It’s Baseball Season But Where Are the Brothers?

Manuel M. Frencha, Staff Writer

The smell of fresh cut grass, along with the sounds of batted balls being hit tells us that it is springtime, otherwise known as “Baseball Season.” In the African-American community, baseball has a long and celebrated history, as it was the sport that we, as a group of people, gravitated to before basketball and football were ever considered. The Negro League, a baseball league exclusively for African-Americans, was formed in 1920 by Andrew “Rube” Foster, the owner of the Chicago American Giants. The Negro League had its share of great players, but unfortunately most weren’t allowed to play in Major League Baseball. Josh Gibson was possibly the best Black player of this era, but he was only allowed to play in All-Star games against MLB All-Stars. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 and dealt with extensive racism from other players and fans, it was generally thought that he had the temperament to deal with this abuse after serving in the military.

In 2011, the number of African-American players in the MLB was at 8.5% compared to the 27% percent Latino players. The University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports began to track these figures in 1990, when 17% of all MLB players were African-Americans. I am a product of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) baseball fraternity. From this fraternity, there have been many players drafted by MLB teams, including a teammate of mine from pony league. Ashanti McDonald was drafted by the Cubs in the 1995 MLB amateur draft, but he never made it to MLB. Marvin Freeman, Wes Chamberlin, Marvell Wynne, Emil Brown, and Lou Collier are some CPS alumni that played ample years in MLB. The most famous alumni is the late Hall of Fame member Kirby Puckett (1960-2006), a graduate of Calumet High School. There have also been players drafted from the Chicago land area. Currently, Curtis Granderson, the centerfielder of the New York Yankees, is a local product of Lynwood, Illinois and Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing, Illinois. Curtis had a stellar 2011 season, and was considered a candidate for American League Most Valuable Player; he played his college baseball at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

When it comes to African-American players getting drafted out of high school or college, Jackie Robinson West Little League (JRW), has been a constant source of development since the 1970s. JRW has been hands down the most productive Illinois organization in getting players drafted by MLB teams. Some of the many other predominately African-American baseball leagues are the Southeast Little League, the Roseland Little League, the Southside National Little League, Garfield Park and Austin Little League. The Kirby Puckett Baseball League has grown from an adult semi-pro league to encompass little league aged players as well, and seeks to expand further with a facility for all youth, no matter what ethnicity. B.I.G Baseball Academy could be one of the most important factors towards the facilitation of opportunities for up and coming players throughout the city of Chicago. The Academy, located in the Washington Park area, recently received a grant from MLB and will soon be open to the public, hosting year-round baseball activities. Even though I listed some leagues, the interest of baseball is still low among the African-American community. Collective efforts from all involved, along with the opening of the B.I.G Baseball Academy will generate more opportunities to increase the 8.5% of African-Americans in MLB to a much high percentile for 2012.