So, it’s no surprise that Jackie Robinson Day once again dredged up the rumblings about the African-American presence in Major League Baseball. And I’ll admit that the stats definitely don’t lie. In 1995, African-Americans made up 17% of MLB rosters. Today, the number is somewhere around 10%. That’s a pretty big drop in 15 years, especially considering it was even lower a few years ago. But as any real baseball fan knows, stats don’t always tell the whole story.
Of course, it did not take this latest anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color barrier to bring this issue back into the limelight. Last month, Torii Hunter had plenty to say on the subject, much of which is the same stuff he and other African-American players have been saying for awhile. But one of his statements certainly stirred up some minor controversy. He told USA Today, “It’s like, ‘Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?’ . . . I’m telling you, it’s sad.”
Now, as offensive as Hunter’s statement may be to some, it does actually have within it a nugget of enlightenment. The massive influx of Latin (and then followed by Asian) ballplayers certainly has helped to diminish the number of black players…and white players…and all colors in-between. It’s not like this has affected only African-Americans. It’s across the board.
The reality is, this is the year 2010. A man named Barack Obama is the American President. There will always be prejudices in the hearts of men, because it’s just a natural response to that which is different. But grand institutional bigotry is a thing of the past. The owners of professional sports franchises only care about getting the best players they can within their budget constraints. That’s it. They don’t care what color they are or where they are from.
Thus, even though African-Americans only make up about 10% of the MLB players today, I think it’s quite unfair for certain commentators to make the claim that the legacy of Jackie Robinson is somehow getting lost. If anything, his legacy, as well as the appreciation of baseball’s history in general, is stronger than ever thanks to the game’s global presence.