Has Baseball Betrayed Jackie Robinson?

Mike Fitzpatrick, AP, April 11, 2007

As Major League Baseball prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s landmark achievement on Sunday, there are growing concerns about the sport’s racial makeup.

Only 8.4 percent of big league players last season were blackthe lowest number in at least two decades. In 1995, 19 percent of major leaguers were black, according to Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

“Obviously, he would not be satisfied with where we are now,” Rachel Robinson said, referring to the man she still calls Jack. “He would be disappointed, because he felt we were on the way toward some lasting change.”

Has baseball betrayed Jackie Robinson?

“That’s what it seems like to methat all the work he’s done is almost for nothing,” Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. “Because look where we are. We should be progressing. We’re regressing.”

To be fair, baseball is undeniably diverse in certain areas. More and more players are coming from Asia and especially Latin America. According to Lapchick, 29.4 percent of players last season were Latino and 2.4 percent were Asian. That means 40.5 percent were minorities, just below baseball’s all-time high of 42 percent in 1997.

When evaluating opportunities for minorities in sports, does it matter which minorities?

It does to Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner’s office and an architect of this spring’s inaugural Civil Rights Game. His concern is baseball could reach a point where it’s too late to stem the tide of indifference among black fans.

“Baseball more than any other sport has a heritage that it links with African-Americans and African-American participation,” said Solomon, who is black. “We don’t want to lose that heritage, that linkage.

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Teams and players, including Hunter, are sponsoring projects that provide equipment and teach baseball to inner-city kids.

“We’re very sensitive to the problem,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “I think for a long time baseball, unfortunately, from the late ‘60s on, moved away from the inner cities, maybe not even consciously, but did. But I think these initiatives are going to be very, very helpful.”

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