Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Baseball Primer Newsblog > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Daily Breeze: BASEBALL’S BLACKOUT

Rod Nelson sent this to the SABR-L list. John Klima takes a thought-provoking look at the decline in the number of African-Americans who are playing baseball, and offers this possible explanation:

The last great generation of black stars, players such as Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry, who entered the game in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, were players signed on the basis of how they played in high school and in sandlot games. That structure has now been replaced by an expansive system of travel baseball, an expensive undertaking that has prohibited many African-American kids from playing.

and

While the game trumps the arrival of young stars like Delmon Young and Lastings Milledge, it fails to mention that baseball attracts only the African-American players with enough affluence to support an amateur baseball career.

That explanation makes sense to me. There has been an explosion in travel ball and in the number of summer showcases over the past 5-10 years, and the showcases represent a fast - and relatively inexpensive - way to scout talent, both for the major league teams and for the colleges. If the inner-city African-American kid can’t afford to play travel ball or attend a showcase, well - that’s his tough luck (or as my Dad used to say, el tougho).

Also (thanks to Cris E):

St Paul Pioneer Press: The Changing Face of the Game—Baseball’s Blackout: Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Mike Emeigh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 01:43 PM | 30 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: college, minor leagues

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. John Walsh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:14 PM (#2095225)
What is travel ball?
   2. 1k5v3L Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:17 PM (#2095226)
   3. bunyon Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:17 PM (#2095228)
What is travel ball?

Insanity, with a touch of stupidity, a dash of parental negligence topped with arrogance and petulance.
   4. TerpNats Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:21 PM (#2095232)
This subject has been discussed frequently in recent years, but I did see several new perspectives here, such as "travel ball." Although if you look at other sports such as basketball, AAU programs and other "showcases" have also grown considerably. And no one would contend that limits black participation.

I know Frank Robinson feels strongly about this, too, and I would hope that assuming he stops managing the Nationals after this season, he'll work to help build youth baseball in the District, Prince George's County, and other parts of the metro area with large black populations where baseball interest is lagging. I believe as part of the stadium agreement with D.C., MLB is going to establish an Urban Academy here. It's a good investment, not just for the sport on the field, but at the gate as well. You can't succeed in marketing MLB if a significant minority population shows little or no interest.
   5. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:22 PM (#2095234)
What is travel ball?


Here's an example to add to Levski's.

-- MWE
   6. Cris E Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:22 PM (#2095235)
You forgot the vicarious thrills from getting to watch what wasn't available for you to do in 1978. In many disturbing ways it's like forty year old men checking out high school girls with their sons.
   7. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:26 PM (#2095238)
Although if you look at other sports such as basketball, AAU programs and other "showcases" have also grown considerably. And no one would contend that limits black participation.


Two points:

1. It doesn't cost nearly as much to outfit a basketball team as it does to outfit a baseball team.
2. It's a lot easier to funnel "street money" into summer basketball (although not as easy as it used to be).

-- MWE
   8. 2ndedition Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:26 PM (#2095239)
But "travelball" works for recruiting basketball playing African Americans, why doesn't it work for baseball? My guess is that the baseball playing young athlete of former generations is playing basketball today. Basketball doesn't require the space that baseball does and is more compatible with the inner-city landscape.
   9. McCoy Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:32 PM (#2095245)
Not being able to "afford" travelball is only an answer if black kids are playing baseball at lower levels but stopping or are being over looked at higher levels. The answer of travelball doesn't make much sense if blackkids are not playing T-Ball in great numbers or any kind of baseball whatsoever. What are black kids numbers in normal children's baseball groups? Is the number high or low?
   10. Antigonos Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:32 PM (#2095246)
There has been an explosion in travel ball and in the number of summer showcases over the past 5-10 years, and the showcases represent a fast - and relatively inexpensive - way to scout talent, both for the major league teams and for the colleges. If the inner-city African-American kid can’t afford to play travel ball or attend a showcase, well - that’s his tough luck

Hmmmm if this is true...and i'm not 100% sold on it..sounds like it would be a great place for some underresourced teams to spend some scouting money. It has to be cheaper to scout inner-city players in the US then going international?
   11. Cris E Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:35 PM (#2095249)
There's been a series on this topic all week in the St Paul paper. The inital jumping off point is the fact that this All Star Game has but one black starter and that's the lowest total since the fifties. It's really been a good read, but as far as I can tell their whole web site seems down and I can't read it.

Google All Related -- The Changing Face of the Game
   12. Cris E Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:44 PM (#2095262)
It has to be cheaper to scout inner-city players in the US then going international?


But if they aren't playing then you have to teach them baseball before you can scout them. That's the point of the Academy and the programs that MLB and others are starting to push.
   13. Antigonos Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:50 PM (#2095274)
But if they aren't playing then you have to teach them baseball before you can scout them. That's the point of the Academy and the programs that MLB and others are starting to push.

ah well..guess i should RTFA. My impression from the intro was that scouts were bypassing inner-city kids because they weren't on these travel ball teams. Not simply because they weren't playing...
   14. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 02:57 PM (#2095287)
Many localities have eliminated or greatly reduced youth baseball programs beyond Little League (and some have even cut LL) because of the cost.

From the LL Web site: In 1996, there were 7452 leagues "officially" affiliated with Little League, with 2,589,045 participants. By 2004, the figure had dropped to 7139 "official" affiliated leagues and 2,301,330 participants. In 2005, the number of leagues jumped back up to 7408, but the number of participants dropped further, to 2,281,725 (the lowest figure since 1991). The 2006 tentative figure shows a slight increase to 2,294,910 (it'll probably go back above 2.3 million when everything is finalized). Note that this is also LL "worldwide" - the figures are not broken out by US and non-US - and that from what I can tell, interest in LL is growing overseas (especially in Europe), so my guess is that if you were to split out US and non-US participation the figures would show an even steeper decline in US participation. LL also made a change in the age determination date this year, which they admit might have allowed some 12-year olds an extra year in the program.

What I have seen is that the number of "local" opportunities for players to play is getting smaller at the same time that travel teams are growing, making it only natural for kids as young as 10 to move toward travel ball. And travel baseball is not anywhere close to being as well-subsidized as travel basketball (for a number of reasons, most notably that baseball requires a bigger up-front investment), so kids have to pay their own way much more.

-- MWE
   15. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 03:01 PM (#2095293)
My impression from the intro was that scouts were bypassing inner-city kids because they weren't on these travel ball teams. Not simply because they weren't playing...


Extending on my comment in #14:

The reason that inner-city kids aren't playing is IMO two-fold:

1. They're essentially locked out of travel ball because they can't pay the price to get in;
2. There are few, or no, other opportunities available to them to play anywhere else.

-- MWE
   16. Cris E Posted: July 11, 2006 at 03:40 PM (#2095363)
That #2 point isn't quite right. The parks are there, but the kids don't seem to play if the games aren't organized or someone gets them started. I stayed late after my kids' tball game two weeks ago to throw them some pitches and run around after the field was clear. (In fact it was open at 7:15 on a weeknight and the grocery cart full of the tball gear was still sitting there.) There were a couple of kids hanging around who looked like they wanted to play too, so we invited them to jump in. Of the four boys, African-American roughly aged eight or ten, it was apparent that one had swung a bat before but three hadn't (they weren't standing in the box so much as behind the plate, had the wrong hand on top, hands way apart, etc.) Once we fiddled around a little and they had some idea what to do they had a blast. We stayed for a half hour and they were still playing when we left. It was all there but they hadn't really ever played, didn't have anyone to learn from, and weren't inclined to dive in to start figuring it out on their own.

If you want to get all Big Picture about it, I'd say that I learned to play from the other kids on our block and from my father. We played in the street and at the park, and we had equipment around. My kids (6 and 8) play with me in the yard and in organized games during the season, but not at the park, not in the street, and not with borrowed equipment, nor do their friends play the game. On the other hand, yesterday was the first time my son brought his glove to his buddy's house, so there may be hope...
   17. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 03:44 PM (#2095369)
There's been a series on this topic all week in the St Paul paper.


Links are now posted in the header. Excellent read. (Cris, I closed the separate entry to keep the comments in one thread.)

-- MWE
   18. Francis Posted: July 11, 2006 at 03:57 PM (#2095395)
From the LL Web site: In 1996, there were 7452 leagues "officially" affiliated with Little League, with 2,589,045 participants. By 2004, the figure had dropped to 7139 "official" affiliated leagues and 2,301,330 participants.

Most of the professional baseball players of today stopped playing Little League well before 1996 so this really isn't the issue.

You are probably right that travel ball makes participation difficult for poor kids and since blacks are disproportionaly poor that it is harmful to their chances. But talent is talent. Most high schools, be they inner city* or otherwise still have baseball programs. Talented athletes stick out no matter where they're playing and by whom they are coached. I think that this would be an exploitable market inefficiency that would not last long.

I just think that baseball is not as popular with American youth as it once was and this is the first place that we are noticing.

* Where is the "inner city" located? Is that just where black people live? I don't want to pick on anybody because it is a commonly used term. But isn't it always meant to mean the place where poor blacks live?
   19. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 06:32 PM (#2095564)
Most of the professional baseball players of today stopped playing Little League well before 1996 so this really isn't the issue.


Well, yes and no. From what I can tell, LL's explosive growth period from 1985 (when they went over 2 million participants for the first time) to 1995 was primarily outside the US. LL was pretty stagnant in the 60s and early 70s, until the foreign half of the LLWS bracket was opened up. (For a long time, only one non-US team was invited to compete in the LL WS.)

You are probably right that travel ball makes participation difficult for poor kids and since blacks are disproportionaly poor that it is harmful to their chances. But talent is talent. Most high schools, be they inner city or otherwise still have baseball programs. Talented athletes stick out no matter where they're playing and by whom they are coached.


High school programs are being cut back, too - and there are other complicating factors. From the Pioneer Press article linked in the header:

Hal McRae, a former all-star player and manager for the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, said the major factor in the decline was desegregation of public schools in the 1960s and '70s, along with a coinciding rise in spring football.

Some spring baseball players were therefore lost to football; others found it more difficult to play sports at their new school because they were bused there in the morning but were faced with finding their own way home if they stayed after school for sports, he said.

"You had the same deal with football and basketball, but it seemed somehow the school always provided a way for the football players or basketball players to get home."


(emphasis added by me)

Klima also notes:

Some in the African-American community suggest junior college and four-year college coaches shy away from recruiting black players because they fear developing their skills and accepting the social, economic and family responsibilities that often accompany an inner-city athlete.


There are two issues there, and while the second one is probably bigger, the first one - skill development - is also a consideration that shouldn't be downplayed. An elite college or juco team (as Klima indicates elsewhere in the article) is not inclined to take on a raw, undeveloped talent, especially one who might need a lot of off-the-field training as well as on-the-field training.

Add in the increasing pressure to specialize in a sport early (which the Pioneer Press article mentions in passing), and you get the situation which we now have. It's not something that developed overnight, and it's not something that will be fixed overnight.

-- MWE
   20. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: July 11, 2006 at 07:19 PM (#2095606)
1.
Hmmmm if this is true...and i'm not 100% sold on it..sounds like it would be a great place for some underresourced teams to spend some scouting money. It has to be cheaper to scout inner-city players in the US then going international?
Leaving aside the clarification in your next post, it's not clear to me that it "has to be cheaper" anyway. Scouts aren't well paid in the U.S. -- but you can still hire a bunch of scouts in, say, the Dominican for the price of one American. Moreover, the return is a hell of a lot better in the Dominican; if you find someone, you sign him. In the U.S., there's the Draft.

2.
Add in the increasing pressure to specialize in a sport early (which the Pioneer Press article mentions in passing), and you get the situation which we now have. It's not something that developed overnight, and it's not something that will be fixed overnight.
Why does it need to be "fixed"? The article doesn't suggest MLB is discriminating; there just aren't as many black amateur prospects. Does the NBA sit around wondering how to convince white 10-year olds to play basketball?

3. I'm not saying anything in the article is wrong, but isn't it rather a big omission to ignore that there's been a vast expansion in Latin talent in MLB? By definition, if the participation rate of one group goes up, the participation rate of other groups must go down.
   21. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 07:36 PM (#2095625)
Why does it need to be "fixed"?


MLB (or at least Chairman Bud) seems to think that it does, portions of the African-American community seem to think that way, and some ballplayers - notably Torii Hunter (see Part 2 of the Pioneer Press series) - seem to think that it does. At least they think that more opportunities need to be made available. Right now, I think the question is whether the opportunity is there; I don't think we're at a point where we can legitimately say, "well, the opportunities are there, but the A-A players just don't want to take advantage of them".

I'm not saying anything in the article is wrong, but isn't it rather a big omission to ignore that there's been a vast expansion in Latin talent in MLB?


Yes. But is the expansion in Latin talent a cause of, or a result of, the decrease in available African-American talent? IOW, are teams going after Latin talent (which isn't exactly a cheap operation, either) because there isn't enough US talent to go around, or are they systematically downscaling their efforts in the States because there is so much talent available elsewhere?

I will say that Latin talent is attractive in part because there's a lower age restriction on the signing of said talent (as well as no draft). You can sign 16-YO and 17-YO players in the DR and VZ and stash them on your DSL/VSL team for a year or two, under your control and tutelage, rather than having said players outside your control and asking for huge money to boot.

-- MWE
   22. Cris E Posted: July 11, 2006 at 08:02 PM (#2095659)
Another concern voiced in the third part of the Pioneer Press series is a more general unease with how a lot of things fought for and won by the Civil Rights movement have slid back. The loss of baseball jobs is part and parcel of bigger losses such as a separate and thriving black business community or the Negro Leagues. While it may not resonate with you it does bother a lot of the A-A people quoted.
   23. laurent1056 Posted: July 11, 2006 at 08:55 PM (#2095712)
Does anyone think that perhaps if the resources spent in the latin american countries were spent at home in the US there would be perhaps an opportunity to exploit an underdeveloped market. For example if say, the Tigers spend $50,000 to create an academy at old Tiger Stadium? Who knows it may be that the cycle is shifting. That money could be turned back into the United States and academies set up in every big city would help. I mean, think about the old stories of John McGraw having open tryouts at the Polo Ground? Where can a kid do that now without having to travel to florida, california or Arizona? It would be interesting to know if that is being thought about?
An American City Academy? I never understood why MLB teams didn't have youth teams in addition to their minor leagues? The Europeans do that with soccer players.
   24. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: July 11, 2006 at 09:07 PM (#2095725)
Does anyone think that perhaps if the resources spent in the latin american countries were spent at home in the US there would be perhaps an opportunity to exploit an underdeveloped market. For example if say, the Tigers spend $50,000 to create an academy at old Tiger Stadium?
Again, I want to reiterate: the draft makes this a bad investment. If you succeed in developing players, you've spent money to develop players, but you don't have anything to show for this investment except an increase in the overall talent pool available to all teams. That's a lousy return on investment; the only value is, perhaps, good P.R. for the team that does this.

Whereas money spent in a Latin country can provide a direct return.
   25. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 11, 2006 at 09:22 PM (#2095745)
If you succeed in developing players, you've spent money to develop players, but you don't have anything to show for this investment except an increase in the overall talent pool available to all teams. That's a lousy return on investment; the only value is, perhaps, good P.R. for the team that does this.

Whereas money spent in a Latin country can provide a direct return.


... and which is why, in turn:

1. The Yankees and Red Sox spent beaucoup bucks this year signing a boatload of players from outside the US, and
2. Chairman Bud and his minions want a worldwide draft.

-- MWE
   26. Dewey, Soupuss Not Doomed to Succeed Posted: July 11, 2006 at 09:32 PM (#2095751)
2. Chairman Bud and his minions want a worldwide draft.

That wouldn't really solve the problem, would it? There's still no incentive to do try to develop U.S. youth talent. In fact, there's less incentive then to develop world youth talent. If there's a worldwide draft, look for individual teams to shutter their Latin American academies.

I wonder how much the draft in general has worked to hurt talent development here in the U.S.
   27. rory_b_bellows Posted: July 11, 2006 at 10:16 PM (#2095785)
The huge amounts of money that can be made in high school and college basketball (and the same lack for HS and college baseball) means that there will always be more money poured into youth basketball teams by "unsavory" characters and talent scouts. When was the last time anyone saw a HS baseball on tv? And how much bigger is college basketball than college baseball (10, 50, 100?) Obviously, talent goes where the money is and right now that money is in basketball.

However, just because this is happening now doesn't mean that it will always be so. Some smart team will, or at least should, take advantage of this. Isn't this sort of thing what Moneyball was about (or at least the non-Joe Morgan version).
   28. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: July 11, 2006 at 10:31 PM (#2095791)
Yes. But is the expansion in Latin talent a cause of, or a result of, the decrease in available African-American talent? IOW, are teams going after Latin talent (which isn't exactly a cheap operation, either) because there isn't enough US talent to go around, or are they systematically downscaling their efforts in the States because there is so much talent available elsewhere?

I think basketball shows the latter to be true. There's no dearth of domestic BBal talent available, and yet more and more the NBA draft consists of white Europeans.

2. Chairman Bud and his minions want a worldwide draft.

I think that's merely to depress salaries.
   29. MM1f Posted: July 11, 2006 at 11:08 PM (#2095817)
"
I wonder how much the draft in general has worked to hurt talent development here in the U.S."

I doubt its hurt it at all. Maybe alot of this has more to do with changing times and booming suburbs but look at youth talent development in the US right now. There are 1000s of highly competivtive and orgainized summer leagues for kids elementary school aged up through college aged. There are 100s of showcases, designed just for draft and college prospects and pro draft scouts and college recruiters. EVERYTHING in high level amatuer baseball is designed around getting kids drafted or getting them scholarships.
COmpare that to how youth baseball was organized in the predraft era

"Obviously, talent goes where the money is and right now that money is in basketball."

Not nessecarily. If you are a top 10 round draft prospect (one of the top 1,000 to 2,000 HS baseball prospects in the country) you can make 50,000 to 100,000 dollars right out of high school. You have to be one of the top 5-20 high schoolers in the country to get cash out of high school..and nowadays you have to wait a year and play one year in college to do that. If you are a good but not elite basketball recruit, say a top 50 prospect, and you are also a top 50 baseball prospect and your entire desicion is based on money you play baseball. You get a six figure garunteed bonus, and you can use your bball leverage to get more cash than someone of your talent would otherwise get. Look at Austin Jackson (Ga Tech scholarship) and CJ Henry (invited walkon at Kansas).
   30. MM1f Posted: July 11, 2006 at 11:08 PM (#2095818)
"
I wonder how much the draft in general has worked to hurt talent development here in the U.S."

I doubt its hurt it at all. Maybe alot of this has more to do with changing times and booming suburbs but look at youth talent development in the US right now. There are 1000s of highly competivtive and orgainized summer leagues for kids elementary school aged up through college aged. There are 100s of showcases, designed just for draft and college prospects and pro draft scouts and college recruiters. EVERYTHING in high level amatuer baseball is designed around getting kids drafted or getting them scholarships.
COmpare that to how youth baseball was organized in the predraft era

"Obviously, talent goes where the money is and right now that money is in basketball."

Not nessecarily. If you are a top 10 round draft prospect (one of the top 1,000 to 2,000 HS baseball prospects in the country) you can make 50,000 to 100,000 dollars right out of high school. You have to be one of the top 5-20 high schoolers in the country to get cash out of high school..and nowadays you have to wait a year and play one year in college to do that. If you are a good but not elite basketball recruit, say a top 50 prospect, and you are also a top 50 baseball prospect and your entire desicion is based on money you play baseball. You get a six figure garunteed bonus, and you can use your bball leverage to get more cash than someone of your talent would otherwise get. Look at Austin Jackson (Ga Tech scholarship) and CJ Henry (invited walkon at Kansas).

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
Darren
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogOT: The Soccer Thread August, 2014
(503 - 1:41pm, Aug 22)
Last: andrewberg

NewsblogOT: Politics, August 2014: DNC criticizes Christie’s economic record with baseball video
(4916 - 1:39pm, Aug 22)
Last: Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip

NewsblogBoswell, WaPo: For streaking Washington Nationals, runs like this don’t come around very often
(8 - 1:38pm, Aug 22)
Last: Danny

NewsblogDRays Bay: Rays to Montreal? “Smart chronicler” says yes
(5 - 1:38pm, Aug 22)
Last: DEF: #attentionwhore

Newsblog10 episodes of ‘The Simpsons’ every sports fan needs to watch
(53 - 1:31pm, Aug 22)
Last: Dog on the sidewalk

NewsblogPrimer Dugout (and link of the day) 8-22-2014
(17 - 1:30pm, Aug 22)
Last: Batman

NewsblogOMNICHATTER 8-22-2014
(9 - 1:26pm, Aug 22)
Last: Dillon Gee Escape Plan

NewsblogCuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to sign with the Red Sox for $72 million
(38 - 1:25pm, Aug 22)
Last: Davo Dozier

NewsblogA Look Inside Baseball's Ever-Evolving Stimulant Culture | Bleacher Report
(24 - 1:23pm, Aug 22)
Last: Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams)

NewsblogPhillies have decisions to make heading into '15
(20 - 1:18pm, Aug 22)
Last: Jesse Barfield's Right Arm

NewsblogPosnanski: The Royals might actually know what they are doing
(83 - 1:16pm, Aug 22)
Last: Bug Selig

NewsblogMegdal: Humble shortstop Marty Marion should be in Hall contention
(63 - 1:14pm, Aug 22)
Last: HowardMegdal

NewsblogDowney: Let Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame already
(48 - 1:12pm, Aug 22)
Last: Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip

NewsblogVotto appears. . .and speaks | The Real McCoy | Cincinnati Reds baseball news
(1 - 1:09pm, Aug 22)
Last: RMc's desperate, often sordid world

NewsblogAngels Acquire Gordon Beckham
(18 - 1:05pm, Aug 22)
Last: Chone Mueller

Page rendered in 0.3221 seconds
54 querie(s) executed