Warning: The video above contains explicit language (although it falls several F-bombs short of matching Bryan Price)
Comedian Chris Rock is the latest public figure to come out supporting the widely held belief that baseball is dying. Baseball is not dying, but Rock does make some salient points, especially when it comes to the presence of black players in the game.
Rock’s argument surrounding the impending death of baseball, which appeared on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, calls baseball out for not appealing to the young black community. For me, it is hard to believe that there was not a single black player on either of the teams that reached the NLCS, but it is true. Both the Giants and the Cardinals count black players among their franchise icons (Willies Mays and McCovey, Barry Bonds, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, and Bob Gibson to name a few), but their rosters were completely devoid of an African-American presence last year. Baseball has a great history of black players, but the fact that it has reached a point where two of the best teams in the league do not employ a single black player is troubling.
In the 1980’s, Major League Baseball’s ranks counted at least 20% of its players as African-Americans. Now, that number is down to 8%. While there are many reasons for this rapid decline, one that is not often mentioned is the rise of the NBA. It is not fair to say that baseball has lost its hold on black youth simply because it is not hip. The NBA was a fledgling league when black participation in baseball was at its highest. Then Magic, Bird, and Jordan helped vault the NBA into a truly viable national league.
Much of what Rock says when describing the game is true, and does not apply only to black youngsters. The game needs an overhaul when it comes to the personality department. Many old-fashioned attitudes still govern the way the game is played. So what if a player tosses his bat and admires a well-struck ball for a few seconds? Such a display would hardly register next to the mean-mugging, posturing, and three-point goggling displays that take place on a basketball court nearly every single game. Baseball needs the same raw emotion on display after big hits, strikeouts, and catches.
But to say the game is dying, is quite a reach. Baseball’s April attendance numbers were extremely healthy. Teams in historic baseball cities like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Baltimore are back on the national scene after years of irrelevancy. To cite the low World Series ratings is also misleading. All one needs to do to evaluate the health of the game is look at the baseball fever that gripped every city during last year’s playoffs.
Rock makes a lot of good points about the game. Sure, baseball could do with a bit of a fresh coat of paint. It could do with a little less nostalgia, but tell that to the Boston Celtics who draw heavily upon imagery from their storied past. The NBA will never stop running highlights of Michael Jordan just like baseball will never stop running highlights from its heroes of yesteryear.
Is baseball ever going to be seen as hip? Nope. Will it forever hold a prominent place in our nation’s sporting landscape? The answer to that question is a resounding yes. Chris Rock is a baseball fan. Perhaps, instead of putting the game he claims to love, his time would be better spent promoting it to the youth he feels the game is not reaching. Baseball is making strides to revive baseball within the inner cities. Its efforts should be supported by a figure like Chris Rock, not shot down by more misguided “Baseball is dying” talk.