Commentary

What happened to OUR game?

Curtis Granderson's comments on the lack of African-Americans in baseball ring true

Updated: July 21, 2011, 9:34 AM ET
By Rob Parker | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- New York Yankees All-Star outfielder Curtis Granderson is right.

If you take an unofficial count of African-Americans in the stands at either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field, the numbers are low.

That's not to say that there aren't any black baseball fans because that's not true, either. Still, although there are no official numbers from the past to use as a comparison, it seems as the numbers are far less than people remember from just 20 years ago.

Black Baseball Players
AP PhotoThe number of African-Americans playing in the majors fell to 8.5 percent this year, the lowest percentage since 2007.

According to a USA Today story on Wednesday, Granderson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he will scan the crowd at games and ask teammates to "count the number of African-American fans."

"At first, it starts as a joke," Granderson told the Texas paper. "As the game moves on, you'll get to 10, or maybe 15. Depends on where you are, too. Places like Chicago or New York, other places it's easy. [In Texas], it's hard. So after a while it becomes, 'Told you so.'"

We know the numbers on the field have dwindled as well. In April, an official headcount said the percentage of black players on opening day rosters dropped to 8.5 percent, the lowest level since 2007.

As a black man who probably loves baseball more than any other person on this planet (when I was a kid, people joked I would marry a baseball), there's just one question that rings in my head: How did we lose our way?

Baseball is OUR game.

It has been since we finally were allowed to compete with everybody else in 1947 with Jackie Robinson's admission into the major leagues. Look at the record books. We are everywhere. And count the best players who ever played this game. Many of them are African-American, have black skin and are just like most of the guys from the neighborhood.

Granderson
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesCurtis Granderson says he often challenges his teammates to count the number of African-Americans in the stands.

More than a third of the players with 3,000 career hits are black, and eight of them are African-American. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was the most recent to accomplish the feat.

It makes no sense that black people in America have lost their zest for the game as both players and, even worse, as fans of the sport.

It just wasn't that way when I was growing up in Jamaica, Queens. On Sayres Avenue, baseball was king. It's all we did. Our parents never fretted about where we were -- it was always at St. Albans Park. We started at 8 a.m. and stopped once we could no longer see the ball.

Our first team was called "The Black Cats." There were 11 players, nine African-Americans kids and two Puerto Ricans. It wasn't part of a league, we were just a neighborhood squad that went around playing other teams in the area.

We also went to Mets games as often as we could. There was nothing like taking the subway to Shea Stadium, catching a game and getting one of those great grilled hot dogs. We were in heaven. Baseball was a part of our fabric, a piece of who we were.

And who can forget a hot July night, sitting on the Weeks' stoop? Of course, the radio would be on. While we talked, joked and played catch, we would listen to Bob Murphy from the West Coast.

Those memories seem lost forever now for a number of reasons.

Sandlot Baseball
AP PhotoKids are forced to make a choice between baseball and basketball, with baseball often losing out.

Most of the blame has to come from this instant society we live in. Nobody wants to work for anything. Everybody wants everything yesterday.

It's why LeBron James didn't want to build his own team and lead it to a championship, and instead was just as happy to join other stars in his quest to win a title faster.

Basketball, probably more than any other sport, has stopped young black kids from playing baseball. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player ever, had a huge impact. Everybody wanted to be like Mike.

That fueled many coaches to want kids to play basketball year-round. Most didn't fight it because the skill in baseball is more difficult to acquire. Plus, basketball is more appealing to kids because they see players come either out of high school or after one year in college and make it to the NBA, making millions in the process.

In baseball, it's off to the minors. Even then, there's no guarantee that you'll make it to the majors and cash in big.

That's what happened to my nephew, Alvin Parker. He was an All-Star baseball player for the St. Albans Little League. I remember him crushing a would-be home run just foul in an All-Star Game against some of the best players in the city.

But he was also a basketball player. His AAU coach made him decide, at 12 years old, which sport he was going to play. He was forced to give up baseball. Although he wound up playing Division II basketball in college, Alvin is one of many kids pushed away from OUR game every day by misguided basketball coaches.

This practice needs to stop. It's wrong.

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