“I’m an endangered species: a Black baseball fan.”
This link is to the 7-minute segment that Chris Rock had on the show “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel”. Like Rock, I am “an endangered species”. I grew up watching baseball on Saturday afternoons and nights; not having cable or dish, I mainly listened to baseball on the radio the other 6 nights. I saw my favorite team, the Reds, sweep the A’s for the 1990 World Series title and loved it as a 12-year-old. Barry Larkin, Tony Gwinn, Ken Griffey, Jr., Doc Gooden, the “Nasty Boys” bullpen, The Atlanta Braves’ pitching staff in the early-mid ’90s, Ozzie Smith, Dave Justice, Kirby Puckett, and Chris Sabo were just some of my favorite players – race never mattered to me. The Reds and Braves are still my favorite 2 teams today.
Chris Rock brings up good points about baseball and blacks, especially once you peel some of the comedy away from them.
First, the game is too slow and too obsessed with ‘traditions’. Not only is it turning off younger black folks, it’s turning off all younger folks. It’s nice to look back at what came before, but not at the expense of staying stuck there. The game is slow. Things such as batters’ rituals between every pitch – stepping out of the box to adjust their gloves, pull on their caps, kick dirt, kick dirt on top of that dirt, and count the number of people in Section 100 Row 3, THEN step back to the plate – are dragging the game along, yet are accepted as “part of the game”.
Second, there is almost no place for cheering a great or spectacular play, something that the few black fans that I know all say is a buzz-kill. I’m not advocating doing a 1990’s-University-of-Miami-esque Touchdown Dance if you hit a double. However, if you hit a Home Run, and you want to pump your fist rounding 1st base, you should be able to do so. Heck, your own fans might get even more excited if they see YOU showing some enthusiasm. Instead, you must be robotic and trot around the bases (at a certain speed; run too slow and you might see retaliation at your next AB), maybe high-5 a teammate, and go to the dugout… or you could a baseball to the ribs. “Part of the tradition”. Yaaay, robotic ‘excitement’ and traditions.
One thing that Chris Rock missed in that segment is how to bring the black youth back to baseball. Playing Rap walk-up music won’t do it alone, although hearing “King Kong” by Jibbs would get me more excited about watching a batter than some Jason Aldean garbage. Baseball needs to do MUCH more with the Inner City youth, to start. Have some local and regional players visit schools and talk to the kids about baseball. Have an MLB-sponsored Day At The Yard (or something similar), where local inner city kids can either get in for free or have a “behind the scenes” pass with reduced admission, something that the minor league teams will do on occasion. Promote one of the black players on regional TV more – for example, Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips for the Reds, in places like Louisville, KY, Dayton, OH, and Lexington, KY – so that kids have the chance to latch onto them, possibly earning life-long fans in the process.
Baseball needs to do something to bring the black fans back to baseball. It could start with speeding the game up. It could allow at least some celebrations of big scoring plays (within reason), without worrying about getting a “traditional” baseball thrown at you the next time up to bat. Mainly, baseball needs to get the black youth back interested in baseball.