C.C. to MLB: Can You Hook Some Brothers Up?


C. C. Sabathia is a very lonely man. And an anomaly. He’s a black man in an increasingly white game – and a pitcher.

Last season, the 26-year-old Sabathia – maybe the best pitcher you haven’t heard of – was the only African American on the Cleveland Indians’ roster. Yesterday, after a typical uneven Spring Training start, he spoke out on baseball’s other dilemma – the dearth of black players. “It’s not just in here, it’s everywhere,” Sabathia said Wednesday. “It’s not just a problem — it’s a crisis.”

Sabathia, a 6-foot-7-inch 290-pound hard-throwing lefty, isn’t the first major-league player to lament the lack of black players at baseball’s upper echelon, but he’s a new voice in the discussion. One with some growing credibility. With 81 career wins in six seasons, Sabathia, who grew up in northern California, has more more wins than any other pitcher under 27. Last season he led the American League in complete games with six and was third in ERA (3.22). In His 12-11 record can largely be attributed to the Indians’ woeful bullpen. With reinforcements this season – Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz – Sabathia just might slip from the shadows and emerge as one of baseball’s gamers.

Good for him for speaking out. Others are whispering and wondering if guys like Sabathia – who harkens back to Bib Gibson and Vida Blue – are close to extinction. “I go back home to Vallejo, and the kids say, ‘What’s baseball?’” He said.”It’s not just an issue for my hometown, it’s an issue for the whole country. I think Major League Baseball should do something about it. I don’t know exactly what they could be doing, but I know it’s not enough.”

A 2005 report by the University of Central Florida Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport noted that fewer than 1 in 10 major-league players is African-American. There are teams with no black players. And others, like Cleveland, with only one. (About 6 in 10 MLB players are white; 3 in 10 are Latino.

Baseball continuously touts its urban efforts, from its RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program to the new Urban Academy in Los Angeles. All are noble in spirits but only time will judge their true effect. In the meantime, as the game celebrates Jackie Robinson and others of his era – a gala is being held in Memphis last this month – the game, more and more each season, is growing to look like those first few seasons after the color barrier was broken when black players were a new and intriguing curiosity. Only this time, they are a fading breed.


22 thoughts on “C.C. to MLB: Can You Hook Some Brothers Up?

  1. Juan says:

    CC Sabathia is one of my favorite players to watch. He has slimmed down and looks less like the SS Sabathia and more like CC Sabathia.

    Coincidence that two of my favorite players in MLB, Sabathia and Dontrelle Willis are both young African-Americns from Bay Area.

    Bay Area has always been stomping grounds for scouts looking to get underscouted inner-city talent (Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan, Curt Flood, Rickey Henderson, Claudell Washington)

    I know what Sabathia is saying and I’m glad he said it.

    I only find this disagreeable about his comments:

    “I don’t think people understand that there is a problem. They see players like Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado and just assume that they’re black.”

    Um, those guys are black (and in fact, are darker than Sabathia). Just because they aren’t African-American does not mean they aren’t black.

    Darker Latino ballplayers had to endure the same crap coming up in the minors and bigs in the 50s and 60s as did black players. That is why it is such a shame that Luis Tiant is left off the Black Aces club.

    Sabathia’s understanding of race and the black Latino experience requires some polishing.

    As for the lasting effects of RBI program…

    RBI Baseball alums include Coco Crisp, James Loney, just to name a few. And lots more of their alums (both men and women) have received college scholarships.

    On a side note, I think Sabathia grew up in Northern California and not Southern California.

  2. As a native Clevelander I have always liked CC. Sure, some fans like to rag on him for wearing his hat slanted to the side a bit and his hefty weight (the Tribe lists him at 290lbs in pretty much the same way the T’wolves list Kevin Garnett at 6’11” by the way). He is easily one of the best pitchers in the AL and it’ll be a shame to see him go in 2 years when his next contract dwarfs Zito’s 126 million dollar deal.

    At the same time I don’t feel sorry for the guy one bit.

  3. Derek Wright says:

    I just read CC’s comments and my hats’ off to him for speaking up. They’re aren’t enough “Black” players in the major leagues. I read somewhere that there were more Black players in Major league baseball in the 60’s than there are today. If that’s true, it’s shocking. Unfortunatly, Major League baseball is missing out on an untapped resource of talent because we all know what happens when black people are allowed to become cofortable in a sport…We take it over.
    Oh and Juan, YOU”RE WRONG!!. I’m a huge Mets fan but Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes are Hispanic. They’re not BLACK. I’m sure if you asked them, they’d say the same.

  4. Jordi says:

    I think major league baseball can do a lot more to push baseball to young African Americans. Unfortunately, one of the essential dynamics of the game, the minor leagues, is partly to blame. Take a high school athlete of any ethnicity. Tell him to pick a sport that will put money in his pocket or earn him instant recognition. Odds are he will not pick baseball, with the little attention paid to college baseball and the long, arduous minor league journeys needed to make the big time. Where is the incentive anymore?

  5. CajoleJuice says:

    Baseball is an “increasingly white game”? I’d love to see some statistics on that. I’m pretty sure it’s Hispanics that have been taking over.

  6. blueollie says:

    Hmmm, the proportion of African Americans in the United States is roughly 12.1 % and Latinos is 14.5%. So why is roughly 1 out of 10 out of line?

    Are we going to say that there is a crisis in the NBA because there are fewer than 14.5% Latino players?

    Sorry…I am much more alarmed that African Americans are so underrepresented in science, engineering and mathematics than because they are slightly underrepresented in professional baseball.

    (ok, I am not a baseball fan…)

  7. Alonso says:

    It is unfortunate that Mr. Sabathia as many citizens of the US are confused by the term Hispanic. Hispanic is a cultural term not racial, as such Mr. Delgado and Mr. Reyes are black citizens of a Spanish speaking territory. In such places they are white, blacks, and people of all races or at times mixtures.
    It we follow baseball history, we will note white players from Cuba such as Adolfo Luque, or blacks such as Martin Dihigo or Juan de la Caridad Mendez both in baseball’s Black Hall of Fame; so gentlemen be clear in the differences between race and ethnicity.
    People from Europe were in Sanish seaking lands much before anyone landed in US territory, as were the first blacks from Africa were brought to the Caribbean. Travel to Spain (Europe)or to some Latin American nation such as Uruguay where a majority is over 90% white. Dominican Republic black. Bolivia native american indian, and so on.
    If Mr. Sabathia wants more native blacks from the US to be Major League caliber players, I am sorry for him because baseball is becoming a global sport.

  8. Juan says:

    Alonso.. good stuff man. Good stuff. Preach on.

  9. SJH says:

    I think the 2005 Astros didn’t have any blacks on the team and, even from the mid-90s to now, you’re seeing fewer and fewer brovas.

    But I’m not gonna blame MLB and I won’t even call on them to do more. Obviously it costs more to get into baseball as a kid. The uniforms, the equipment, and to play the actual game, you’ll need at least 18 kids. So economics does play a factor. But why is the NFL mostly black? How come them poor kids in D.R. who have to use milk cartons for gloves and stones for a ball still get it on? I think it’s simply that blacks of my generation and younger don’t like baseball. The slow pace, the ton of down-time, it can be boring. And the big play “reward” isn’t as exciting to watch as in other sports. A 450-foot home run doesn’t bring the level of awe as an amazing dunk or the tension of a flashy, juke-n-dance 75-yard touchdown run. A strikeout doesn’t compare to a vicious tackle. There isn’t the same “ooh, ahh” level.

    To fully appeciate baseball, you have KNOW the game. So to a young’n just watching, he’s not going to understand what’s special about the grip, rotation and movement on Pitcher X’s 2-seamer and how it caused Batter X to ground out 6-3.

    A youngster is gonna gravitate to flash and the display of freakish athletic ability. Those special plays in baseball (like Gary Matthews Jr.’s catch last year) are few and far between. It’s not seen as a cool sport.

    And it’s also an old-time game. The sport that your grandpappy’s grandpappy loved. Knowledge of the game kinda almost has to be passed down. For black kids, the lack of fathers being fathers, I’m sure, plays a role.

    I grew up with just my mother and I always thought baseball was boring. What got me into it is going to school in a heavily Hispanic area. A lot of my friends were Dominican and Puerto Rican (and baseball is deep-rooted in their tradition), so peer pressure and not wanting to left out got me watching it. I was about 10 at the time and coincidentally, that’s when the Yankees started dominating. I’m a Bronx kid just getting into baseball and my “home” team is winning the title every year. That’s what got me into it, and as I got older and watched more and understood the game better, I learned to appreciate the subtle stuff and nuances. When a pitcher follows a 92 mph fastball with a good changeup and gets the batter to pop up because he’s out in front, I get something out that. The lil’ man on the block who doesn’t know the game, isn’t being coaxed to get into it (the rest of the ‘hood ain’t playing it) just sees, “The ball got thrown and the dude didn’t hit it far. So?”

    There’ll never be a huge number of black people in the big leagues. I think it’s something we’re gonna have to accept. Hell, we’ve accepted that brothers don’t play hockey.

  10. I don’t know. What’s the big deal if there aren’t a lot of black men playing baseball?? There aren’t a lot playing hockey either!! Black people are well represented in sports as a whole. It’s no crisis that we haven’t taken over baseball. I think that he should just feel blessed that he has a multi-million dollar talent, shut the hell up, and keep pitching the ball!

  11. basher says:

    Hey C.C. now you know what the one white or hispanic player (if any)on a team in basketball goes through.But they don’t dare to say something or their considered a racist .So let me ask you what makes you so different ?Baseball is a team sport you shouldn’t be looking at the next man skin .Blacks perfer basketball and footbal CC.If you don’t like your surrounding’s maybe you should take your sub par game to basketball and take that cheat Bonds with you .I think that’s a pretty racist evaluation of C.C.’S AND HIS WORDS ….

  12. SitR says:

    Juan and Alonzo– you make good points about darker skinned “hispanics” being considered Black, but I would like to add that it is how those players self-identify that really matters. Also, baseball has always been a global game, look at the talent in the West Indies, Korea and Japan. Its only now that the MLB is attempting to be more globally dominant. For CC to want native Blacks to be a part of that is his perogative. Global domination is one thing, but are you willing to achieve this at the expense of a built in audience at home?

  13. Juan says:

    Self-identification is key for sure with the Latin players. However, they have never been asked to identify themselves, sadly, it is often done for them. (they came up in Negro Leagues too)

    I would guess that if you asked these players and you gave them a choice between “Hispanic” or “Black” they would choose Hispanic, because the term in contemporary Latin society implies “Spanish -speaking.” And the term “black” carries none of that implication, so while “Hispanic” is not 100% accurate, it would be more, so to define these players than just “black.”

  14. Bill says:

    Roberto Clemente, in speaking about his treatment in the mainland US during the 50s, referred to himself as “a double (‘n-word’ inserted here…),” because he was black and spoke Spanish…

    Baseball is a tradition passed through fathers and grandfathers. When fathers mattered in Black communities (up until about 1970…), baseball prospered with Black folks.

    When single Black motherhood was championed, welfare and child support as a replacement for fathers was promoted – baseball died in The Community…

    No well meaning league program can change that reality.

  15. Derek says:

    Sure there is not an abundance of African American players in the league , the bigger question is why …. Basketball and Football is the answer. I just think it’s a case of what you are introduced to and what you can relate to in the end.

    These kids see Football and Basketball players as Ballers with nice rides and jewelry and think thats what I want to be like because thats how they are marketed….. ballers and thats what sells the kids on the sports.

  16. I grew up playing baseball and about as hooked on it as anyone could be. On opening day I always had my portable AM/FM radio complete with earpiece running under my shirt so the teacher wouldn’t notice (yeah right). Baseball isn’t being picked up in African American communities because its not marketed there. For comparison sake, Georgia high school baseball programs have been churning out pro prospects en mass over the last 10 years. You would never know it by the amount of attention it receives from the local media. All five classifications of H.S. football semifinals and basketball finals are televised every year. Baseball doesn’t even get radio.

    Black youths already feel invisible in this country. One way they can get the attention is to be a star in a highly glamorized sport. How many baseball players lead glamorous lives? Most are low key guys that play golf in the off-season. Wow so exciting. When LeBron James and Dwight Howard were in high school their names were on everybody’s lips all around the country thanks in part to the McDonald’s All-American game and other prep analyst programs. What prep athlete wouldn’t want that kind of recognition? There is no equivalent for prep baseball.

    MLB has to get their game up domestically.

  17. Chris says:

    We need to do something about dwindling numbers of blacks playing professional baseball. It’s an injustice that cannot stand.
    While I have your attention, I think we should also do something about the lack of caucasian in the NBA and NFL. I’m tired of having to watch MLB and the NHL to see white faces in uniforms.

    So, here is my solution. I think the NBA should put a freeze on drafting & signing black players. For 5 years, the NBA should only draft and sign non-black players. Likewise, the NHL and MLB should ONLY sign blacks. Ridiculous? So was the premise of the article. The reality is that Baseball and Hockey do not attract blacks.

  18. Dennis says:

    First of all there are plenty of blacks in baseball, however they may not be from the U.S. . I wish that African Americans would understand that the this country is not the only place where people of African descent are from. We are all born of the same ancestry that being African and European or “White” second, and we can be from the U.S., Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, Dominican Republic, Brazil, etc.

    With that said, the concern may be for the lack of African-American baseball players, but certainly there is no lack of black ball players. A player like Sabathia should be able to feel some sort of kinship with his Hispanic brother, because at the enc of the day they are all black and would most likely have more in common then they white teammates. Speaking as someone who has grown up in NY in a neighborhood where most African Americans and Hispanics from Puerto Rico and The Dominican Republic live together, aside from speaking spanish I’ve always felt a certain bond with them, a big part being our color, music, and even some our foods. I’ve also traveled to the Dominican Republic and the people are very embracing of African Americans because we look like them and most people thought I was Dominican until they found out that I couldn’t speak spanish very well. As people of African descent not what country we’re from we all face the same issues of poverty and racism at that is something that wiill always keep us bonded and continue to remind us of the history of slavery that is legacy that we all share.

    So, don’t worry about blacks in baseball, we will always be represented by some of the most talented athletes the world has to offer!

  19. Pop says:

    People are very ignorant. To say players such as Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado are not black is ridiculous. “Hispanic” is not a race, and speaking “Spanish” does not make you a Spaniard. Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado would have been just as banned as Jackie Robinson before ’47. There are a ton of black Latino players in the game, so there a large number of players with African descent in the bigs. There is a dearth of African AMERICAN players, meaning black people that were born here as opposed to the Dominican Republic or Cuba.

  20. Anthony says:

    “Can’t we all just get along?”

    Baseball is too big for all this bickering.

    Although I admire and respect all you litigators out there. Kudos on your arguments.

    None of this color talk is relevant to the game itself.

    Enjoy the series CC. You’re having a good year. I not.

    A Padre/Angels fan.

  21. Joe says:

    Sabathia is quite an ignorant individual. After sounding the alarm on this stupid non-issue, he essentially says that it’s a crisis and that MLB should do something about it. Trouble is, dumb ol’ C.C. can’t think of one single solitary suggestion.

  22. Jesus Prieto says:

    I am a Dominican of African descent from Barahona and this argument is more about language than it is “race”. To dare say David Ortiz is not of African descent because he speaks spanish, yet Sabathia who is lighter skinned is “black” because he speaks english is an argument that would have spanish,french,dutch and english slave owners all in agreement:THE EXPERIMENT WORKED!

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