Black baseball is alive and kicking on the south side of Chicago thanks to the Jackie Robinson West little league team that advanced to the Great Lakes Championship Game before losing 10-3 Sunday against Grosse Pointe Woods Shores (Mich. ), just one game short of The Little League World Series. It's been 30 years since a Chicago team made the LLWS, and this is the second straight year the young,Chi-Town sluggers almost made it to the big stage.
Jackie Robinson West has a long-standing baseball tradition fueled by the community’s love for baseball. They advanced to the first round of the 1983 World Series, coached by the late Joseph Haley, and seemed primed to repeat the feat with his son William at the helm before running into a game Michigan squad.
Anyone watching had to do a double take when they saw the soulful JRW squad, comprised of kids from the 28-team (T-ball to 18-year-olds) league, drawing from the Englewood, Auburn-Gresham, Morgan Park and Washington Heights areas.
For Haley and the 400-plus kids in the predominantly African-American baseball league, being nice at the sport is normal. He downplays the fact that his team doesn’t look like their opponents. With all of the talk and statistics about declining participation by African-Americans in baseball, JRW is a league that stands as one of the last bastions of serious black youth baseball in America.
“I can understand why it’s news, but I don’t think it’s news,” Haley told trueslant.com., before Saturday’s game.
Maybe not in 1983 when over 20 percent of the MLB was black, but in today’s climate when the numbers are below 8 percent, even MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has shown an increased concern for its dwindling African-American base.
Too bad they didn’t make it. MLB and the national media would have been all over this story and it could have been a victory for the effort to reinvigorate black participation in baseball. Still, it’s proof that, contrary to popular belief, some brothers are still shining on the diamond.