“Where have they gone?”
It was April 15, 1947 when baseball player Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. And for those of you who’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past 70 years, he broke the color barrier in baseball as the first African American to sign in the MLB (Major League Baseball). And for years proceeded numerous names popped up in the majors of Black males who would follow his path. Men such as: Willie Mays Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson to Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, and Frank Thomas. But at some point the names slowed to a screeching halt; but why?
The departure of Black males from baseball is more sinister than you might have guessed. My theory that I have come to as to way Black men have departed from baseball is from the most unlikely of reasons: welfare. That’s right the welfare system had a lot to do with Black men exiting baseball. Now you wonder, why the welfare system. Well, let’s analyze baseball as a sport and what it means to men. Baseball is a sport that you learn to play with your father.
When a boy is young, he and his father go outside and toss the ball back and forth. It’s kind of reminiscent of a typical television commercial or feature film where the mother stares out the kitchen window. She looks on at the little boy with his baseball mitt tossing the ball to his father. All the while, dad is giving son advice on how to properly catch and throw. From the house mom looks on and smiles as dad says, “Throw it like this son.” “That’s my boy.” Once play time is over, they walk into the house, dad’s arm around son in a loving embrace.
And for the longest the previous description was the face of the Black community. But as times got rough for families in financial straights, some men left the house. Meanwhile the majority stayed in their child or children’s lives. But the government came up with a solution for the moms whom the father had left the household. They stated, “To the Black community, we’ll give you mothers aid for the man not being present.” Then again, women were still rare in the workforce, so him leaving was a major blow to the family.
Well, as you would guess Black women received money, but for the man not being there. As for the houses where the men were present, they struggled as well. But the aid was not for families, but more so for struggling single moms. So in the homes where a Black man was present a plan was devised. He would say, “You (meaning to Black women), go downtown and tell them you need assistance.” “I’ll leave the house so when the social worker get here she won’t see me.” “As a matter of fact, I’ll remove evidence of any man living here.” And that’s what got the ball bouncing.
As you would guess, social worker came and he was not there. Now this was also a time of major racial divide and strife for Black men, so even though a man was present, Black men were denied employment. So with limited work options in this tumultuous time period, stress and depression opened Black men up to drugs and alcohol, as well as other hosts of problems. Still, there was a family to raise. Now for the most part a lot of Black men kept it together, performing odd jobs to make ends meet. But a day away from the house when the social worker came turned into a week. A week into a month, and so on. Eventually there was a full departure of Black men from the household.
This was problematic considering a new wave of trouble was about hit the Black community. And that wave would effect the Black community more than Jim Crow and that is narcotics. Fatherless homes made young Black males turn to creating gangs and cliquing with each other. They formed their own bonds and brotherhoods. With these brotherhoods, the rise of gangs took hold along with Heroine, then powder Cocaine, and next the Crack Cocaine Epidemic of the 1980’s into the 1990’s. Before you knew it inner cities went from quiet low key hard working family environments to crime infested killing fields.
Now you ask, how does baseball fit into all of this, the father. As Black men left the household, Black women were forced to work long hours, so they weren’t coming home playing catch with their sons. Boys were left alone in the world, forced to take on other sports that didn’t require having pop to play with; like football and basketball. Black boys in the community who formed various cliques would get a ball and go hooping with friends. Basketball courts turned into places for gambling and trash talking. Everyone wanted to be the biggest baller/trash talker for respect of their peers and onlookers.
The game of football would soon take hold as well where Black boys developed relationships with their coaches. The coaches would take the place of the father. What’s odd is that none of these boys got together and formed their own base to teach each other the game of baseball. Not in baseball, but they did in football and basketball; but why? Well, for starters today, baseball, hockey, and golf are not only father son sports, but expensive as well. A lot of Black males are still growing up in poverty where finding a basketball and a court is cheaper than playing baseball. A football and a field is cheaper than baseball.
So what happened over time, Black men departed and Latin men entered, as well as White males who continued on strong in the sport. What’s shocking is that Black men fought the system so hard to play baseball. We took hatred in the form of being verbally abused, spit on from crowds, and even sent death threats to our homes. So today, we look back and go, what was all of that for; was it for nothing. What was the use of all that fighting if today we just vanish like we were never there. Will the greats who played eventually be forgotten like it never happened? Or will someone new come up and move aside football and basketball.
We have seen the talent from young up and coming juniors like Little League female phenom player Mo’ne Davis from South Philadelphia as well as the Jackie Robinson team out of Chicago, Illinois. But these are just the Cinderella stories we here from time to time. Stories that will continue to come and go, not remaining as long as the constant trend of fatherless homes stay the norm in the African American community.