I could be wrong (though not likely), but the results of an AP-AOL Sports poll released Thursday regarding the popularity of baseball – or, more correctly, the lack of popularity – were not all that surprising. Only about one in three Americans considers themselves a fan of the sport. That’s fewer than a similar poll revealed 16 years ago, but no surprise for myriad reasons, including the ongoing steroid mess.
Yes the stadiums have been rocking during the playoffs and ratings have been respectable, but as I watched the games I could not help but notice something more telling – the dearth of faces of color in the stands.
Yes, this is DE-troit.
Their absence was most telling on televised games from New York and Detroit, two of the nation’s most ethnically diverse cities. St. Louis also has a significant black population. But you wouldn’t know it from watching games at Busch Stadium. Sure, there were African American, Latino and Asian fans at the games. There had to be.
Baseball recognizes its lack of black players – only four will play in the upcoming World Series, all outfielders: Curtis Granderson, Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames of the Tigers, and the Cardinals’ Preston Wilson. (Wow, that’s only four more than played in last season’s Stanley Cup Finals) The sport is trying to address the troubling trend in a number of ways, including the creation on an academy in the heart of the ‘hood in Los Angeles, which baseball hopes will help teams find more talent from the area’s poorest areas.
But the elephant in the room everyone seems to be ignoring is the dearth of blacks and other people of color in the stands.
Is baseball now White America’s pastime?
...in Boston Last Season…
This is not a new question, or a lame attempt at race-baiting. Four years ago, the Chicago Tribune asked the question and cited some telling stats. A poll conducted for the Chicago White Sox in 2000 found only 20 percent of the team’s fans where black. Sixty-three percent were white, 13 percent Latino (a figure that’s likely risen since due to the team’s success under Latino manager Ozzie Guillen). The article also cited a study by the Simmons Market Research Bureau in New York that found only 6.4 percent of fans attending Major League Baseball games were African American, down from 7.3 percent four years earlier.
For playoffs crowds, I’m not even sure pollsters could come up with black faces to even register statistically.
…and in St. Louis. (all photos courtesy AP.)
Here’s where the AP-AOL Sports poll missed the mark. The Tribune article also noted an ESPN/Chilton study revealing that only about 10 percent of people who considered themselves baseball fans were black. Nearly three in four were white, while 11.5 percent were Latino.
The AP-AOL poll could have been truly revealing if it had asked the race of those questioned and offered a breakdown of both those who said they were fans and those who said they weren’t.
Again the results probably wouldn’t be surprising. Baseball was the most popular sport among blacks of my parents generation. I was raised rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals and played the sport through high school. I doubt my son will make it that far. Since he began playing when he was eight years old, he’s always been either the only black player on the team, or one of only two or three. He’s 12 now and played this summer. He watches the games with me, but only in short bursts – usually to pick up hitting tips. And while he claims the Yankees as his team, he cared not one iota when they were swept from the playoffs by the Tigers. (That it happened while he was asleep is another story altogether.)
His closet is packed with basketball and football jerseys, but not a single baseball shirt.
There is no easy solution. Baseball does not have a transcended black star who resonates with young blacks (Sorry Derek Jeter). The last “cool” black baseball player may have been Ken Griffey, Jr., who’s now well past his prime.
Baseball is right to focus energy and resources to attract and nurture the next generation of black players. But the fruits of those efforts will not manifest themselves for years. More must be done now to cultivate this generation of black fans, and to get more ethnic diversity into the stadiums across the nation. Otherwise the image of the sport at its most visible time will continue to fade to white.