Many people ponder and debate the decline of African Americans in baseball. They often come up with racial, social, and economic viewpoints to draw their conclusion. In actuality, they’re all incorrect. The answer’s an easy one, however the solution to solving the problem becomes much harder.
The answer…. African American children, teens, and some adults have simply become uninterested with the game. One person to solely place blame on is Michael Jordan. Yes, I know…I hear you laughing right now. You think the idea is preposterous of blaming possibly the greatest basketball player ever of steering people away from baseball. Well give me a moment of your time, I have a good explanation for my hypothesis. When Jordan entered the league in 1984, the World Series had over 22 million viewers. The numbers peaked at 36 million in 1986. Once the “Jordan Experience” took hold, baseball numbers slowly declined and the NBA’s numbers picked up. With each defining moment of his career, the eruption for 63 points against the Boston Celtics during a playoff game in 1986, winning possibly the greatest Slam Dunk Contest ever in 1988 against Dominique Wilkins, the total dismemberment of Craig Ehlo’s heart in 1989 (my particular favorite), and finally the judgement of his nemesis A.K.A The Detroit Pistons, enroute to his first NBA title in 1991, slowly impacted viewers for the MLB.
Inner-city youth, the same ones watching baseball (especially in areas of minority), grew fond of the NBA. The sheer beauty of Jordan’s game drew viewers like a magnet, thus thrusting the sport into a spotlight it never reached to. Children that live in homes where the economy’s structured on a paycheck to paycheck basis, or public assistance, and perhaps both are effected by this hypothesis the most. Schools that are within these areas lack funding and resources to place children in a variety of sports. Therefore, they choose the most popular sports within their community. Think about this, you don’t see alot of Hispanic’s playing Hockey. Well, how many predominantly Hispanic high schools are equiped with ice rinks? You know the answer, and sadly…they never get a chance to find out if they like participating in the sport.
We must also consider the cost to participate in these sports in which money struggling families simply lack. In baseball, you need a glove, bat, cleats, pads and protectors, not to mention the cost of a uniform. And in other sports such as hockey, golf, and la crosse to name a few, the equipment cost can soar quickly for a family below the poverty line. Which explains why inner-city school’s don’t carry these programs.
For a youth of the Jordan time era, it was far easier to pick up a basketball and pretend to be like “Mike.” Everything about him and his lifestyle became glamour and folklore. Who didn’t want to have a shoe named after them with the word “Air” attatched to it? We watched and followed along as he became a successful multi-millionaire enjoying what he did best…winning championships. Kid’s relate to Jordan, watching him in McDonalds commercials, drinking Coca-Cola and wearing high top gym shoe’s. Simply put, the things he liked and did were the very same things that most kids liked and vibed. They saw his blueprint and gravitated towards it. In the following years after his retirement, people came to the league in droves wanting to carve themselves a piece of the NBA pie.
Traditionally, baseball is a longer and slower paced game right down to the announcers. It’s the only sport I can think of off hand that can take a pure athlete, and make them look average or worse. Michael Jordan, possibly the greatest player of our era in basketball looked average to-below average in baseball. Deion Sanders had moments in baseball, but we obviously know what his best pure sport was. Basketball has a faster pace, more electricity, and dare I say more life within the sport. But what people fail to recognize is baseball has the highest paying contracts in major sports. In 1997, “His Airness” earned over $33 million as his NBA salary. Just a few years later in 2000, Alex Rodriguez would sign a 10-year $252 million dollar deal with the Texas Rangers which are staggering numbers indeed.
Another example of the MLB’s cashflow is Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels, and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Pujols plays in the MLB, while James earns his direct deposit thru the NBA. James has a two-year deal with a base salary of $23 million, Albert earns $24 million per year on a 10-year contract earning him $240 million in total. This comparison shows which league has the most money to utilize. Sadly, the MLB has failed to find a solution to the growing separation of African Americans in baseball. How do we solve this problem?
Advertise yourself…pure and simple. Run campaigns, ad’s, and commercial’s directed not only to African American children, but children of all minorities. Go to school’s with player’s and spokesman, share the wisdom and knowledge of your sport. Have fund raiser drives to raise money for their schools and education. Give away free equipment at these drives and interact more with the youth. Definitely show them how to play and develop a love for the game while their young. Have them attend and experience a live game, allow them to feel the true atmosphere of an MLB game. As a fan of the MLB, It’s more entoxicating being present than watching on television. Give them a tour of the facilities, let them see life behind the dugout.
I know this would change the hearts and minds of children if they could see first hand what the MLB’s all about. Even a company as large as the MLB should realize you only get back what you invest, and this doesn’t exclude people.