Rise of the African American Stars in Baseball
In the early 20th century, the national pastime of America, baseball, was segregated, with white players and Black players each playing in their separate leagues. Black players were essentially barred from the major leagues and instead had to play in the Negro Leagues. However, with the signing of Jackie Robinson by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, a seismic change occurred in baseball - and sports in general. Robinson shattered the racial barrier, paving the way for other Black players to join the major leagues.
I remember an old photograph of Jackie Robinson at my granddad's house. Hanging on the wall amidst other family heirloom, my grandfather proudly showed it to anyone who would listen, saying, "That's Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play in the Major Leagues." The admiration he had for Robinson was clear, and he would often tell stories of how Jackie's success instilled hope and pride in him and other young black boys at the time.
Fields of Dreams: The Golden Age of African American Baseball
Before we move ahead, let's take a moment to appreciate some of the outstanding players from the golden age of the Negro Leagues. Players like Josh Gibson, known as the "Black Babe Ruth," and Satchel Paige, a legendary pitcher who made a name for himself both in the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball.
Speaking of Satchel Paige, my kids, Iris, and Orlando, still laugh when I tell them about the moment Abigail and I ran into Mr. Paige himself during a trip to Kansas City. It was at a local diner and he was as charming and funny in person as the stories made him seem on the playing field. That encounter was one of the highlights of our trip, and it reiterated the immense impact Paige had on the sport and on us as fans.
From Desegregation to Discrimination: The Current State of African American Baseball Players
The integration of baseball seemed to signal a new era for African American players. For a while, it appeared that the field was finally level, with Black stars like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson dominating the game. Yet, surveying the landscape today, it's hard not to notice that the number of African American players in Major League Baseball has been declining.
In fact, a report conducted in 2017 by USA Today revealed that just 7.1% of players on opening day rosters were African American. In a sport once seen as an avenue to success for many African American athletes, it appears the dream of playing Major League Baseball is dwindling.
Home Run or Strike Out: Why are there fewer African American Baseball Players?
Many theories have been put forward to explain the decline in African American baseball players. Some point to the increased popularity and accessibility of sports such as basketball and football in urban areas, while others believed it could be due to the rise in Latin American players.
The latter theory is of particular interest. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of players from countries such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. These new players, bringing their unique flair and enthusiasm to the game, have captured the attention of many fans. But are they being given opportunities that should be going to African American players?
Meanwhile, despite the decrease in African American players in the Majors, there is still a rich pool of talent in the Minor League, High School, and College Baseball. It's just a matter of time before this talent starts to bubble up to the surface and make waves in the Major League. And maybe, just maybe, we might yet witness another golden age of African American Baseball stars. We can only be hopeful.
As a dad, a baseball enthusiast, and a believer in dreams, I always encourage my kids, Iris and Orlando, to stay passionate about their interests, be it baseball, art, or cooking. Who knows? Maybe one day, they too will add their names to the rich history of this sport we so love.