Astros first W.S. team in 52 years without black player
HOUSTON -- Joe Morgan worries about the face of baseball. Watching the World Series, the Hall of Famer is troubled by what he sees.
His old team, the Houston Astros, is down 3-0 to the Chicago White Sox, but it's not their lineup that concerns Morgan. It's their makeup.
The Astros are the first World Series team in more than a half-century with a roster that doesn't include a single black player.
"Of course I noticed it. How could you not?" Morgan said while the Astros took batting practice before the opener in Chicago. "But they're not the only ones. There are two or three teams that didn't have any African-American players this year."
Morgan said it's a predicament and a challenge for Major League Baseball. While more players from around the world are making it to the majors -- Japan, Korea, for example -- the number of blacks is declining.
"It's a daunting task to get African-American kids into baseball, and I don't see the trend changing," he said.
The last World Series team without a black player was the 1953 New York Yankees. It wasn't until 1955 -- eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 -- that Elston Howard became the first black in Yankee pinstripes.
Black players accounted for just about 9 percent of big-league rosters this season.
"We know that we have to work to do," Commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday. "We'll continue to intensify our efforts. I'm very aware, I'm extremely sensitive about it, and I feel badly about it. But we need to get to work to change things."
Astros general manager Tim Purpura agrees.
"I think it's a huge, huge problem for baseball," he said. "The pool of African-American players just isn't there. And as baseball becomes more college-oriented in its draft, there aren't a lot of players to pick.
"The African-American athletes are going into other sports," he said.
The most recent survey by the NCAA, taken during the 2003-04 season, showed that only 6 percent of Division I baseball players were black. Half of the men's basketball players were black, as were 44 percent of football players.
Houston has a half-dozen Hispanic players -- it was the first team to open a baseball academy in Venezuela, about a dozen years ago. Bench coach Cecil Cooper is black.
They also have eight Hispanic players and Japanese second baseman Tadahito Iguchi.
"We're diverse because we're looking for the best in talent and character," general manager Ken Williams said before the Series started. "It just happened that way. I could care less what the makeup of the club is as long as it works as a whole."
Williams is the only black general manager in the majors. A former big league outfielder, he joined the White Sox in 1992 as a scout, confident he could find players in the inner cities. After a year of trying, Williams felt as if he'd failed.
Morgan is disturbed by what he's found, too.
A two-time NL MVP, Morgan helped Cincinnati win two straight championships. In 1976, along with fellow black teammates Ken Griffey, George Foster and Dan Driessen, the Big Red Machine swept a Yankees team that had 10 black players on its roster.
Just 10 years ago, Atlanta and Cleveland each had five black players when they met in the World Series.
In 2003, Derek Jeter and the Yankees lost to Florida. Jeter's father is black and his mother is white; the All-Star shortstop has said he considers himself both black and white.
"There's a perception among African-American kids that they're not welcome here, that baseball is not for inner-city kids," Morgan said. "It's not true, and I hate that the perception is out there."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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