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Thread: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

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    Be the ball Roy Tucker's Avatar
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    USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    I thought this was an excellent and thought-provoking article at USA Today that touches on race, class, and where the US is in 2007.

    http://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseb...a-legacy_N.htm

    Is Jackie Robinson's legacy fading after six decades?
    By Mike Dodd, USA TODAY

    On Sunday, when more than 200 Major League Baseball players wear No. 42 jerseys to honor the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in the national pastime, it will be a reminder of past promises and a troubling present.

    The commemoration of Robinson's historic debut will recall an elaborate ceremony 10 years ago, when MLB retired Robinson's number across the majors and Commissioner Bud Selig emphasized baseball's push to hire more minorities.

    Sunday's tributes also will put a spotlight on an uncomfortable question for baseball: Is Robinson's legacy within the game fading?

    The percentage of African-Americans in the majors has dropped sharply during the last decade and now is the lowest it has been since the 1960s 8.3%, or 72 players on opening-day rosters, according to a USA TODAY study that includes injured players.

    The percentage of blacks in key front-office, managing and coaching positions hasn't increased during the last decade. Even MLB's central office, with about 470 employees mostly in New York, has a smaller percentage of blacks than it did in 1997. However, two of MLB's five executive vice presidents positions created since 1997 are black.

    Robinson, who kept crusading for equal opportunity for the disadvantaged after his playing career ended in 1956, probably would not accept this situation, his widow says.

    "He was always impatient for change and a fighter for change," Rachel Robinson says. "He would think the struggle is still on, and he would not be satisfied with where we are."

    "Are we where we should be? No. We've got a lot of work to do," says Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB executive vice president for baseball operations and an African-American. "Are we working on it? Yeah, we're working hard on it."

    MLB is trying to boost blacks' participation with urban initiatives on several fronts, including its Diverse Business Partners Program and Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI), a youth program that helped lead current big-leaguers Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins and Coco Crisp of the Boston Red Sox to pro careers.

    But the efforts are not gaining much traction in addressing a range of problems, particularly baseball's growing disconnect with African-American youths and sports fans, who continue to be more interested in football and basketball.

    A Harris Interactive survey released in January found only 7% of African-American adults said baseball was their favorite sport. This comes at a time of growth for other minorities on the field; nearly one in three MLB players is Latino or Asian. Their increased presence has pushed the overall percentage of minority players to 40.5% this year, the highest ever.

    But as the number of African-American players dwindles, the effect eventually could reverse gains made in increasing blacks' presence in front office and coaching positions in baseball.

    "I don't doubt that opportunities will be provided," says Chicago White Sox senior vice president-general manager Ken Williams, the majors' only African-American GM. "But my concern is with the dwindling number of participants on the African-American front. As we move forward in future years, there will be fewer people in the pipeline. So how will those numbers grow? ... Where are the candidates going to come from?"

    Baseball has made significant progress in its overall diversity in the last 10 years. It received its highest marks ever in the recently released 2006 Major League Baseball Racial and Gender Report Card from the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which annually examines the racial and gender composition of pro and college personnel in various sports.

    But MLB's scorecard for African-Americans shows no home runs:

    The percentage of African-American players has continued to decline, dropping by 50% since 1997, according to the Institute's report. The overall figure was about 27% in 1975 and 17% in 1997.

    There are two African-American managers this year (the New York Mets' Willie Randolph and the Texas Rangers' Ron Washington). That's one fewer than in 1997, although during the last 10 years, there have been as many as eight in one season (2002). The percentage of African-American coaches is essentially the same, 14%-18% in 1996-97, 16% in 2006. Representation in the general manager's office is unchanged: one (Bob Watson of the New York Yankees was the lone black GM in 1997).

    While Latino and Asian representation has increased significantly in MLB's central office as it has grown, the percentage of African-Americans has dropped since 1997 from 13% to 10.4%.

    Community programs launched

    Baseball has begun several diversity initiatives in the last 10 years. MLB says its Diverse Business Partners Program, founded in 1998, has resulted in more than $400 million being spent with thousands of minority- and women-owned businesses.

    MLB opened a Youth Baseball Academy, a $10 million facility, at Compton Community College in Los Angeles last year and continues its 18-year-old RBI program, which gives one-time grants to Boys and Girls Clubs of America seeking to start or expand urban baseball and softball leagues. RBI programs have been started in 185 U.S. cities, serving as many as 120,000 boys and girls, MLB says.

    Baseball sponsored its first Civil Rights Game this spring in Memphis; proceeds are benefiting several charities, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

    MLB also partners with its players union in the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, which it says has awarded more than $10 million to programs that encourage youth participation in baseball and softball.

    "I will stand up and shout from the top of the mountain (that increasing blacks' participation) is a priority for them," Williams says of MLB and its 30 clubs. "There is not just a business interest in keeping (Robinson's) name alive ... There is an interest from the heart."

    Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, notes the irony regarding Robinson's dual dream of increasing minority involvement on and off the field. "At the time of his passing (1972), African-Americans were starting to emerge as players but virtually non-existent in front office and managing positions. That has gotten significantly better," he says. "But the part of his dream which looked like it was going to be a no-brainer lots of African-American (players) has gone in the other direction."

    'Nothing is getting done'

    Cleveland Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia was the most recent player to sound the alarm over blacks' decreasing presence in baseball, saying last month that a concerted effort is needed. "Any reaction is good," he says of his comments, "because nothing is getting done."

    "I'm tripping when I see teams like Atlanta and Houston not having any black players," says Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, who launched a national urban youth baseball program with the help of donations from about 12 big-leaguers. "Atlanta? That's Chocolate City! And no black players?"

    The Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros are the two major league teams this year with no black players, though both have an African-American on the coaching staff.

    "It's not something we like having attached to us," Astros general manager Tim Purpura says. "We drafted five black players last year ... and we have more African-American scouts than we've had in a long time. We're working on an infrastructure to attract more African-American players."

    Says John Schuerholz, Braves vice president/general manager: "The reality is you can't feel uncomfortable with reality. There's a diminishing amount of African-American players in the game at all levels. We have black players in our organization. ... But we pick the best 25 guys" for the majors.

    Many African-American athletes who might have pursued a career in baseball during a previous generation are pursuing basketball and football. Theories for the decline almost outnumber the players.

    "A perfect storm was created," says Solomon, citing full college scholarships for football and men's basketball, the expense of baseball equipment, shoe companies' promotion of African-American basketball stars and baseball's focus on scouting in Latin America.

    Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, author of Dropping the Ball: Baseball's Troubles and How We Can and Must Solve Them, suggests MLB, corporate sponsors, players and the NCAA unite to fund grants to deserving inner-city youths who receive only partial scholarships for college baseball.

    Division I-A NCAA programs can offer 85 full football scholarships and 13 full men's basketball scholarships but only 11.7 for baseball, and those can be divided among several players. Among Division I schools, 6.5% of baseball players were African-American in 2005, according to the NCAA's most recently available race/ethnicity data.

    Winfield and current players cite the expense of playing the game and baseball's marketing strategy. With youth baseball, "It's more like a country club. You've got to get instruction, playing in tournaments with fees," Hunter says. "The equipment is more expensive."

    Winfield says open spaces in U.S. cities are decreasing and many parks departments can't afford to maintain baseball fields. Also, while basketball markets stars such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant appeals that resonate with many African-American youths baseball sells the experience of going to a game, which doesn't. "Kids don't grow up saying I want to be like Yankee Stadium," Winfield says.

    Solomon says Nike and other shoe and apparel companies, not necessarily the NBA, deserve credit for starting the slick marketing of NBA stars. But he agrees "we have to focus on ways to get our players in front of our potential fans and our current fans."

    Hunter says many black youngsters view media and public criticism of star Barry Bonds as racist.

    Bonds, who is closing in on Hank Aaron's home run record, has been at the center of a steroid controversy the last few years.

    "The one big, black face in baseball is Barry Bonds, and they see he is constantly being scrutinized and he has never tested positive for anything," Hunter says. Black kids "think, 'That game is not for us.' "

    Finding top prospects

    Winfield and others suggest baseball clubs are pouring resources into finding and developing players in Latin America while scouting U.S. inner cities less.

    The logic: It's easier and cheaper to sign Latino players. A team can develop a young player at an academy in Latin America and sign him when he turns 17. In the USA, a top young player goes into the amateur draft and becomes fair pickings for all 30 teams. If selected in the first round, he could command a $1 million-plus signing bonus.

    Solomon says he's heard anecdotally from urban areas that "scouts don't come here," but he believes "that's less and less the case." Teams will find top prospects anywhere, he says. "The question is whether scouts will see the marginal African-American player."

    That's what the RBI program and Baseball Academy are designed to do, he adds. "We just had a showcase in Compton, and there were 150 scouts there."

    Meanwhile, Rachel Robinson, who founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation which has provided four-year college scholarships to nearly 1,200 minority students, says she is thrilled so many players will wear No. 42 Sunday. Ten years ago, she hoped the 50th anniversary of her husband's baseball debut would re-energize equal opportunity efforts in baseball and beyond.

    Did it? "Not totally," she says. "I would have liked to have seen an increase in African-American inclusion in the game. The diversity is there in terms of the Latinos and also bringing in Asians ... so for that I can applaud them. Yet for me, diversity right now is not the issue. It's more the inclusion."

    Contributing: Bob Nightengale

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    Member redsrule2500's Avatar
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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    They make up about 12% of the USA and 8% of MLB.

    It's not a 'crisis'. And can't we just look to NFL/NBA to make the exact opposite, but even more effective argument? `
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    Where's my chair? REDREAD's Avatar
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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    "I'm tripping when I see teams like Atlanta and Houston not having any black players," says Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, who launched a national urban youth baseball program with the help of donations from about 12 big-leaguers. "Atlanta? That's Chocolate City! And no black players?"
    I don't really think Hunter is helping out much here. How many Twin's players are from Minnesota? Probably not many.

    Winfield has good points. Baseball is an expensive game. It's largely only played in organized leagues. The neighborhood kids just don't get together anymore and play wiffleball like when we were kids. That's just the way it is.
    Not to mention it is a huge time commitment now for the better players.
    I see it as more of a class issue than a racial one. The wealthier families can take their kids to the instruction camps, traveling teams, etc, etc. That's a pretty big edge, considering that the youth today seldom seem to play "pick up" baseball/wiffleball games anymore (at least in my area, maybe this isn't a nationwide trend, but I'm guessing it is). A lot of kids would much rather play baseball on the computer/playstation than go outside and play it for real.
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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Some good stories on Espn.com about this including something from former Reds exec DeJon Watson.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/jackie/index
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    Score Early, Score Often gonelong's Avatar
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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Quote Originally Posted by REDREAD View Post
    That's a pretty big edge, considering that the youth today seldom seem to play "pick up" baseball/wiffleball games anymore (at least in my area, maybe this isn't a nationwide trend, but I'm guessing it is). A lot of kids would much rather play baseball on the computer/playstation than go outside and play it for real.
    Its hard to blame the kids for that. When you were a kid, families were larger which led to more baseball games. Your parents didnt' freak out if you went outside. Some of us grew up with out air conditioning so it didn't make much sense to stay inside when it was hot. Many of us grew up without video games or cable.

    I don't wonder why kids want to sit in a heated/cooled house on the couch eating Chips, drinking soda, and playing video games. I likely would done the same thing but none of that was available to me.

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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Quote Originally Posted by gonelong View Post
    Its hard to blame the kids for that. When you were a kid, families were larger which led to more baseball games. Your parents didnt' freak out if you went outside. Some of us grew up with out air conditioning so it didn't make much sense to stay inside when it was hot. Many of us grew up without video games or cable.

    I don't wonder why kids want to sit in a heated/cooled house on the couch eating Chips, drinking soda, and playing video games. I likely would done the same thing but none of that was available to me.

    GL
    I just turned 23 Monday and I grew up playing baseball with my friends in our free time. We never had enough guys to play games really, but that didn't stop us from playing home run derby, or abreviated games. Heck once a week when we cant get enough people together 2 or 3 of my friends and I go to the local park and play a game. We pitch and hit. The batter decides whether or not a fielder would have made the play or not. We play 7 inning games. Its tough to get 18 kids together to play a game surely, but you have to be creative.

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    Be the ball Roy Tucker's Avatar
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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Quote Originally Posted by REDREAD View Post
    I see it as more of a class issue than a racial one. The wealthier families can take their kids to the instruction camps, traveling teams, etc, etc.
    That was my first reaction too. But then I started thinking about modern day basketball and it really is all about camps and AAU and other travel teams. The associated costs with those are pretty steep.

    But the last time I checked, African-Americans were doing pretty well in hoops.

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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roy Tucker View Post
    That was my first reaction too. But then I started thinking about modern day basketball and it really is all about camps and AAU and other travel teams. The associated costs with those are pretty steep.

    But the last time I checked, African-Americans were doing pretty well in hoops.

    Most AAU/travel basketball teams of any consequence have significant sponsorships, even at the young ages, to take the burden of $ off the players' families.
    When all is said and done more is said than done.

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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roy Tucker View Post
    That was my first reaction too. But then I started thinking about modern day basketball and it really is all about camps and AAU and other travel teams. The associated costs with those are pretty steep.

    But the last time I checked, African-Americans were doing pretty well in hoops.
    I'm not sure it's apples-to-apples. The AAU and camp circuit is important in basketball, but primarily for the elite players. It's not a point of entry into the game. Kids still learn basketball by playing pickup against their peers, and there are still school teams to play for. Hardly anyone plays pickup baseball anymore, and (at least in my experience) there's little meaningful baseball played at schools below the high-school level. If geography or money prevents a child from playing Little League, there isn't much else.
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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Quote Originally Posted by dougdirt View Post
    I just turned 23 Monday and I grew up playing baseball with my friends in our free time. We never had enough guys to play games really, but that didn't stop us from playing home run derby, or abreviated games. Heck once a week when we cant get enough people together 2 or 3 of my friends and I go to the local park and play a game. We pitch and hit. The batter decides whether or not a fielder would have made the play or not. We play 7 inning games. Its tough to get 18 kids together to play a game surely, but you have to be creative.
    A group of my friends and I have done similar things in recent years. We'd gather up three to five guys and head out to a field, hit, pitch, field, etc. Considering most of the guys usually out there were college guys, it was an excellent/fun outdoor activity that carried minimal financial cost. The biggest problems are finding halfway decent fields that we're allowed to use, and we're all adults in our mid 20s willing to travel a bit to find a nice field. If we're having problems finding nice fields, it's likely much more difficult for kids unable to drive to find some nice fields near their neighborhoods.

    Finally though, this spring we said to heck with only getting a few guys out on a field at one time so we decided to get a softball team together. Now slow pitch softball obviously isn't the same exact sport as baseball, but it's a fun substitute that's close enough. The differing skill levels are interesting to watch too. Some guys and teams we've played are absolutely awful out there, but there's other guys who some real darn good ballplayers too. But what heck, if everyone has fun out there, then I've got no complaints.

    Also, I know one of my cousins has latched on to some local amateur baseball team. Some of those teams may be hard to find, but if there's some pretty solid baseball players wandering around out there just a few years removed from their high school and/or college playing days, there's some opportunities to keep playing.
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    Be the ball Roy Tucker's Avatar
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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    I think part of is also that baseball really isn't the National Game that it used to be.

    Playing baseball and MLB used to be an integral part of American society. Robinson breeaking the color barrier was an enormous deal in its day because of the stature of the sport.

    These days, with the NFL (and to some degree the NBA) having taken over the national consciousness, MLB baseball just as big of a deal any more and I don't think it matters as much.

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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Robinson's achievement was bigger than baseball. What happens with the sport after than can't diminish it
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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Roy has hit the nail on the head. Baseball is not the National Game that it used to be. Maybe not in our in circles, but as a whole NFL and the NBA are bigger nationally.
    20 years ago this wasn't the case.....and 60 years ago baseball probably passed all other sports combined in popularity. You could argue many reasons as to why....my initial reaction is mainly due to FA.
    Jackie should and always will hold a special legacy. I cannot seem to fathom living in a society such as we had during that time frame that did not put an equal emphasis on individuals. We have come along way in the last 60 years.
    If anything the whole uniform thing has already been positive as it has evoked discussion for a generation of kids who do not know who Jackie Robinson is.

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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roy Tucker View Post
    I think part of is also that baseball really isn't the National Game that it used to be.

    Playing baseball and MLB used to be an integral part of American society. Robinson breeaking the color barrier was an enormous deal in its day because of the stature of the sport.

    These days, with the NFL (and to some degree the NBA) having taken over the national consciousness, MLB baseball just as big of a deal any more and I don't think it matters as much.

    I agree with Roy.

    I'm sad to say it but it seems baseball isn't the National Game that it used to be.

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    Re: USA Today: Is Jackie Robinson's Legacy Fading?

    Quote Originally Posted by redsrule2500 View Post
    They make up about 12% of the USA and 8% of MLB.

    It's not a 'crisis'. And can't we just look to NFL/NBA to make the exact opposite, but even more effective argument? `
    Touchy subject, but sometimes people have to look around. I'm sorry, but Torii's quote was ridiculous.

    "I'm tripping when I see teams like Atlanta and Houston not having any black players," says Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, who launched a national urban youth baseball program with the help of donations from about 12 big-leaguers. "Atlanta? That's Chocolate City! And no black players?"
    Let me know how many white players the Jazz have in Vanilla Village. Make that statement on the air and you'd get Imused.


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