfortunately, this year’s Series features another, not-so-subtle, baseball tradition; a startlingly low number of African-American players on the field.
Of the 50 players on the combined two teams, 68 percent of them are white.
In April of this year, it was discovered that the number of black players on Opening Day rosters was 8.5 percent. That number is down from 19 percent in 1995, and numbers that fluctuate between 19 and 27 percent in the 1970s.
Baseball, it would appear, is taking a proactive approach. Earlier this year, a task force was created by Commissioner Bud Selig to work to get more black players in baseball. Last year also featured the well-received “42” movie, bringing Jackie Robinson’s story to the big screen and sell-out theaters all over the country.
But there has been a decline in black players for more than a decade. Several programs have been created to try to combat the problem and get more young black kids in urban cities to start playing the game.
There’s been tough talk from baseball executives about change coming. Several former black stars have spoken up about the need for more outlets to get black kids in the ballpark.
None of it has worked. Each year, there seems to be a new wave of black players that we hope will be the transformative player who opens the floodgates and garners the attention of black youth.
Players like the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, the Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones, the New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia, and the Atlanta Braves’ Jason Heyward have all proven they have marketability.
But their stardom hasn’t led to an uptick in participation, and the last truly larger-than-life black star was Barry Bonds…who did more to hurt the game in the eyes of potential young black players than help it.
Basketball and football are, and will continue to be, the preference of young black kids. Those sports are generally “cooler,” feature hundreds of bankable black stars, and are much less expensive for children to play. The reward for being one of the best in these sports is a full scholarship, whereas baseball typically offers partial scholarships for top talent.
Baseball has slowly shifted from a national sport to a regional one. Where most sports fans are happy to watch any two teams in a high-profile basketball or football game, baseball television ratings have shown that typically only big-market teams are drawing big ratings. The average World Series viewership hasn’t reached 20 million since 2004, and last year’s ratings was the lowest ever.
There doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer, but small progress might be occurring. There were seven African-Americans selected in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, which was the most since 1992. Six African-Americans were selected in this year’s Draft.
With the Pirates making the playoffs for the first time this season, McCuthen has the look, talent, and finally the market, to showcase his skills to a bigger audience. Jones is becoming a social media star, and may be garnering some national crossover attention after a successful stint working with TBS for the playoffs.
But there’s still a long way to go for baseball to ever approach the participation numbers of the 1990s. Baseball has long been classified as a stodgy, middle-aged white man sport.
That may be an unfair stereotype, but this year’s World Series does little to debunk the myth.
Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace