The stagnation in the number of African American players represented in Major League Baseball is attributable to the increased competition from the Dominican Republic and the sport’s inability to effectively recruit multi-sport athletes, according to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
Manfred told an audience, gathered at The George Washington University on Monday night, that there are added incentives that make sports like football and basketball more appealing than baseball to multi-sport athletes.
“You play football, you can go to the University of Michigan on a full ride…you can play on Saturday afternoons on national television,” he said. “If you’re really good, you can stay three years and go to the NFL.”
The commissioner also explained how a similar set of rules allow college basketball players to collect full scholarships. Basketball players, he said, also have an opportunity to leave school at a time when they can maximize their earning potential.
Baseball, Manfred said, has less to offer multi-sport athletes. High school students can sign professional contracts after graduating high school, but the life of a minor league baseball player is much less glamorous.
“Usually what happens there,” he said “is they put you on a plane and send you to play in a Florida State League where it’s about 102 in the shade and nobody’s in the stands.”
Manfred was most critical of the lack of sufficient athletic scholarships that college baseball programs can offer student athletes.
An NCAA regulation limits baseball programs to just 11.7 athletic scholarships. This makes it difficult for coaches or recruiters to entice athletes to join their programs which carry 35 players who split scholarships or may be promised a scholarship if another player leaves the program.
The lack of available scholarships makes it even more difficult to attract a more diverse group of athletes who would prefer the certainty of scholarships in other sports, according to Manfred.
The evening’s discussion about a lack of diversity in baseball came just three months after Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones called baseball “a white man’s sport.” Jones, who is African American, made the statement when asked about why there had not been any protests among baseball players similar to those staged by players in the NFL during the National Anthem.
According to a study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, just 8 percent of the players on 2016 Opening Day rosters were African American. The lack of involvement is also evident in college sports where just 2.9 percent of college baseball players in 2014-2015 were African American, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.
Manfred asserted that MLB is making strides to promote the sport in African American communities. The youth baseball academies in Philadelphia, Compton, Houston, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. are just some of the successful programs that are promoting sport. Two other academies in Texas and Kansas City are currently under construction and the goal, Manfred said, is to have academies in “every major league city.”
These academies along with programs like the Elite Development Invitational, a baseball training event that takes place in Historic Dodgertown, are geared toward popularizing and developing the sport among African American community.
The lack of a competitive NCAA scholarship system, however, may prevent these programs from achieving their fullest potential as more multi-sport athletes choose the free-ride and the fame.