Posted at 11:57 PM on July 10, 2005
by Josh Lee
On a day when Minnesota and Kansas City wore Negro League throwback uniforms, the Strib ran an article on the curious fact that the Twins are the only team in the majors that starts three African-American players in the outfield. (Here's a similar profile of the "Soul Patrol" from last year.) In 1975, baseball was 27 percent black (and Frank Robinson became the first black manager); now it's less than 10 percent. At a time when baseball exhibits an overall degree of ethnic diversity that other American sports can only dream of, it's a little distressing to see such a sharp decline in the number of black players.
Towards the end of the article, Stewart and Hunter have some thoughts on how baseball is (or isn't) marketed to African-American children:
"You watch commercials and you see Allen Iverson dribbling, and he's rapping and kids like that," Stewart said. "You don't see that in baseball."
Hunter, who last year filmed a McDonald's commercial that's shown locally, added: "You don't see a black player for MLB. Kids see that and don't see any blacks and go, 'That's like looking at hockey.'"
This is interesting, because I've always thought of Hunter as far and away the Twins' most marketable player. He hits for power and is a walking Web Gem in center field, he's outgoing and well-spoken, he doesn't have a scary bloated cranium, and he's a strong contender for the title of Prettiest Man in the Major Leagues. If a guy like that can't sell the sport, who can?
I think MLB probably could do more to promote the game in the inner cities, and the league does have its share of racial issues that could be more openly addressed. But as for marketing Black players... isn't Derek Jeter the "Face of Baseball"? Or is he not "Black" enough?
Griffey was the most beloved player in the game until his unfortunate rash of injuries. Barry Bonds is on TV and magazine covers all the time; and if he hasn't done much to promote the game to Black kids, that's partly his fault. The same might be said of Gary Sheffield.
Torii was the big star of the ASG a few years ago, and is currently featured in a national ad for Nike. Dontrelle Willis has been a celebrity since his rookie year. Garret Anderson is going to his 3rd All-Star Game in 4 years. Derrek Lee is the NL MVP of the 1st half, playing in the 3rd largest city in the nation. Of course, there are numerous Black Dominican stars of the game--but are they less "Black" to us because they are from another country?
MLB should look for ways to get more young African-Americans interested in the game and sticking with it after high school again. But I can't agree with the view that Black baseball stars aren't in the media. If Stewart is trying to say that baseball needs to promote guys with mad rhyming skillz... OK, any players willing to step up to the mic?