I wrote an article for a magazine at the request of someone who was a user/reader at the old AllHipHop.com and the publication folded before the article ever even got printed about the diminishing Black presence in major league baseball back in May 2006. Since no one ever got to read it (or even proofread/edit it!) I decided to post it while I rewrite some other stuff. Since the writing of this article Barry Bonds has passed Babe Ruth and hatred for him is even worse than it was at the writing of this article. Enjoy:
The thing that kills me the most about all of the talk concerning Barry Bonds passing Babe Ruth's home run mark (714) is that few people are taking into account that Barry Bonds is fighting MULTIPLE demons in his chase of a milestone. Not only is he going to pass Babe Ruth, a player that is thought by most sportswriters and baseball historians to be the greatest baseball player ever (he was well on his way to being a Hall Of Fame pitcher even before he was turned into an outfielder) but he was one of the most beloved sports figures in history.
He revolutionized the sport of baseball with the home run, he was as charismatic as the day is long and fans and the media alike loved him, he lead the Yankees to numerous World Series titles and Yankees Stadium, the most celebrated ballpark in America (next to Fenway Park and Wrigley Park) is called "The House That Ruth Built". Baseball truly became America's Favorite Pastime because of him and he was largely the reason the Red Sox thought they were cursed...
You are probably wondering right now "PD, what the hell does this have to do with anything?"..Chill, I'm almost there. Babe Ruth was many things, he was also a well known and documented bigot. He refused to play in All Star games or exhibitions against Blacks or Negro League players for fear that their elite pitchers would make him look buffoonish. Ruth KNEW when a pitcher was good and he wanted NO parts of the Negro Leagues elite pitching talent.
In a book known as the definitive authority on Black baseball "Only The Ball Was White" it tells stories in which Babe Ruth would offer autographs or do something to break up exhibitions so as not to face those pitchers. Meanwhile, other Big Leaguers would jump at the chance to play these Negro League players, Ruth was vehemently against it. He was a user of the "N Word" as well. We will always wonder how Josh Gibson would've done against MLB pitching for a full season or what Rube Foster would've done to hitters in the majors...we will never know...but we DO know how Ruth dominated...in a league with no Blacks or Latinos present... they were all dominating the Negro Leagues!
Now that Barry Bonds is passing Ruth Major Legaue Baseball sees NO REASON to commemorate or celebrate this feat. Barry Bonds is son to Bobby Bonds, a great talent who was dubbed "the unluckiest man in baseball history" once. His godfather is Willie Mays, a man who came up in the old Negro Leagues the hard way and is regarded as the SECOND greatest player of all times BEHIND Babe Ruth. He was beloved by the fans and media alike..but he knew not to press Ruth's record. Luckily, his skills seemed to diminish greatly near the end of his career and he finished at 660 home runs..Who knows? The "Say Hey Kid" may have received the same hatred and animosity that Barry Bonds now receives had he threatened Ruth's records. Luckily, Mays never got to find out.
The man who holds the record of 755 home runs? Henry "Hank" Aaron. A former Negro Leaguer as well who faced death threats when he approached and passed Babe Ruth's record back in 1974. All of these men contributed stories of overt and covert racism in baseball, heartaches, and they helped to motivate a young Barry to greatness. He had a weird relationship with his often gone, alcoholic father as well. This created a man who was introverted, focused and who appears sullen and moody to outsiders and especially sportswriters, journalists and reporters. He knew what to expect from a life in baseball and he was prepared for the worst. He had a chip on his shoulder from the outset...it helped to fuel the fire that made him go.
The steroid controversy is ANOTHER factor...or is it? When Mark McGuire was knocking them out of the park America rejoiced! When he reached 70 in a season the baseballs sold for $3 million dollars and $500,000+ as he broke more and more records...Bonds HR balls the season he broke the record with 73 a season went for significantly less...one went for a paltry $17,000...and this was BEFORE the widespread steroids/performance enhancing drug inquiries! Is race a factor in the general apathy that many baseball fans and writers feel as Barry Bonds closes in on Ruth's record? HELL YES!!! A powerful Black man who doesn't go for reports with their smirks and okeydoke questions who goes to work and does what only some people DREAMED possible on a baseball diamond should be appreciated and admired instead of picked apart and analyzed.
Steroids CANNOT turn you into the kind of hitter Bonds is. Performance enhancing drugs CANNOT give you a better baseball IQ. No clear or cream can help you be able to help your teammates with their own hitting mechanics and improve them as players. None. Bonds NOW is better than Ruth THEN. DEAL WITH IT.
As a side note, the hate that Bonds receives is fully picked up on by younger children and teens. It pretty much tells young Black males that "THE SPORT OF BASEBALL DOESN'T WANT YOU!" This is ONE of the many reasons why the Black player in baseball is dissappearing at an alarming rate. With the advent of Hip Hop Culture, some sports just seem to fit in more with it. In the hood, ANY empty space or park can be used to play football...all you need is ONE BALL and you're good to go. In the hood, there are basketball courts everywhere, ten people can play with ONE BALL.
Economically, basketball and football fit in fine. Plus, you can still be your individual self and bring your style and personality and it fits within the framework of the sport and makes you more marketable. Baseball needs a diamond, gloves, bats, protection, etc. MOST OF THOSE ARE NOT IN ABUNDANCE IN THE AVERAGE URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD...Besides, whose going to pick baseball over football and basketball when you're a kid in an urban area that doesn't have the option of having his mom sign him up for soccer or teeball, etc? None of the kids I know that aren't Latino!
In Latin America, baseball and soccer are the equivalent of basketball and football in the urban areas in America. It provides an opportunity to get an education, become rich and improve their families station in life. Traditionally, Latinos and Chicanos (who also participated in the Negro Leagues) have played baseball, they haven't received the same type of scrutiny or ill feeling as their Black american brethren, either. Their numbers increase as the Black players decrease significantly as the years go on. This is a GOOD thing in my opinion...however, to former players like Bob Gibson, Willie Mays and the like MLB isn't doing ENOUGH to keep the Black ballplayer...in my opinion, there is NOTHING THEY CAN DO.
Delmon Young was the first player picked in the baseball draft a while back. He has recently received a 50 game suspension for throwing a bat at an umpire. This event is a death knell for the future of Blacks in baseball...I don't ever see players turning down basketball or football contracts for baseball ones the way Jackie Robinson, Dave Winfield, Kenny Lofton, or other players did in the past. I don't see Black athletes ever FIGHTING for the right to play in Major League Baseball. I personally love the sport (I loved it more as a kid), but I never realistically DREAMED of playing...Shit, when I was a kid Black people wouldn't DARE venture to Fenway Park and Jim Rice was the ONLY brother for years on a squad that was the LAST to intergrate!
Black free agents didn't want to come to Boston because of the history and the Yawkeys (THIS is the TRUE reason why the Sox didn't win in 86 years, NOT the "Curse Of The Bambino"!). Kids now want to be like Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Chris Paul, Marcus Williams, Vince Young, Reggie Bush, Marcus Vick, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, LaDanian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes, or Larry Johnson. None of them want to play a sport that seems to not want them or appeal to them at a basic level.
The sad part is that when I have kids and we watch a game of baseball, the same game that I watched with wonder and awe as a child as I watched Ozzie Smith, Mookie Wilson, Willie Reynolds, Jim Rice, Dave Winfield, Don Baylor, Tim Raines, Harold Baines, Kirby Puckett, Reggie Jackson, Willie Stargell, Lou Whitaker, Kevin Mitchell, Cecil Fielder, Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Ken Griffey Jr., Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Dave Stewart, Oil Can Boyd, and Vida Blue play and realize that by the time my child watches it there will be about only 60 players or less on major league starting rosters on more than 30 teams and only around 8 or 9 percent of the league will be Black players. Also, by that time Barry Bonds will be the All Time Home Run leader...and be most likely hated by most baseball fans.
I'll just tell them that a long time ago players fought and clawed to have the right to play in this league more than 60 years ago just to leave it on their own due to general disinterest in favor of the NBA and NFL. Hopefully, I'm wrong about all of this...unfortunately, I'm afraid I'm not.
Dedicated to my late uncle Billy Adams.
This article was written on May 6th, 2006. I recieved word that it would never see the light of day and I posted it on my MySpace blog on May 11th, 2006. One.