Monday marks the 66-year anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, a landmark event depicted in the new film “42” that is now showing in theaters.
The day serves as a yearly reminder of how important Robinson is to sports in America today, even as the percentage of African-Americans in baseball is as low as it has been since the final team to integrate, the Red Sox, did so in 1959.
There are positive signs of growth. Young stars such as the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen and the Braves starting outfielders (Jason Heyward and Justin and B.J. Upton) are the present and future of the game, and the seven black first-round picks in last year’s draft were the most since 1992, according to USA Today.
But the fact is there are roughly half as many blacks in the majors this year as there were 15 years ago.
Major League Baseball is forming a 17-member committee to help turn around the decline in the number of black ballplayers, which sounds like a good idea. However, I’m skeptical whether this will do more than serve as a positive P.R. move.
A committee can only do so much. At the end day, money can do a lot more.
MLB is a cash cow. Its revenue rose from $1.4 billion in 1995 to $7.5 billion last year, and could be as high as $9 billion in 2014, according to BizofBaseball .com. If the organization shared even 1% of the latter total yearly, that’s $90 million in equipment for young kids.
While MLB supports various outreach programs, it doesn’t appear to be doing enough.
Ultimately, it’s up to Commissioner Bud Selig, the owners and the players to decide how important it is to get African-American kids into America’s pastime.
They’ll need to invest the appropriate funds into these kids to lure them away from sports such as basketball and football, which have much higher percentages of African-Americans on professional rosters than baseball does.
Somehow, I don’t expect the committee to wrest much more cash out of the hands of baseball’s wealthiest. I hope I’m wrong.
Scott Fontana, amNY’s sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.