When Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947, his
appearance shattered an 80-year baseball color line that segregated the game as a
"white only" sport.
More than 60 years later, the number of black players dwindles and players of Latino
heritage have become a major force on the baseball diamond in the United States.
Issues from geographic location to social changes in America have played into the
influx of Hispanic players, said Mike Schoenecke
, an expert in popular sports culture and former executive director of the Popular
Culture and American Culture Associations. He is author of the book "All-Stars and
Movie Stars: Sports in Film and History."
For starters, Americans have started to pay more attention to football and basketball
during the past several decades, he said. White and African-American athletes in turn
have followed the fame and the fortune of the more popular sports. Also, it's more
difficult to build a baseball diamond in urban areas, where many top athletes get
But because of baseball's fame in Latin America, this has left a vacuum in the United
States for Latino athletes to fill.
"Baseball is very popular in Latin American countries," Schoenecke said. "Roberto
Clemente, the Puerto Rican baseball legend, he did a lot to build baseball diamonds
all over Latin America. He was also very popular because he was the first Hispanic
Player to win an MVP award.
"Because baseball is so popular in Latin America, players have moved into the major
leagues here. And that's angered some of the African-American and Caucasian players
because now they can't get into the show. Although, we know that if you're not good
enough to play the Game, you're not going to play at all. I think a lot of Latin players
have a lot more drive, and they want to succeed more."
, professor of history and associate dean of the college of Arts and Sciences, is
editor of "Mexican Americans and Sports: A Reader on Athletics and Barrio Life." He
has written extensively on Latino athletes and said that baseball is the biggest U.S.-based
Although there have been Hispanic players in the majors since the 1870s, the current
trend of recruiting Latino players started in the late 1930s and early 1940s when
the then Washington Senators, who eventually became the Minnesota Twins, were both
a bad and frugal team. Senators owner Clark Griffith began using Joe Cambria to recruit
players in Latin America - particularly in Cuba. The trend continued and really picked
up speed in the late 1970s and '80s.
"There is an increase of Latino fans because they see more players like them out on
the diamond so they start to come," Iber said. "Black players, however, are dwindling."
In 1997, 17 percent of baseball players were black. The University of Central Florida's
Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports' 2007 study showed that only slightly
more than eight percent of major leaguers players were black.
Iber said that he feels the exodus of black baseball players can be attributed to
the fact that baseball facilities are difficult to find in the inner city.
Major league baseball teams are aware that black athletes are more attracted to both
basketball and football, and because of the lack of baseball players they began a
program called Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI).
Iber said the program was implemented as a way to try and bring blacks back into the
game of baseball. Players from major league teams go into the inner city and work
diligently to try to reach out to a group of athletes who have nearly abandoned baseball.
"I think that to older African-Americans who can remember back to Jackie Robinson
in 1947 breaking the color barrier, baseball is still important," Iber said, "but,
the younger African-Americans are no longer as much into baseball."
CONTACT: Michael Schoenecke, associate professor of literature and popular sports
(806) 742-2500 ext. 278 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Jorge Iber, associate dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Texas Tech University,
(806) 742-3831, or Jorge.email@example.com