World Championships highlight dwindling black players in America’s past

As a child, Marquis Grissom Jr. would sometimes shed tears in the car while returning home from youth baseball games.

He cried because he heard “racist comments” from his white opponents – players and especially parents, he said – while competing on the field with a black youth team in Atlanta.

I wonder: why do they hate me? “I’m a good person,” he recalls. “I didn’t know how to deal with it at 11 years old.”

In the eight years since, Grissom — the son of a former Major League player (named after him) and now a sophomore for Georgia Tech — still occasionally hears insensitive racist comments, he said. But they were drowned out by his indomitable determination to reach the major tournaments.

With the World Championships kicking off this weekend between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros, the stark shortage of black players on both teams, and MLB in general, is not lost on Grissom. The Braves and Astros each have one black player on their World Championships roster: Terrance Gore of Atlanta and Michael Brantley of Houston. Most MLB teams had two or fewer black players, and three had none at the start of the season. Meanwhile, about 50 percent of the league is made up of Latino players.

a study It was released in August and noted that black players make up less than 8 percent of players in the major leagues, a telling number as baseball celebrated the centenary of the Negro Leagues in 2021. In the 1970s, the percentage of black players was more than double what it today.

“I’ve definitely noticed that there aren’t a lot of black players right now,” said Grissom Jr. “You can’t help but notice.”

Major League Baseball is making efforts to increase these numbers, including through the RBI program, which works to improve participation among underserved communities through youth tournaments and programs; The MLB Breakthrough Series, which focuses on developing players through the highest level of instruction and competition against college coaches and professional scouts; A 10-year commitment to support Players Alliance, a social justice platform focused on improving the participation of black athletes in baseball.

However, the numbers are trivial, and the reasons abound, as Jackie Robinson’s incorporation of baseball dates back to 1947, according to popular culture critic Gerald Early. In the years since Robinson broke the color barrier, players escaped from the Negro leagues to the major leagues. Earley, a professor of African American studies at Washington University in St. Louis, said the business structure of the Negro League is “largely over”.

“And so, it wasn’t an intrinsic part of black culture anymore because black people weren’t just playing,” Early added. Blacks ran it as a business; They own the difference. Blacks were coaches and blacks were general managers. So, it all went too far, and I think it had an impact on the general black interest in the sport.”

He said early that after the 1970s, interest in baseball declined in black communities, leading to today’s concerns.

Three young black baseball players — Grissom, high school star Colin Jones and junior college star Michael Ashley — have chosen baseball, taking different paths and at different points in their journeys that they hope will land them in the Major League.

But they have a common goal of wanting to be the change that inspires the next generation of young black athletes to pursue America’s favorite pastime.

The way through college

“We, as young players, have to make sure that our community sees baseball as a great sport and one that our kids should play,” Grissom said. “MLB is trying, but we can’t leave it to them. I feel like I have to get there and be a face and a voice that they can relate to and follow. That’s what can make a difference.”

Grissom started out as a youngster playing with all his black teammates – even college. He was part of his father’s Marquis Grissom Baseball League, an association that Grissom Sr. established in Atlanta in 2006 that has developed over 2,000 young blacks in baseball. The player receives instructions and training from the previous major leagues and plays travel ball against teams of elite players.

“We have to do like the Latin players,” said Grissom Sr., who played for the Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers in a 13-year career. “Professional players go home and teach the game, invest in their youth.”

His son is one of half a dozen black players on Georgia Tech’s 45-player roster.

“It’s different from what I’m used to,” said Grissom Jr. “It’s been great to play my whole life with my buddies, and friends, who are like me, and have the same experiences that I’ve had. Despite that, at Georgia Tech, it’s still great because we’re a team of good guys. Playing in the city with the skyline behind you, man. “It’s cool, crazy. But I always know I’m setting an example for the kids who come after me. And that’s how we develop the game for black kids. Play the right way. Be a good role model. Do like my dad did and go back to the community and support and teach the game.”

on a fast track

Will Jones was reluctant to share his son’s baseball exploits. Not anymore.

16-year-old Colin Jones rose to become one of the nation’s top high school players as a sophomore—a skilled, proficient quarterback who is among the fastest high school students in America on the core tracks.

Colin Jones.Dr. Will Jones

“I am not surprised by his success because he is trying his best to be great,” said the father. “But I’m surprised he has this job for someone so young.”

This mission is to change baseball as much as it is the #1 pick from high school in the 2024 MLB Draft. “I can’t do it on my own, but I want to become a player that relates to and motivates young black players to get involved in baseball,” said Colin Jones. “Right now, it’s not a game we generally want to play. I think it’s getting better, however, if I can inspire others by going back and telling my story and showing them the way, then I’ll do my job. That’s important to me.”

He teaches at Georgia Premier Academy in Statesboro, Georgia, the only high school in the state that specializes in baseball. B-plus student, goes to class from 8 a.m. to noon and practices or plays baseball from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

He said, “Every day.” “And I am lucky that not everyone can go down that path. Baseball can be expensive and prevent some kids from playing. I just work hard to make the best use of my situation so that I can help others get involved in the sport. I don’t look at This trip is just for me.”

No black teammates

Michael Ashley giving a presentation to Johnson County Community College in Overland, Kansas. He said he plays there because “my heart is interested in it and when yours is in baseball, chances are there can develop no matter where you are.”

Ashley, who can throw a fastball at 94 mph, went 6-0 last year with 47 attacks and 14 walks, and has caught the attention of no fewer than five colleges that want him to move after this season, like many of his teammates before. for him.

Michael Ashley.Johnson County Community

He is the only black player on his team. But he said he is not deterred.

“Baseball is chess and checkers, and I love that part of the game, 14 minutes of nothing and then the two minutes of awesomeness,” Ashley said. “It’s not for everyone. But I like it so much that being the only black player doesn’t bother me. We are my teammates and these are my buddies.

“But I love being a leader and showing a large number of black players what baseball is like. I can tell them what the journey is like. This is how we can raise the numbers. I help other kids get into the game and they help the next generation. Maybe that sounds too simple , but I’m driven by that idea.”

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