MLB Insider: Washington, Pettis offer perspective on lack of black players

Posted Saturday, Apr. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Top five Braves: That Justin Upton trade is looking pretty good. A’s: Haven’t slowed down any since 2012 late-season run. Nationals: That Bryce Harper kid is looking pretty good. Giants: Defending champs will be in hunt all season. Rangers: Taking advantage of soft April schedule so far. Bottom five Marlins: How bad are they? Marlon Byrd beat them last week. Angels: Bullpen woes not unexpected. Lineup woes stunning. Padres: But they’re great at breaking collarbones. Astros: Surprisingly entered weekend not in last place. Cubs: Issues galore, which Rangers will see first-hand Tuesday.

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Ron Washington and Gary Pettis haven’t lost hope, nor are they short on explanations for a disturbing trend, but they also don’t see a quick fix to prevent more series like the one that is taking place this weekend at Safeco Field.

Neither the Texas Rangers nor the Seattle Mariners have an African-American player on their 25-man roster.

But as a sign of the times, neither Washington or Pettis are surprised by the dwindling number of black players in the major leagues.

“It’s an interesting subject, and we’ve talked about it for years,” said Pettis, the Rangers’ third-base coach.

Only 8.5 percent of big-league players are African-American, and San Francisco and St. Louis, winners of the past three World Series, also don’t have any black players on their rosters.

The numbers are so disconcerting that commissioner Bud Selig has created a task force to reverse the trend. The panel needs to place phone calls to Washington and Pettis.

As African-Americans from inner cities who played in the majors and have continued in the game as coaches, they have suggestions on what might help revitalize the game in the black community.

But it won’t happen overnight, and it isn’t going to be cheap.

“I don’t think there’s any one definitive reason,” Pettis said. “It’s less expensive as a kid to play basketball and football. When you look at some of the other major sports, some of the major players in those sports are really reaching the young generations. When those other sports become really exciting to a young kid, that’s what they’re going to gravitate toward.”

Seven black players were selected in the first round of the June draft last year, including Rangers first-rounder Lewis Brinson. The Rangers also selected Nick Williams and Jamie Jarmon among their first five picks.

But more young African-Americans, especially in the inner cities, are turning to basketball, said Washington and Pettis, because all a kid needs is a ball and a hoop at a city park. To play baseball, that kid needs balls, bats, gloves, helmets, cleats, a maintained field and time.

Basketball and football also give talented players an easier route to a college scholarship or a big pro payday, and companies have made those sports seem more appealing by marketing their wares through black athletes.

“In the inner cities, blacks aren’t playing a lot of baseball,” said Washington, the Rangers’ manager. “You’ve got some that love to play the game of baseball. But it takes money to do that, and they don’t have the cash. That’s the issue. So, they drift to other sports where they can help their families out.”

If Selig is serious about effecting change, he needs to dip into the pile of money that the game makes annually.

MLB pulled in $7.5 billion in revenues in 2012. Even after things such as revenue sharing and Selig’s $22 million annual salary, there’s a lot of money left for equipment, ballparks and staff to make sure kids are getting an opportunity to play the game.

So, spend more money on the RBI and Urban Youth Academy programs and spread them to more cities. Hold tryout camps in inner cities.

Find a way to tell the stories of how players such as Jimmy Rollins, CC Sabathia and Carl Crawford used the RBI program to launch big-league careers.

It’s going to take time, and it’s not going to be cheap. But MLB would be wise to ask Washington and Pettis for their thoughts.

“We’ve got the academy in New Orleans, and we’ve got 350 kids, and that’s 350 kids off the street,” Washington said. “Those guys running those programs have to make sure they pique those kids’ interest. Teach those kids how good and how much fun this game can be.”

Brawl baby

Carlos Quentin is the clubhouse leader for the biggest buffoon of 2013, and the rest of the field might not catch him.

San Diego’s thick-headed outfielder cited personal history Thursday night for charging the mound and breaking the collarbone of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke, who hit Quentin with a 3-2 pitch in a one-run game.

Greinke might be an odd duck, but not odd enough to throw at a batter in that situation.

It was the third time in their careers that Greinke plunked Quentin, the modern-day Don Baylor, who had been hit 115 times previously in his career. No. 116 was a deal-breaker, and a collarbone-breaker, and a potential Dodgers season-breaker with their free-agent prize out at least two months.

Quentin showed about the same remorse for breaking Greinke’s collarbone as Ivan Drago did after killing Apollo Creed. He finally called the injury “unfortunate” about 24 hours later after he had received an eight-game suspension.

Those clamoring for a monthlong suspension weren’t satisfied by the eight-game penalty, but payback could soon be on the horizon. Quentin unwisely appealed, which means he could be in the lineup Monday when the Padres visit the Dodgers.

He had better load up on the body armor.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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