It’s rare that you find Black youth playing baseball in the inner city these days. I grew up in the 1970s, and we played pickup baseball games in our neighborhood park and in the streets with tennis balls.
Youth baseball leagues were flourishing in every Black community. Two in particular were really popular, Southeast Little League, on the Southside of Houston, and Smokey Jasper Little League on the Northside of Houston.
Opening day was a huge event. Teams were decked out in their new uniforms. Local businesses were sponsors. Their name, image, and likeness were on the uniforms and outfield signage. Communities worked together all year long to prepare the fields, concession, and the stands for the season. They looked forward to opening day. It was a grand event.
The Smokey Jasper Little League was well known for producing some great players. Two in particular that made it to the Big Leagues were Carl Crawford—a 4-time All Star who played 14 seasons in the Major Leagues—and Michael Bourn—a 2-time All Star who played 10 seasons in the Majors.
Those leagues, and many others like them, were the developing grounds for Black youth baseball players in the inner city for many years. It was their version of the Negro League. Parents and family members filled those little baseball stadiums to watch their kids play.
Several factors are in play that’s keeping Black youth from playing the sport today. The advent of Select Club Baseball, for instance. This is the new trend in youth baseball. These clubs are hand-picked, expensive, and come with pricey registration and travel fees that are in the thousands of dollars. The cost of equipment has skyrocketed. Most parents simply can’t afford to pay those fees and buy equipment. Also, the lack of quality baseball fields in those same communities is also an issue.
Another factor is that Black kids don’t see enough Black ballplayers in the Major Leagues. They have no role models, such as Hank Aaron or Willie Mays, or no one to aspire to be like.
Major League Baseball started the RBI Baseball League in 1989, known as Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities. The goal of this league was to increase participation and interest in baseball among underserved youth in communities of color. They refurbished local parks and their baseball fields and started leagues all over the country. Although the numbers have increased, it hasn’t proven to have a huge impact on the number of Black kids playing baseball.
The Institute of Diversity and Ethics In Sports at Central Florida University recently released a report. The report stated that the opening day rosters of all Major League Baseball teams this season has the smallest percentage of Black players since the 1990s—only 7.2 percent of the current players are Black.
This is the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Let’s honor Mr. Robinson’s life-changing accomplishment by introducing our kids to this great game of baseball. Find a local RBI League in your community and encourage your kids to play baseball.
Take them to see an Astros game. PLAY BALL!!!
“I Just Tell It Like It Is!” – Burl “The Coach” Jones