Playing Catch With A Ghost

No sooner had the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies begun than the craven media tried to make it about race. Not achievement. Not success. Not even the pleasure of watching the New York Yankees get humiliated in a sweep. The media made it all about race.

Ben Walker of the Associated Press set the tone with a report on the absence of black players in the Series this year. Like lemmings, media outlets either published the AP’s piece uncritically or piled on with their own hot takes, even though Major League Baseball has had plenty of black stars since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr., Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Jimmy Rollins, and Rickey Henderson are just a few of the many baseball heroes America has embraced over the years who happened to be black.

Walker qualified his piece somewhat, saying there are no “U.S.-born black players” in the 2022 World Series. That’s some qualification! Fact is, if diversity matters, the Major Leagues are as diverse as they’ve ever been, with more than a quarter of its players having been born outside the United States. America’s pastime is now global. 

Walker avoided discussion of the racial makeup of the NBA and NFL. They’re predominantly black. Baseball—and hockey—are getting beat up because they’re not. But even presuming this is a fault, is it the fault of the sport or does responsibility lie elsewhere?

Most of MLB’s international players come from Latin America, and many of them are black. They just weren’t born in the United States. Do Hispanics and especially black Hispanics no longer count in the diversity sweepstakes? Are they all “white adjacent,” or are the media cherry-picking to get clicks and politicize everything they possibly can?

One of MLB’s best players is Shohei Ohtani of Japan. He’s baseball’s best two-way player in 100 years. Another of baseball’s best is Aaron Judge, who blasted the American League home run record this season. Neither of them made the World Series (through no fault of their own), and importantly to the diversity police, neither is white, but they have a lot in common outside baseball. 

Ohtani and Judge both come from very strong families. Ohtani’s family introduced him to baseball as a kid and he and his brother took to it immediately. Judge was adopted by a white family who brought him up with morals as strong as his hitting power. Ohtani and Judge come from a culture of family first. Strong families are very important to one’s success in life, in whatever field they choose.

Most baseball players from Latin America come from a culture where Catholicism dominates and encourages large, intact families. Such families tend to have present fathers who engage in raising their children. That includes getting out in the yard or nearest park with a bat, ball, and gloves and teaching a kid to hit and catch. You can’t play catch with someone who is not there.

Here’s a hard, cold fact about modern life in America’s predominantly black cities: Fathers are absent. According to the Casey Foundation, 66 percent of black kids in America were raised without fathers in 2010. Many of those kids would be of age to play professional baseball now. The fatherless percentage has held steady over the years, standing at about 64 percent in the most recent survey. 

The disadvantages of fatherlessness have been well documented. Kids who grow up without fathers are far more likely to struggle with employment; lack education; are more likely to use drugs, commit crimes, and end up in prison. This isn’t racial at all. It’s a product of not being brought up with strong morals and a strong sense of your own value as a person. Kids in that environment are also far less likely to want to play a sport that lacks the razzle-dazzle hip-hop culture that has saturated professional football and, especially, basketball. 

Sports are cultural. It’s undeniable. Baseball careers tend to be longer and can pay better over time than basketball and football careers, so it isn’t about money. Baseball doesn’t even have a salary cap. A kid without a father can easily pick up a basketball and play hoops alone or with friends. He can learn football with a buddy or from a decent high school coach. But a kid without a father just isn’t likely to learn the intricacies of using a big leather glove and a big stick to hit a ball on a lazy Sunday afternoon. 

Baseball takes more than raw athleticism. It takes the patience and the skill that a father is most likely to help provide. The baseball diamonds in urban America aren’t being used to learn the sport—they’re filled with needles, not with kids playing catch with their fathers. And they’re in cities run by a party that prioritizes criminals over victims and has created urban hellscapes in which no kid should have to grow up.

Rather than blame the Major Leagues, anyone who cares about the present and future of black America should look at ways to strengthen families. That’s better for everyone, whether they play any sport or no sport at all.

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