At the Letters: The game after Jackie

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Of the 1,500 or so e-mails I received related to Jackie Robinson, at least 100 included some derivation of the following statement:

If you're going to bemoan the lack of blacks in baseball, be fair and bellyache about the lack of white players in the NBA.

Rather than introduce the apple and orange and let them work things out, I'll try and be as straightforward as possible: There aren't fewer white players in the NBA because of lack of opportunity. There aren't more black players in Major League Baseball for that very reason.

And, as such, baseball is losing those kids to other sports. The point of the story wasn't to cry about the crisis – and, yes, when a segment of the population, white, black or otherwise, is shunning a sport, it does qualify, in the sport's eyes, as a crisis. It was to say that baseball, despite its best efforts, is failing at turning it around, and that celebrating anything to do with its past triumphs rings hollow with its current travails.

Anyway, here are your words, with replies in italics:

JACKIE ROBINSON ("Right idea, wrong solution," April 12, 2007)

What more can MLB do? Seriously? I live in Atlanta, well known for our large black population and here, baseball at the high school level is very much "diverse." But as you said, given the choice, they would rather play a different sport. We can't dictate that to the kids. Why can't we just be happy that kids play sports and stop worrying about the color of their skin? Isn't that the point? That skin color doesn't matter? Or does it matter and to assuage some guilt we have to ensure that each race is accurately represented in each sport according to it's representation in the population? Seems to me that is bigotry in and of itself.

Derek Greene
Atlanta, Ga.

If there was a flaw with the piece, it was that it criticized without suggesting solutions. Some find that problematic, understandably so, because it's easy to say something’s wrong without knowing what's right. Problem is, so long as baseball keeps its status quo, the number will continue to drop.

The majority of e-mailers tried to argue whether that's such a bad thing.

The premise of this article seems preposterous to me. Why is it "regressive" if the percentage of African-Americans in baseball is declining? Sports are a pure market, wherein the best and most interested rise to the highest levels based only on their abilities. This is a great thing. If the percentages of this group are declining it is not based upon any reason that you could attach to civil rights issues. No doubt it is actually partially a sign that more and more African-Americans are striving for excellence in other sports (to which they had previously had more limited access – i.e. golf, tennis) and in other arenas (academic or professional, etc.) from which they had not had as sufficient training or preparation or opportunity. If the percentages of black men and women in pro sports decline over the next decades you can be sure it is not because of regression in civil rights and opportunities but rather quite the opposite.

Stewart Leafblad
Fort Worth, Texas

Have you thought that maybe it's not a problem? Maybe African-Americans are finding options outside of sports, or, God forbid, maybe the best baseball talent is coming from different places. As far as "What would Jackie think," he would probably be glad that blacks could play other sports and not complain that they weren't choosing baseball. Calling the declining number of blacks in baseball a problem is an insult to both blacks and other races. It is a natural progression: As African-Americans have opportunities outside of sports, the amount of African-Americans in sports will decline. Really, the decline could be seen as a positive instead of a negative.

Mike Mathies
Greeley, Colo.

You make it sound as though baseball is re-segregating itself intentionally. While the number of African-Americans may be dropping in the majors, you are not factoring personal choices in the matter. What if the game has lost its luster with African-American youth or it isn't as exciting and people choose to play something else? Jackie Robinson wouldn't be upset because there is something he would have fought for: personal choice. Doing what you love and not having someone – particularly misguided columnists – telling them they should be playing a game they don't want to just to keep the numbers up.

Eric Minton
Fort Worth, Texas

What Robinson stood for was, ultimately, about personal choice and freedom, two things that blacks are afforded in large part because of him. At the same time, baseball, due to its previous inaction, has lost almost an entire generation of urban-raised black players by marginalizing them.

There are two distinctly different concepts in the Jackie Robinson story – inclusion and marketing. To diminish baseball's/Jackie's/Branch Rickey's role in the advancement in civil rights because African-American youths are more interested in other sports is logically parallel to saying that what Rosa Parks did wasn't important because bus ridership among African-Americans is low today, and African-American youth prefers driving personal cars to riding the bus. The Jackie Robinson story was a significant advancement in the civil-rights movement. It was not a magic bullet, but it was a step forward. That baseball had a role in it is something that baseball should celebrate. Your article closed that Jackie Robinson was still concerned about the lack of an African-American managers toward the end of his life when baseball wanted to honor him. This is also part of the civil-rights advancement. The fact that inner-city American youth are attracted by other sports besides baseball is a marketing problem for baseball – not a civil-rights issue. The celebration of the role of baseball and Jackie Robinson in the advancement of civil rights is one worth commemorating.

Eddie Facey
Las Vegas

Never did I question the importance of what Robinson did. I just don't like baseball using it to drum up good publicity by reminding the world, just in case it forgot, that Robinson broke barriers as a baseball player. It's marketing, all right – something that happened 60 years ago.

You mentioned that C.C. Sabathia and Dontrelle Willis are the only African-American starting pitchers in the majors. I'd just like to point out that both Ian Snell and Jerome Williams are African-American.

Kyle Gauss
Downington, Pa.

Stupid mistake. Snell could be an All-Star with Pittsburgh this year, and Williams might be part of the worst starting rotation since the Mets used the likes of Vinegar Bend Mizell during their deplorable 1962 season.

DAISUKE MATSUZAKA ("Matsuzaka is not bad, for starters," April 5, 2007)

Hold on to this e-mail: Every time a Japanese pitcher comes over, they are always successful in their first year, mainly since no hitters have seen their stuff before. Just wait, it won't be long before major-league hitters catch up and Daisuke Matsuzaka gets lit up like the rest of them. Everyone is hemming and hawing over this guy, mainly because of the money. He's good, but that's all he is. Good. He's no Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan. It won't be long before he's just a $103 million .500 pitcher.

Ron Ohmacht
Concord, N.C.

This being about money and all, I will donate $100 to the charity of your choice, Ron, if Matsuzaka finishes at .500 or below this year, next year or the year after.

And, for what it's worth, MLB's best Japanese pitcher prior to Matsuzaka, Hideo Nomo, finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting in his second season – same as his first.

CUBS ("Signs are there for Cubs," April 9, 2007)

"So what if it's impossible to win a division by a half-game?" Hmmm. Might want to talk to the 2000 Oakland Athletics about that. At the end of the season, Oakland (91-70) was a half-game in front of the Seattle Mariners (91-71). Since Oakland had the tiebreakers and the Mariners had locked up a playoff spot, Oakland's rain-out was never rescheduled. The end result would've been the same: Oakland as AL West champs, Seattle as AL wild card.

Kevin Pogue
San Diego

If I was going to look stupid, I would've preferred it come from some obtuse, long-forgotten race, not one that happened seven years ago and was influenced by the wild card.

MILWAUKEE ("Home sweet … home?," April 10, 2007)

After seeing 35,000-plus people in Milwaukee come out to see the first two Indians-Angels games – the second one in a seven-inch snowstorm with over 16,000 attendance – do you think that Milwaukee has proven that it is truly a great baseball town? I was at the second game last night and it was amazing to see all the people from Milwaukee trudging through the snow – to see Cleveland! It was an experience I will never forget.

Henry Ahlers

I'm sold. Though, as one intrepid Indians fan pointed out, Jacobs Field does have its own fine selection of tubed pork products. So part of Milwaukee's true allure – a sausage race chased by sausage of your choice – now isn't quite as special.


Thanks, JP, for not choosing Detroit to really do anything this year. It worked out well for us last year.

Nich Tozier
Eaton, Ohio

Nich has been on me since opening day last year when I picked the Tigers to lose 96 games. This year is far kinder – a 91-71 record – but I still think the division is Cleveland's to lose and the wild card New York's.

Oh, and as for last year.

E-1. E-1. E-1. E-1. E-1.

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