Black base­ball play­ers tied to pres­ence of dads

Per­cent­age shrink­ing on the field, at home

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

With the World Se­ries set to be­gin, a glance at the ros­ters for the Cleve­land In­di­ans and Chicago Cubs could prompt the ques­tion, “Where have all the black base­ball play­ers gone?”

When Bal­ti­more Ori­oles out­fielder Adam Jones was asked about NFL-style na­tion­alan­them protests, he said they aren’t hap­pen­ing in Ma­jor League Base­ball be­cause is a “white man’s sport.” While the num­ber of black play­ers in base­ball and base­ballplay­ing black youths is de­clin­ing, re­search in­di­cates this is not be­cause the sport is as­so­ci­ated with white cul­ture but be­cause black fa­thers are less likely to be at home.

The Austin In­sti­tute, a Texas-based think tank fo­cused on fam­ily and so­ci­etal is­sues, has com­mis­sioned a study ti­tled “Called Out at Home” that shows a cor­re­la­tion be­tween the de­cline of black fatherhood and the de­cline of black par­tic­i­pa­tion in Amer­ica’s pas­time.

The share of black MLB play­ers peaked in 1981 at 18.7 per­cent, but the num­ber of black play­ers has dwin­dled in re­cent years and now ri­vals fig­ures from the years im­me­di­ately after the leagues were de­seg­re­gated.

Black play­ers in the MLB pop­u­la­tion fell to just 7.2 per­cent in 2012 and com­prised 7.4 per­cent in 1958 — 11 years after Jackie Robin­son broke the color bar­rier.

That trend co­in­cides with a sharp de­cline in the per­cent­age of U.S. chil­dren who are born to mar­ried par­ents, which has been es­pe­cially pro­nounced in the black com­mu­nity.

In 2012, 72.6 per­cent of black chil­dren were born out of wed­lock.

Kevin Stu­art, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Austin In­sti­tute, said fa­thers are nat­u­ral teach­ers of base­ball be­cause “it takes two to play catch.”

There is a “long-stand­ing con­nec­tion be­tween fatherhood and base­ball,” Mr. Stu­art said, point­ing to fa­mous fa­ther-son tandems who have played in the Ma­jor Leagues and the promi­nence of fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ships in pop­u­lar base­ball movies such as “Field of Dreams.”

The re­port shows that fatherhood is an even more im­por­tant vari­able than parental wealth or ed­u­ca­tion in de­ter­min­ing whether boys and girls play base­ball and soft­ball.

The study found that chil­dren are 25 per­cent more likely to play base­ball if a fa­ther is present in the home. Ad­di­tion­ally, high school stu­dents are less likely to play bas­ket­ball if they are liv­ing with their fa­thers.

Mr. Stu­art said ev­ery sport falls on a spec­trum of how eas­ily it can be mas­tered on one’s own, with bas­ket­ball and track on one end and more equip­ment- and coach­ing-in­ten­sive games such as lacrosse and foot­ball on the other.

Base­ball, he said, was made to be played by fa­thers and sons.

“Base­ball seems to fall some­where in the mid­dle, where what’s re­ally nec­es­sary, or what ap­pears to us to be nec­es­sary in or­der to re­ally im­prove skills, is at least one other per­son deeply and per­son­ally com­mit­ted on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to work­ing with you,” Mr. Stu­art said.

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence seems to cor­rob­o­rate the study’s con­nec­tion be­tween fatherhood and base­ball.

Fa­mous fa­ther-son tandems — in­clud­ing Ken Grif­fey Sr. and Ken Grif­fey Jr., Prince Fielder and Cecil Fielder, and Tony Gwynn Sr. and Tony Gwynn Jr. — have talked about how the game was handed down from one gen­er­a­tion to the next.

“When he had a di­a­per on, he was a base­ball player from Day One,” Cecil Fielder said of his son, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. “He was around the ball­park, and he loved the game, and, you know, when you have a kid that has that much en­thu­si­asm in some­thing, he’s go­ing to be spe­cial. I al­ways knew that he was go­ing to be a spe­cial player.”

David Lehrer, pres­i­dent of Com­mu­nity Ad­vo­cates Inc., a Los An­ge­les-based firm that strives for racial rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with­out re­sort­ing to iden­tity pol­i­tics, said he was not sur­prised by the re­port’s find­ings.

He said base­ball re­quires in­volved par­ents who are will­ing to set up the field, pro­vide equip­ment and spend time prac­tic­ing with their chil­dren.

“To make Lit­tle League work, some­body’s got to mow the lawn, some­body’s got to put the chalk down, some­body’s got to bring the balls, some­body’s got to train, and it’s in­vari­ably a fa­ther,” Mr. Lehrer said. “Un­like bas­ket­ball, where you can just put a hoop up and prac­tice, with base­ball some­body’s got to get the ball back to you.”

Point­ing to the MLB’s Re­viv­ing Base­ball in In­ner Cities ini­tia­tive, Mr. Lehrer said he is hope­ful about in­creas­ing black par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sport.

He said base­ball speaks to Amer­ica’s no­blest prin­ci­ples and de­serves to be cher­ished.

“It is kind of an em­bod­i­ment of the Amer­i­can spirit,” he said. “It’s slow, me­thod­i­cal, par­tic­i­pa­tory. You have to work to­gether; one su­per­star isn’t go­ing to do it for you. There’s some­thing quite won­der­ful about the game.”

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