Bauman: Baseball must remain a game for all
CINCINNATI -- For baseball on the topic of race, there are always the familiar, warm congratulations about Jackie Robinson changing American society. But as epic as that event was, it offers no guarantee of the game's future.
There is no doubt that baseball's best moment was April 15, 1947, the day Jackie Robinson arrived in the big leagues. Baseball integrated ahead of American schools, ahead of the American military, and this came at a time when baseball was, relative to the rest of North American sports, much more dominant than it is now.
Commissioner Bud Selig, speaking at the Beacon Awards Luncheon Saturday, called Robinson breaking the racial barrier "the proudest and most important moment in baseball's great history ... our defining moment."
The keynote speaker for this event was Andrew Young, former US ambassador to the United Nations, former Atlanta mayor, former Georgia congressman and a major figure in the long struggle for civil rights. On the topic of Jackie Robinson coming to the Major Leagues, Young said:
"It changed America. And that change has been everlasting."
That is a sweeping comment, but it is made by a man in an excellent position to make exactly that sort of declaration.
But here is something else that Young said: "I'm very glad that we see baseball players all over the world, but I don't want to see them all over the world and not in our inner cities."
And that's the continuing problem. The legacy of Jackie Robinson is proud, glorious, magnificent. But it isn't completely self-sustaining. It requires work -- diligent, time-consuming, committed labor.
The Civil Rights Game, the culmination of the weekend, was played at Great American Ballpark Saturday night between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a contest worthy of the occasion, between first and second-place teams, attended by a sellout crowd of 41,326. The Reds won, 4-3, in suitably dramatic fashion, throwing out the potential tying run at the plate to end the game.
But for the sake of honesty and/or irony it must be reported that the Cardinals at this moment have no African-American players on their roster.
This is not a knock of any sort on the Cardinals. They are not alone in this situation. And on their side of the diversity argument is first baseman Albert Pujols, originally from the Dominican Republic, the best player in the National League. He exemplifies the game's growing, global diversity.
But this year again, fewer than 10 percent of Major Leaguers are African-American. This is roughly one-third the percentage of African-American players during the peak years in the mid-1970s.
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, during a roundtable discussion on Friday, said that baseball ought to put the same amount of resources into youth baseball academies in American cities as it does building and maintaining academies overseas. The American urban academies, Morgan said, would bring the game to a cross-section of young people, not only African-Americans.
"I'm still on that bandwagon," Morgan said of the academies issue. "We need to spend as much here as we do in other places. I thought this was an American game."
Much was made Saturday of the success of baseball's academies in Compton and now Houston. That is fine, but it can only be viewed as a start.
Returning the game to the inner cities is a task that will fall to Major League Baseball. There is no point in looking to municipalities that are out of money, or states that are out of money, or a federal government that is in massive debt, to help out with one sport's demographics.
"I'm putting my hopes in you, in organized baseball," Young said.
That is the only realistic place to put these hopes. There are plans for more urban academies. Those other urban academies can't be created soon enough.
"There is still vast work to be done," the Commissioner said. That recognition is one of the most encouraging things anybody could have heard this weekend.
Baseball has been patting itself on the back for 63 years over Jackie Robinson, and all right, congratulations are still in order for this watershed event in American society. But baseball cannot rest in this area, or the giant step it took will become a museum piece rather than a living part of the game.
The game's greatness is a reflection of the breadth of American society. That greatness can no longer persist if the game is played at the Major League level the way it was before 1947, by only a part of America.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.