The Black College Baseball Problem

Shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 baseball became a sport filled with talented African American players. Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, and Hank Aaron are widely regarded as some of the greatest baseball players of all time.

 Nonetheless, within the last ten years the number of African Americans in Major League Baseball has reduced precipitously. Unfortunately, the program does not begin nor end with the MLB. African Americans are not participating in baseball at any level the way they were when Gibson, Aaron, or Ken Griffey Jr. for that matter were dazzling fans with their excellence, instead turning their attention toward basketball and football.

 While Major League baseball simply turns to talented Latin American and Caucasian players to fill their ranks, black college baseball faces a complex problem: How do they adapt and remain competitive or at schools stay active?

 The lack of funding and interest invested in NCAA black college baseball has caused some schools like Howard to drop their baseball programs completely, creating a need for baseball at historically black colleges and universities. South Carolina State and Morgan State University are just two other historically black colleges and universities that decided to move on without a baseball program.

 There are success stories however, Southern University and to a lesser extent, Bethune-Cookman have managed to thrive despite the challenges. Southern remains a program heavily reliant on African-American talent and their coach Roger Cador says the team is still made up of approximately 90% African Americans. The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), home to the Southern Jaguars, remains a stronghold for black college baseball despite the failings of programs all around them. Alabama State, Jackson State, and Southern make up the echelon of the conference, however the success of the SWAC further highlights the dearth of competitive black college baseball.

 At many HBCU’s club baseball, essentially an intramural sport, is the only reliable alternative.

 The Howard University Club Baseball Team formed in 2009, but only played two games that year due to a variety of problems. The team suffered from financial difficulties, management, and organizational problems that plagued the Howard NCAA team before it disbanded. Facilities tend to be a major problem for failing black college baseball programs. Most HBCU’s playing surfaces, practice and workout facilities simply cannot compete with those of more adequately funded programs.  In baseball, where the top high school talent is not only heavily pursued by collegiate programs but by scouts in the professional ranks it is particularly important to make your program standout.

 African American programs are now including more Caucasian and Latin American players on their rosters, in many cases out of necessity.

 “We’re becoming more diverse, simply because it makes more sense,” said Cador. “And to remain all black you are denying opportunities and that was what we were created for in the beginning.”

 College baseball programs are not afforded the sizeable budgets and plentiful scholarships available to their counterparts in basketball and football. Coupled with the cost and accessibility of baseball fields and equipment it creates an environment where baseball simply doesn’t make economic sense. Top athletes who play often shun baseball for the immediate success and glory gifted upon athletes in other sports.

 To their credit Major League Baseball has recognized the reduction of African-Americans in the sport and has taken part in a number of initiatives to combat the problem. The Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities (RBI) program is designed to increase participation in baseball in cities across the world and to steer minorities toward the sport.

 Originally developed by former Major Leaguer John Young in 1989 the program is now more important than ever. In a relatively short period of time programs in Houston and Atlanta have become hotbeds for developing young African American talent.

 “The RBI program was been good to me,” said Cador. “Houston is a rich area.”

 The presence of exciting young African American players like Jason Heyward and Justin Upton on major league rosters across the country, if properly promoted, may help as well.

 “If Jason Heyward can win a batting title or a home run title that could really help”, said Cador.

 Cador believes that the problem facing black college baseball may be fairly simple.

 “We lost our little league programs in the inner city,” said Cador. ” Baseball was left without the trusted gentlemen who put us in our trucks and took us to play.”