Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts (middle) is one of the few African-American superstars in the game. Keith Allison photo

Terence Moore

Every week, check out Freelance Friday, featuring a rising journalist who is (ahem) a few decades younger than me. See their take on . . . whatever.

By Christian Crittenden

At one point in history, baseball was America’s Pastime, and some may tell you it still is. But those days will soon come to an end if baseball doesn’t fix several of its major issues, and here’s the biggest one: Young African-American kids don’t naturally gravitate toward the game like they do with basketball or baseball.

First, it’s easier for black youngsters to play those other sports. It takes just another person for one-on-one basketball, and you can engage in touch football with four. Secondly, the other sports are more cost-efficient for folks in general and for those black youngsters in particular, but there is another reason for baseball’s decline, and it’s just as big as the first two.

There is just a lack of an African-American presence in Major League Baseball.

Christian Crittenden was among those covering the Georgia State basketball team for The Signal this spring in Nashville during the NCAA Tournament. Christian Crittenden photo.

Yes, people have written about this ad nauseam, but since I grew up playing baseball in Detroit, where I attended more than a few Tigers games, and since I still love the sport, I have to offer my thoughts. That’s because it hurts me to see the lack of African-American players these days, and it’s not like blacks aren’t capable of playing in the Major Leagues at an elite level.

Sometimes, the opportunities aren’t present.

At the beginning of the 2018 season, African-Americans players made up 7.8 percent of the big leagues, according to the USA Today. It doesn’t take a math major to know that is an issue.

You can blame much of those low numbers on black kids in the inner city or elsewhere not seeing many baseball players on television looking like them. So there is no drive or inspiration for them to want even to play the game.

The best player in baseball right now is Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox. He’s operating at an MVP level this season, with a .340 batting average and 18 home runs. Such success isn’t new for Betts, because he has been splendid as a Major League outfielder for years.

In 2016, ESPN released a list of the most famous athletes in the world, and there were 100 people mentioned. The highest-ranked baseball players were Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, ranking 71st and 73rd respectively. ESPN updated that list in 2017, and not one baseball player made it, which isn’t encouraging for the game.

Regardless, Harper and Trout are the faces baseball, so how is it that they are ranked so low? It shows how the MLB does a terrible job of marketing its stars, and here’s an example: The highest ranked black player on the 2016 list was Matt Kemp. Kemp is a good player, but was he the best black player in the league in 2016? No, he wasn’t, and he isn’t now. He certainly isn’t better than Betts, which tells you Betts didn’t receive the proper marketing.

Guess what megastar athlete was No. 2 on ESPN’s 2017 list? It was LeBron James.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

At 10, Christian Crittenden was an outfielder and catcher for the Giants in the Police Athletic League in his native Detroit. Christian Crittenden photo.

Betts isn’t anywhere near the vicinity of James regarding star power, but King James is a recognizable face for black kids who need a role model. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry were both in the top 12 on the list, and everywhere you turn, both NBA standouts are seen on a commercial or a billboard.

Baseball players? Not so much. During the 1980s, the number of black players in the Major Leagues was around 18 percent, but that’s the past.

As for the present and future, baseball officials need to fix their issues, and they should start with their African-American issues.


 

Christian Crittenden is a junior at Georgia State University majoring in journalism and minoring in marketing. He is a staff writer for The Signal, where he is the women’s basketball beat writer. When he isn’t working or writing, he’s playing basketball and football. @chris_critt

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