It is no secret that fewer African Americans are playing the game of baseball than ever before. On opening day this season, nine percent of all Major Lague Baseball players were African American. In 1974, 27 percent of the league was black. In fact, in a recent interview with USA Today, Baltimore Oriole professional scout Deacon Jones admitted that if Jackie Robinson were around today that he would still feel unsatisfied with the progress made.
Currently, players like Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas hold the mantle. However, all three are veterans of the game and have few years left in Major League baseball. Bonds, arguably the games most famed slugger, is now well past his fortieth birthday.
However, there is one black player who has risen to the fore and is an early candidate in 2005 for the prized Cy Young Award – an award given to baseball’s best pitcher. Florida Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis is the first pitcher this year to win four games and his 1.50 earned run average is as low as it gets.At 6’4”, 240 pounds, Willis is an imposing figure. His crooked hat, vicious leg kick and mean fastball have South Florida alight with talks of post season baseball and World Series possibilities.
He is the ace of Baseball’s best pitching staff, and at 23 years old has a bright future ahead of him.What was once a “white man’s game” has slowly become a white and Latino dominated sport.
It is not that African Americans do not play the sport, but there is no Joe Morgan, Reggie Jackson or Satchel Paige – greats who have extended the legacy and encouraged others to follow. However, Willis is a graduate of the RBI Program – Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities, and has been a spokesperson for blacks in baseball. It helps that he is also one of the leagues best players. “What are you doing playing a white man’s game?”
“I heard it all the time,” said Philadelphia Phillies player Jimmy Rollins on www.philly.com. The Philadelphia shortstop, who grew up in Alameda, Calif., near Oakland, is African American and said that the game was dominated by whites and Latinos when he was growing up. However, Willis is intent on extended the lineage of great African American ballplayers into the future.
If African American players are a rarity, then black pitchers are even more rare. At such a tender age, he is credited with being the next pitching sensation in baseball and encouraging African American involvement in the game.