July 31, 2019 | by: Cheyenne Brown; @cheytv_
WASHINGTON, DC – – The story of the decline of black ballplayers in Major League Baseball has been oft-told. In, 1981, 18.7 percent of all major league ballplayers were African Americans. Over the last 30 years, those numbers have drastically declined. Today, less than eight percent of players on the MLB roster are black.
Less well known is the concurrent decline in black college ballplayers. According to NCAA statistics, among college teams, the percentage of black players is less than five percent.
There are many reasons for this – a lack of full scholarships in baseball, the difficulty of maintaining baseball fields in inner-city areas, the rise of expensive travel youth baseball programs, etc.
Black athletes are more likely to gravitate towards sports like football and baseball because they see black athletes dominating on the professional level. It is easier for a parent to envision their child’s success in a sport where they can see other African Americans success so frequently broadcasted.
These trends have had one undeniable impact – they have dealt a blow to the baseball programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
There is one summer baseball team that is working to support black college baseball and give opportunities for talented black ballplayers – the DC Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. Each year, the Grays recruit several ballplayers from HBCUs. Currently, out of a roster of 32 players, the Grays have nine African American ball players. Of those nine, three of them attend HBCUs: Pitcher Jarren Norman (Virginia State University), Pitcher Bryce Ross & 1B Blake Martin (Southern University), and OF Matt Day (Coppin State University).
Currently, out of a roster of 32 players, the Grays have nine African American ball players. Of those nine, four of them attend HBCUs: Pitcher Jarren Norman (Virginia State University), Pitcher Bryce Ross & 1B Blake Martin (Southern University), and OF Matt Day (Coppin State University).
“Just because black kids are heavily exposed to basketball and football doesn’t mean that black kids aren’t playing baseball, because they are. They just aren’t getting the exposure that they could be,” Grays General Manager Antonio Scott said. “One of our goals is to get some of the best black baseball players from around the country on a collegiate level to come play for us.”
HBCU’s have to compete with other elite programs to get these athletes to commit to their schools. These elite programs have more resources and are a more promising pathway for their athletes to get connected with professional teams.
“It would help if HBCUs had a broader recruiting spectrum. They don’t need to be afraid of getting guys who are from other areas. This gives them a larger talent pool to work from resulting in more prospects,” said Grays infielder Blake Martin (Southern University).
“During the recruiting process, I think it is important for HBCU’s to emphasize the culture aspect and the environmental benefits of attending an HBCU,” said Grays pitcher Bryce Ross (Southern University).
It is not uncommon to see an HBCU team comprised of more white and Latino players than black. Yahoo Sports reported that two HBCU baseball conferences have rosters that are less than 50 percent black.
“I actually did not know the number of African Americans playing in college was so low… I did think something was weird about Winston-Salem State University dropping their baseball program after a really good season,” said Grays pitcher Jarren Norman (Virginia State).
In May 2019 Winston State’s baseball program was dropped. This is the third HBCU Baseball program to dissolve in the last two years – including Concordia College Alabama and St. Augustine University. The WSSU baseball program won the conference championship, and was promptly cut from the budget in order to have more scholarship money available for more popular sports on campus.
“Growing up in the inner-city of Chicago, I picked up baseball to stay busy and out of trouble. My high school coach, coached RBI baseball and one of his goals were to keep kids involved and most importantly get them to college,” Norman said.
Norman’s story is a familiar one – since RBI program’s across the country have been a lifeline for young black kids who want to play ball. RBI stands for Reviving Baseball in the Inner-City, and is Major League Baseball’s signature effort to increase interest in baseball in underserved urban areas.
DC Grays Baseball formed DC Grays RBI in 2016 in partnership with MLB to bring the RBI program back to Washington. The Grays sponsor a summer youth baseball league – Ward 7 Baseball, as well as travel level baseball and softball programs for older kids. Each year, DC Grays RBI teams represent Washington at the Mid-Atlantic RBI Tournament in July. This year, the tournament was held in Durham, NC – and both DC Grays RBI teams made the semi-finals.
“There are young black athletes who are really good athletes and can be really good baseball players; we just have to find them,” said Washington Nationals scouting supervisor Bobby Myrick. He is a supporter of the Grays and their efforts to support inner-city baseball.
The DC Grays play at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Ward 7. The Grays strive to be ‘ambassadors in baseball’ in DC. The Grays strive to bring in black talent and expose them to Dc Grays RBI program and local Little Leagues, so the local kids can see that they can play college ball if they stick with it.