Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton catches a line drive off the bat of the St. Louis Cardinals' Kolten Wong on April 14, 2016, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Photo: Chris Lee/TNS
Photo: Chris Lee/TNS

Baseball's black players optimistic for future, even as numbers wane 

Keon Broxton was born in 1990, meaning his formative years coincided 

with the peak of Ken Griffey Jr.'s spectacular career. Broxton was 7 

when Griffey won AL MVP, 10 when Griffey made his 11th consecutive 

All-Star team ... and already in his second year of pro ball in the 

Arizona Diamondbacks system, at 20, during Griffey's final year in 

2010. 

"He made me develop a love for the game just by watching him play and 

watching how much fun he had and seeing how good he was," said 

Broxton, the center fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers. "I definitely 

think kids idolize guys at an early age and it sticks with them." 

Griffey's career also coincided with a period of time when the 

percentage of black players in the majors peaked. In 1995, 19 percent 

of MLB players were black. This year, among players on Opening-Day 

rosters, that percentage was 7.7, the lowest since The Institute for 

Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) began tracking the data in 1991. 

"What happened years ago, when we had the superstars in the game, the 

Bo Jacksons, the Frank Thomases, the Brian Jordans, the Deion Sanders, 

we didn't promote them enough," said Steve Williams, a Pirates pro 

scouting supervisor and the president of the Buck O'Neil Professional 

Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association. "We missed out on the 

opportunity to really sell our games in the inner cities and in rural 

areas where minority kids play as well. We didn't promote our game. We 

allowed football and basketball to beat us up." 

Players have several theories as to why that drop has occurred: The 

dearth of black superstars such as Griffey for kids to look up to, the 

marketability of football and basketball, financial difficulties 

surrounding both youth baseball and college scholarships, and simple 

logistics. Baseball requires equipment, real estate and a bunch of 

people. Kids can shoot hoops alone. 

"I think it's resources more than anything," St. Louis Cardinals 

center fielder Dexter Fowler said. "The game has been misconstrued as 

being slow. The younger kids now want to play basketball, especially 

inner city. It's tough to find a field, to find bats." 

Fowler had the opportunity to play basketball at Harvard but chose 

baseball instead. Earning a scholarship to play baseball is more 

challenging than football, which, for Division I programs, offers 85 

full rides, or basketball, with 13 scholarships available (being an 

Ivy League school, Harvard does not offer athletic scholarships, but 

hundreds of other D-I schools do). Division I baseball programs have 

11.7 scholarships that can be split among the whole roster. 

"I didn't quite understand my family's financial situation," said Josh 

Harrison, who received a 70 percent scholarship to the University of 

Cincinnati. "I knew we weren't rich, and I knew that my parents made 

ends meet for me and both my brothers, but I didn't really understand 

it until I got to college and I wasn't able to register for classes 

after my freshman year (because of tuition issues). I was like, this 

is real." 

The issue goes beyond scholarship opportunities. 

"I hadn't really been following baseball that much up until I got 

drafted, really," said Josh Bell, who turned 25 Aug. 14. "I was more of a basketball kid. I feel like that's pretty much it. There are 

different sports that, I guess younger African-American, black 

American and Canadian-born players want to emulate, like different 

superstars in different sports. When I was growing up it was Kobe and 

Iverson, and I also had a Barry Bonds jersey. ... I guess there's just 

a lack of that superstar dominant player that a lot of kids can look 

up to." 

Bell paused and looked a few lockers to his right. 

"It's cool playing with guys like Cutch." 

Andrew McCutchen made his Class AAA debut in 2007, Bonds' final season 

and Griffey's last full year in Cincinnati. His production since his 

debut in 2009 put him among the best black players of the current 

generation, a group that also includes David Price, Adam Jones, CC 

Sabathia, Brandon Phillips, Chris Archer and Fowler. 

"A lot of it is geared toward how it's marketed," Harrison said. 

"Basketball and football is always going to be more marketable. ... 

There's not that many of us. As a kid, if they're seeing more playing 

football and basketball, they're going to gravitate more toward 

football and basketball." 

The next wave of players could contain more stars for children to 

idolize. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Byron Buxton and Billy 

Hamilton have all earned starting roles, and Marcus Stroman's 

performance in the World Baseball Classic championship game could 

extend his influence outside of Toronto. Initiatives like Major League 

Baseball's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner cities) program, and the 

Mentoring Viable Prospects program in Atlanta, which provides kids who 

can't afford to travel to showcases a forum to display their talent, 

are helping. 

Recent drafts have shown some progress. Among the first 75 picks in 

the 2016 draft, 17 (22.7 percent) were black. Royce Lewis, the first 

overall pick in this year's draft, is biracial; second overall pick 

Hunter Greene is black, as are fellow first-rounders Jo Adell, Bubba 

Thompson and Jeren Kendall. Williams pointed to an increase in 

minority players in the low minors and in college. 

"That's awesome to see, it's good to see," Fowler said. "Hopefully 

they can be role models, as we are, toward the young guys."

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