We usually get these stories every spring, but today we've got a stray piece in the Times about the relative dearth of American-born black players in Major League Baseball. Because somewhat shockingly, there's just one American-born black player among the 50 players on the 2013 World Series rosters.
One. Which seems low.
So here we go again, and the Times' William C. Rhoden recalls talking to Carl Crawford, who was a three-sport star in high school with scholarship offers, but signed with the Rays because the money was there ...
The most poignant part of that conversation was Crawford’s sense that after the youth level, African-American players, unless they possessed enormous talent, faced a less than welcoming environment.
“It gets kind of tough when you get to high school,” he said. “It seems like that’s where all the black kids get weeded out. It seems like they don’t want black kids to play in high school, like they do everything to try to run them off the field.”
Dwight Raiford, who founded Harlem Little League in 1999 with his wife, Iris, said that football and basketball had become the havens for African-American players that baseball once had been. “Basketball and football have really embraced African-Americans in a way that Major League Baseball has not,” Raiford said.
As distant observers, we have to respect the experiences and opinions of men like Crawford and Raiford. But without any context, I really don't have any idea what they're talking about.
Who are the "they" who don't want black kids to play baseball in high school? Aren't the baseball coaches basically the same sorts of "they" who coach the football and basketball teams? If you're a high-school baseball or football or basketball coach, don't you want the best players you can possibly get?
I don't know. I've seen a lot of comments like this over the years. I've never seen any follow-ups, including interviews of the coaches themselves who supposedly don't want the best players they can get.
As for basketball and football embracing African-Americans in a way that baseball hasn't ... Again, I don't really know what that means. For one thing, I think the proper word might not be embracing, but rather exploiting. Considering what we know about concussions in football, and about the graduation rates of college football and basketball players. We typically associate embrace with love, not commerce. But professional and major-college sports are commerce at a fevered pitch.
And I have to say that baseball has, over the last decade or two, probably made more outreach efforts than all the other sports combined ... because baseball feels it has to, perhaps because black kids in America are choosing other sports, just as kids in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela have chosen baseball. We can spend many hours discussing why boys in the Americas and everywhere else make the choices they make. But I will argue that the professional leagues themselves have little ability to influence, in a conscious and effective way, those choices.
Finger-pointing's always fun and easy. It's not terribly illuminating or useful.