Giger: Curve roster representative of baseball’s diversity trends
It’s a shame but not really a surprise, and it’s a problem without a real solution.
It’s also evident right here in Altoona looking at the Curve roster.
With the Jackie Robinson movie “42” opening this weekend, the hot topic in baseball recently has been the drastic decrease in the number of African-American players in the major leagues. The number is an all-time low 7.7 percent.
It’s zero percent on the Curve roster, as not one of the 25 players on the team is African-American.
Robinson, who epitomizes the word legend as much as any player in sports history, surely would be disappointed by the alarming decrease in the number of African-American players in baseball.
Things are much, much different now, however, in one key respect than when Robinson broke the major league color barrier in 1947. Back then, some of the best players in the game were African-American, but they just weren’t given an opportunity to compete at the highest level in the major leagues.
Nowadays, it doesn’t matter if a player is African-American or Caucasian because he will get an opportunity in baseball if he’s good enough. No one should be able to dispute that.
The real issue, and the dilemma baseball faces, is that more and more youngsters in the African-American community simply aren’t interested in playing baseball anymore.
It’s a boring, often painfully slow game.
Basketball is fast and fun. Football, too. And both of those sports offer wonderful opportunities for young African-American athletes in urban areas to earn college scholarships and, they hope, millions of dollars professionally.
What can baseball do to lure some of those young athletes back to the game?
I have no answers.
Truthfully, baseball probably doesn’t either.
Commissioner Bud Selig is starting a task force to see what changes can be made. Good luck with that, and I mean that both seriously and sarcastically.
Hopefully baseball has luck attracting more African-American players, white players and everyone in between back to the game. But the bottom line is, the number of youngsters across all races in this country are turning their backs on baseball, which Little League officials everywhere have bemoaned for years.
Again, it’s just a boring game, and kids today have far, far more options – video games, other technology and other sports – that can provide them more instant gratification than baseball ever will.
That’s true for kids of all races.
Just as the Curve roster is representative of the decrease in African-American players in baseball, it’s also representative of a terrific trend. The sport provides opportunities for huge numbers of international players, and because of that, a higher emphasis has been placed on developing talent around the globe, particularly Latin countries and Australia.
The Curve have six players of Latin descent, one from Australia and one from South Arica.
“I don’t see them as African-American or Caucasian or Latino,” manager Carlos Garcia said. “I know we have the Curve, our team is a mix of every country.”
Garcia, a former major leaguer, is from Venezuela and said baseball is “our passion” in his home country.
“We want to be a ballplayer,” he said. “We want to follow our hero’s footsteps, and if we have an opportunity to sign for any organization in the States, that’s a huge deal.”
Garcia said he didn’t know a lot about Robinson growing up. His hero was former Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion, and for him and kids in other Latin countries, following in their favorite player’s footsteps has always been a motivating factor.
Nowadays, young African-American kids have stars such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in basketball to emulate, or Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III in football. The decreasing number of African-American players in baseball will only make it more difficult in the future to give youngsters some heroes they can relate to and look up to.
Maybe Selig’s task force will help reverse the trend. The guess here is that it won’t have much of an impact.
That has nothing to do with race or anything of the sort, and everything to do with one simple reality: If you give any kid a chance to stand around waiting and doing nothing for most of two hours like in baseball, or run up and down the court or field like in basketball or football, more kids than ever aren’t going to choose America’s pastime.
Give the kids a chance to play video games all day, and far too many would rather do that than any of the options above.
That doesn’t bode well for the future of baseball.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org