Home baseball World Series highlights the waning of black players in America’s pastime

World Series highlights the waning of black players in America’s pastime

by archysport

When he was a child, Marquis Grissom Jr. sometimes shed tears in the car on the drive home from youth baseball games.

He cried after hearing “racist comments” from white opponents – players and parents in particular – he said when he played on the Atlanta field with an all-black youth team.

“I would ask myself, ‘Why do you hate me? I’m a good person, ‘”he remembers. “At the age of 11 I didn’t know how to deal with it.”

In the eight years since then, Grissom – the son of a former major league outfielder (whom he’s named after) and now a second pitcher for Georgia Tech – still hears the insensitive racist comments on occasion, he said. But they are drowned out by his invincible determination to make it to the big leagues.

With the World Series being played between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros this weekend, Grissom’s blatant shortage of black players on both teams and MLB in general isn’t going to be lost. The Braves and Astros each have one black player on their World Series roster: Terrance Gore from Atlanta and Michael Brantley from Houston. Most MLB teams had two or fewer black players and three had none at the start of the season. Around 50 percent of the league now consists of Latin American players.

A study published in August found that black players made up less than 8 percent of the players in the Major Leagues, an illuminating figure since baseball celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues in 2021, more than double what it is today.

“I definitely noticed that there aren’t that many black players right now,” said Grissom Jr .. “You can’t help but notice.”

Major League Baseball is working to increase these numbers, including through its RBI program, which works to improve the participation of underserved communities through youth leagues and programs; the MLB Breakthrough Series, which focuses on player development through instruction and competition at the highest level in front of college coaches and professional scouts; and his 10 year commitment to supporting the Players Alliance, a social justice platform focused on improving the participation of black athletes in baseball.

Still, the numbers are skimpy, and the reasons are many, given that Jackie Robinson incorporated baseball in 1947, according to pop culture critic Gerald Early. In the years after Robinson broke the color barrier, players fled the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues. And the business structure of the Negro Leagues “pretty much finished,” said Early, a professor of African American studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

“And so it was no longer an integral part of black culture because blacks weren’t just playing,” added Early. “Black people ran it as a business; they owned the crews. Blacks were trainers and blacks were managers. So all of that went away and I think it had an impact on the general black interest in the sport. “

Early said that after the 1970s, interest in baseball waned in black communities, leading to today’s concerns.

Three young black baseball players – Grissom, high school star Colin Jones, and junior college star Mikal Ashley – have made their way into baseball and are at different paths and at different points in their journey that they hope will take you into the Major League get.

But they share a common goal, to be the change that inspires the next generation of young black athletes to pursue America’s favorite pastime.

The way through college

“It’s up to us as young players to make sure our community sees baseball as a cool sport and a sport our kids should play,” said Grissom. “MLB is trying, but we can’t leave it to them. I feel like I have to get there and be a face and a voice that they can identify with and follow. That can make a difference. “

Grissom began playing with all black teammates as a teenager – up to college. He was part of his father’s Marquis Grissom Baseball Association, a league that Grissom Sr. founded in Atlanta in 2006 and that has produced more than 2,000 black baseball youths. The player receives instruction and training from former major league players and plays travel ball against teams of elite players.

“We have to do like the Latino players,” said Grissom Sr., who played for the Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers over his 13-year career. “Professional players go to their countries, teach the game and invest in their youth.”

His son is one of half a dozen black players on Georgia Tech’s 45-man roster.

“It’s different from what I was used to,” said Grissom Jr. “It’s been great to play with my boys all my life, friends who looked like me and had the same experiences as me. It’s still great at Georgia Tech because we’re a team of good guys. Playing in the city with the skyline behind you, man, that’s great, crazy. But I always know that I am a role model for the children who come behind me. And that’s how we build the game for black kids. Play right. Set a good example. And do it like my father and go back to the community and support and teach the game. “

In the fast lane

Will Jones had hesitated to share his son’s baseball successes. No longer.

Colin Jones, 16, rose to be one of the top high school players in the country by their sophomore year – a skilled midfielder who is effective on the record and is one of the fastest high schoolers in America on the grassroots paths.

Colin Jones.Dr. Will Jones

“I’m not surprised by his success because he does his job to be great,” said the father. “But I am surprised that he has this mission for such a young person.”

That mission is to change baseball and be # 1 high school in the 2024 MLB draft. “I can’t do it alone, but I want to be a player who has a relationship with young black players and motivates them to work in baseball,” said Colin Jones. “Right now it’s not a game that we want to play as a whole. I think it’s getting better and better, and if I can inspire others by going back and telling my story and showing them the way, then I would be doing my job. That’s important to me.”

He attends the Georgia Premier Academy in Statesboro, Georgia, the only high school in the state that specializes in baseball. As a B-plus student, he goes to class from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and trains or plays baseball from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“Every day,” he said. “And I’m lucky because not everyone can go this way. Baseball can be expensive and discourages some children from playing. I just work hard to make the most of my situation so I can help others get into the sport. I don’t see this trip as something just for myself. ”

No black teammates

Mikal Ashley plays for Johnson County Community College in Overland, Kansas. He plays there because “my heart is in it, and when your heart is in baseball, opportunities can develop no matter where you are,” he said.

Ashley, who can throw a fastball 94 mph, went 6-0 last year with 47 strikeouts and 14 walks and has attracted the attention of at least five colleges who want him to move after this season, like many of his Teammates previously him.

Mikal Ashley.Courtesy of the Johnson County Community

He is the only black player on his team. But he was undeterred, he said.

“Baseball is chess and checkers and I like that part of the game, the 14 minutes of nothing and then the two-minute shots of awesomeness,” said Ashley. “It’s not for everyone. But I love it so much that I don’t mind being the only black player. We are teammates and these are my boys.

“But I would like to be a leader and show a lot of young black players what baseball looks like. I can let them know how the trip is. So we can increase the numbers. I help other children get started with the game and they help the next generation. That might sound too easy, but this idea drives me. “

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