In defense of Major League Baseball

heywardcards_i03anwp5_w7npnefpHBO’s Real Sports recently aired a Chris Rock piece on Major League Baseball.

In it, he claims the sport has turned its back on blacks, who he contends can’t identify with the game because they are so poorly represented on team rosters.

For the record, I like Chris Rock.

His stand-ups often leave me in stitches. And in his seven-minute rant, he provokes thought and makes some salient points.

But to me, he swung and missed on this one.

Yes, blacks make up only about eight percent of MLB. But to say a fan can’t connect with a player outside his own race is presumptuous.

I grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

I hung posters of Lou Brock on my bedroom wall and read books about Bob Gibson. My favorite NBA player was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and I idolized boxer Muhammad Ali.

That I didn’t share the same skin color as these athletes didn’t bother me in the least.

Baseball was the first major sport to integrate, but its appeal to both African-American fans and players has, indeed, been spiraling.

The reasons have been bandied about for generations. As a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story noted, basketball and football became more popular after Southern blacks immigrated to urban centers like St. Louis, where the population today is half African-American. At the same time, the presence of Hispanic players — Latins make up about 28 percent of rosters — has surged with the help of baseball academies nurtured in Latin America.

Rock claims baseball is “old-fashioned” and “stuck in the past,” adding that the game is slower than ever.

Not so. Baseball this year instituted rules that have sped up play. I watched a game this week that flew by in two hours, two minutes.

As for being stuck in the past, baseball has a fondness for looking back because it has the richest history.

America’s pastime has been surpassed by the hipper NBA and NFL, whose players enjoy a bigger national stage and are marketed better than their diamond counterparts.

That’s OK. I like professional basketball and football.

They just aren’t as timeless as baseball.

The sport’s popularity remains strong. MLB’s  2014 regular-season attendance of 73.7 million was the seventh-highest of all time. Five teams drew more than 3 million fans. The Detroit Tigers posted their fifth largest total attendance in their franchise’s 114-year history, and the Kansas City Royals logged their best attendance since 1991.

Would I like to see more Lorenzo Cains and Jason Heywards and Andrew McCutcheons on the field? Sure.

Would I still root for baseball if they are not? You bet.

Chris Rock has a voice. But he doesn’t speak for me.

 

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