(AP)In addition to everyone donning the No. 42, it's become somewhat of a Jackie Robinson Day tradition to note the declining number of African-Americans in the major leagues. USA Today took care of that on Sunday by reporting that the percentage of black major leaguers on opening day rosters — 8.05 percent — was the lowest in over 60 years.
The Chicago Sun-Times, meanwhile, identified Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd as the lone African-American ballplayer on the roster of either Chicago baseball team with a nonsensical "Black Hole" headline.
It was a note that Byrd didn't appreciate and he used his platform on Sunday to say that enough was enough and that Jackie Robinson Day should be a day for accentuating the positives and not the negative.
"If you want to take polls, then take polls asking how many black lawyers do we have now, or how many black judges or black doctors there are now," Byrd said. "Just because we're black doesn't mean we have to play sports. You can go through other avenues. If the decrease (in baseball) is because they're going into academic fields, so be it. More power to them."
I'm actually really glad that Byrd spoke up because I've felt the same way every time I see those numbers rolled out each April. Could baseball stand to get more African-American youth interested in the game? Sure. But the game really needs to work toward added interest from children of any color in a culture that has been holding its NFL and NBA heroes a little higher than those from Major League Baseball.
(Also, as Byrd kind of gets at, there are plenty who believe the unrealistic goal of becoming a professional athlete bears too much weight in some African-American communities. Shouldn't we be worried about representation in careers that are much more attainable?
(Also, if 12 percent of the U.S. population is African-American, does it really qualify as an emergency if they're represented in baseball at a number just a few ticks lower?)
That's not to say that the number of African-Americans dropping from its apex of 27 percent in 1975 to today's numbers isn't worthy of further study or finding a solution to bolster participation at all levels. But it's also something that's worthy of more than just an annual and opportunistic mention on the anniversary of baseball's most important date.
So let's keep April 15 as a day not to single Byrd out, but to remember that Jackie Robinson paved the way for African-Americans like Ernie Banks and Frank Thomas to become the faces of both Chicago franchises after posting Hall of Fame careers.
Let's celebrate the opportunity he gave to Matt Kemp and Prince Fielder — two MVP candidates who signed two of the offseason's biggest contracts — and that the best pitcher in New York and one of the new owners in Los Angeles are African-American.
Let's note that guys like Curtis Granderson and Justin Upton and Adam Jones have become not only great players, but great role models for children from all walks of life because Jackie had the courage to cross the color barrier.
Let's also remember Jackie Robinson the rest of the year when we're trying to figure the rest of it out.
Big BLS H/N: Larry Brown Sports