MLB Needs To Get With The Times, Instead of Branding Themselves America’s Pastime

If you’ve ever viewed the trailer for the upcoming Jackie Robinson biopic, 42, there’s an awkward moment when one of the reporters warns that black athletes would usher "white men out of baseball’s major leagues.” It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Since Jackie Robinson shattered the color barrier and brought a more diverse age for Major League Baseball 64 years ago, black interest has dwindled. Since then, the percentage of black players in baseball has swerved and taken a U-Turn according to the New York Times .

Only 8.5 percent of the players on the 25-man rosters on opening day were African-American. Several teams, including the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, had none. The highest percentage of African-Americans playing in the majors, according to new research by Mark Armour from the Society of American Baseball Research, was 19 percent in 1986.

In response to these plummeting numbers and the African-American community’s apathy towards MLB, the New York Times is reporting that Bud Selig is creating a 17-member diversity task force to examine the vanishing presence of African-Americans in baseball.

“I don’t want to miss any opportunity here,” Selig told the New York Times in a telephone interview from his office in Milwaukee. “We want to find out if we’re not doing well, why not, and what we need to do better. We’ll meet as many times as we need to to come to meaningful decisions.”

This is MLB's "autopsy report" because the sport is on life support in black communities. We aren’t mad at Selig, though. Whether it’s just for the publicity or genuine concern, he’s making an effort and he needs the help. Selig knows more about bad hips than he does about being hip.

Baseball’s problem is that they rested on their laurels and refer to themselves as an American pastime, instead of getting with the times. They’ve cryogenically frozen their approach to the game in an old-timey mindset instead of making changes to the game and its marketing strategy.

Meanwhile, the hungry black athletes from inner-cities have migrated to the NFL and NBA to make quicker millions.

While the NFL and NBA have embraced black culture, Ken Griffey Jr. was catching pop-up fireballs from baseball’s grey-bearded cognescenti because he wore his cap backwards. Hip-hop was ostracized in MLB for a long time, and they’re just now getting into the game.

In addition, the game’s pace lags behind that of other major professional sports leagues. That affects his popularity among young people in general, but especially African-Americans.

If baseball wants to make a grand gesture that actually means something, they need to take a U-Turn down the Jackie Robinson route. None of the four major professional leagues have ever had an African-American commissioner and Bud Selig retires in 2014. If there’s a viable, young and energetic African-American candidate who is not constrained by the old establishment, it would be a homerun in the black community.

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