Thursday, October 27, 2005

No black baseball players on the Houston Astros?

In light of the coach Deberry comment, I'd like to take the time to bring some attention to the great Hank Aaron's comment that the Houston Astros should have more black athletes on their team.

It seems to me that hammerin' Hank doesn't see the whole picture. He called attention the fact that there are several Latino players on the squad and that's all fine and good, but he's not taking into consideration the sport of baseball.

Believe it or not there are also some cultural aspects to take into consideration as well. Latino baseball players are on the rise while the number of black players on the decline. I don't have any numbers to prove that, but I'll bet that if you had told me that there was a Major League Baseball team with no black players on it, I would have called you an idiot. It just seems to be going that way and if you look at where these players come from you will see why.

In the Dominican Republic and Cuba, baseball is huge. How many stories have we heard of players like Omar Vizquel playing baseball with a milk carton glove? In the Latino countries to our south, being a great baseball player is a way to get into the U.S. and make enough money to support your family for generations to come. It almost seems like there is at least one story like that on every professional baseball team.

You can't expect the children of these poor countries to play football or basketball. You pretty much need a court of some sort to play basketball and if the streets aren't paved, chances are they aren't wasting asphalt on a basketball court. And football is by far the most expensive sport there is. Uniforms, pads, helmets and a gigantic wide open field.

So it's natural to expect a rise in Latinos in baseball.

The decline of the number of black baseball players is also fairly easy to explain. If you were a young black kid in a big urban city, or worse in the projects, that possibly thought that your only way out was through sports, why would you pick baseball?

If you are great football player you get picked up at a big college or even a not so big college. Play for a couple of years or maybe even 5 years and hit the NFL and sign a contract with a couple of million dollar signing bonus. That means money up front.

Millionaire by 22 or 23, but tougher league to play in and no guaranteed contracts. But let's be honest, not everyone is big enough to play offensive line so if you aren't big your options on football are limited. Who wants to get beat up on a weekly basis anyway?

If a kid is good at basketball, up until the new NBA age limit, he could make a huge name for himself against high school kids without even trying hard. If you watched Lebron James play you could tell that he was a 6 foot 8 inch 220 pound man playing a bunch of kids he was at least a half a foot taller than and much faster than. He was a man among boys even when he was playing against high school powers like Oak Hill that is perennially full of future blue chip college players. Then you have Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, Kwame Brown, Jermaine O'Neal, Tracy McGrady and several others with little or no college experience. Kwame Brown is terrible and he's still a millionaire in the NBA.

So what did Lebron do after high school? He declared for the draft and signed a near $100M contract with a shoe company. Then he was drafted and was given the max rookie contract at age 18. At the worst, you can go to college and be a millionaire by 22.

Now take baseball. If you are good you can maybe get drafted out of high school or go to college. If you go to college you still have to go into the minor league system. Then you have to hope that you can outplay 2 or 3 other guys on the 30-man roster for a starting spot at your position. Then you have to play well enough to get moved up through 3 levels of the minor league system each time hoping that you could win that same starting job making maybe 20 grand a year unless you are Drew Henson.

So after playing a few years in the minors and maybe playing winter ball in Mexico, you finally get moved up to the big league team where you might have Rafael Palmiero playing in front of you like a buddy of ours had when he was with the Texas Rangers for a spell.

You can probably count on one hand the players in Major League Baseball that broke into the league when they were 19 or 20 and never got moved back down to the minors. In baseball you have to pay your dues and pay them for a long time.

Of baseball, basketball and football, baseball is the sport that is hardest to make it big in. I've often wondered how many great baseball players have quit the game in the minor league system just because they happened to get there at the wrong time and circumstances beyond their control kept them from moving up. The average rookie age in baseball is probably 24 or 25. That would be 2 or 3 years of minor league ball past college.

Baseball is also the only sport where you have a chance of finding a 30 year-old rookie.

If you wanted to make a bunch of money at a sport, why on earth would you want to play baseball when basketball is practically an express lane?


my_merlin77 said...

I see where you are going with this, but I think you are missing a very important detail: size. If you are in basketball or football, size matters. I recognize that there are kickers and point guards that aren't that tall, but in baseball it is much more possible to make it regardless of height and weight. I recognize that there are some big guys in MLB, but all I am saying is that a "normal" sized person has a better shot of getting in.

BRATCH said...

I see that, but how many guys are 5-10 to 6-2? Point guards and shooting guards can run about that size. There are exceptions, but regardless, you and I both know of a couple of players who legitimately thought the NBA was going to be calling and they weren't even sniffing 6 feet.

That's the point.

Piccu said...

Here's the point, there are two other occupations that are taking black kids out of the baseball pool, rapping and crime. I believe that rapping is now seen as the easiest way to "make it." All you need is one good song and you can make enough, if you are smart with your money, to live off it for a long time.

Crime is the easiest sport to break into, but is the least paid of all. Sometimes it's just easier to break the law than to practice, practice, practice.

Baseball is not the glamorous sport that football and basketball are. You do not see college or high school baseball on TV all the time. I can bet you that a big part of what sport a black kid plays has to do with the amount of exposure he will get. Some may be pressured to play the sport they have a better shot at making money in than playing the sport they love to play.

With baseball, until he is playing his second or third year in the majors, 80% of the public does not know him and that is millions out of his pocket than if he played a different sport.