In an article written yesterday, Hank Aaron, Major League Baseball’s All-Time Home Run King (that’s right, Barry Bonds doesn’t count) suggested that Braves rookie Jason Heyward can help “what ails baseball.”
Heyward, a five-tool rookie sensation who some are touting as the best Braves prospect since Aaron himself, can certainly help what ails the Braves—a lack of production from the outfield—but what about Hank’s comments regarding baseball as a whole?
The “ailment” that Aaron refers to is the growing concern in certain circles that there are too few African-Americans in the Major Leagues.
While I agree with Aaron that the emergence of a young African-American superstar like Heyward (and as a Braves fan, I certainly hope that he develops into a superstar) could encourage more African-American youths to play baseball, I wonder: how big of an issue is this? Is it necessary/important for ethnic groups to be properly represented in major sports? If so, shouldn’t we be concerned about the lack of Caucasians in the NBA? Shouldn’t the lack of Asian-Americans in the NFL be a cause for great alarm?
After all, it’s not the 1940s anymore, and thanks to Jackie Robinson, neither African-Americans nor any other ethnic group are being systematically excluded from the Major Leagues. So that begs the question: why are African-Americans choosing sports other than baseball?
There have been many proposed answers, from the inherent expense involved in playing baseball to the lack of inner city baseball programs to the overall decline in baseball’s popularity compared to other sports.
I think the most interesting theory that I’ve heard (which would also explain baseball’s general decline in popularity) is suggested by political science professor Diana Schaub. Schaub argues that baseball is an “acquired taste,” the love of which is best passed on from fathers to their children. The increase in the number of children (and especially African-American children) raised without fathers has led to a generation of children with no love for baseball.
I don’t know if Schaub has stumbled upon the answer or not, but I recommend the article; it’s a fascinating read.
In the meantime, through one Major League game, Jason Heyward is batting .400 with a home run (hit in his first career at bat) and 4 runs batted in. Here’s hoping that, at the very least, he can help with what ails my beloved Braves.