Baseball celebrated the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Negro Leagues in 2021. As of this writing, Black players currently make up only 8% of Major League Baseball – a number that is as embarrassing as it is ironic.
In April 1947, Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first Black player to appear in an MLB game. He was followed three months later by Larry Doby and several others to remove the color barrier between MLB and the Negro baseball leagues. But after peaking in the mid-1990s, the number of Black players has steadily declined. Factor in the slow, plodding pace of baseball – along with some outdated rules – and the game once dubbed “America’s pastime”, just hasn’t appealed to urban America. I’d argue that Major League Baseball is now one of the last bastions of white supremacy that exists in this country. It’s a game that refuses to change, and there’s a lot of us who love it that no longer have the patience to wait.
Last week, Barry Bonds was denied admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his final year on the ballot. He will move to the veterans committee for future considerations. Bonds is the only player in MLB history to have at least 500 home runs and 500 stolen bases. He is the leader in career home runs with 762 and won seven NL MVP awards in his career. But because of his alleged connection to steroids, baseball writers have used their power to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Arguably, Bonds’ statistics before the “steroid era” were already Hall of Fame worthy. But because of the hypocritical “crusade” by MLB purists to “clean up the game,” we may never see Bonds get the one accolade he deserves.
One look at the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and the picture may become clear. Of the nearly 700 voting members, its membership is overwhelmingly white. There are very few Blacks in leadership positions in the league offices and even fewer Black managers in the dugouts. The laundry list of “unwritten rules” is tawdry.
For one, celebrations are frowned upon. You aren’t supposed to admire a home run. And they still condone players being hit by baseballs if the teammate before them hit a home run. The league’s reluctance to join the other professional sports leagues wreaks of stubborn privilege. And it’s the reason why Bonds may never get into the Hall of Fame.
I grew up loving the game of baseball. I played competitively all the way up to the college level. I grew up watching a few of my heroes – Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra – play baseball at Smith Wills Stadium as part of the Jackson Mets. I had hoped to one day pass that love of the game on to my boys. But, both basketball and football became more appealing. And, for me, it became easier to watch because I saw more players who looked like me on my screen. This snub of Barry Bonds is probably my last straw. There can be no love for a game that continues to show it doesn’t have any love for Black players or fans.