On meticulously clipped adjacent diamonds in Fort Myers, Fla., this spring, one could catch a glimpse of the future of major league baseball. About 150 premier high school players from across America ran, hit, pitched and fielded at a privately run camp at which they hoped to catch the eye of pro scouts and college coaches. Al Davis watched proudly as his 16-year-old son, Stephan, competed among the mass of young men running about in the bright sunshine. At this moment baseball shimmered with the possibilities of youth; perhaps even a future star or two was in the mix. But there was something else about the scene that struck Davis with the force of an open palm across the face. "One hundred and fifty kids," says Davis, an African-American who works in sports marketing, "and I counted six blacks."� More than half a century after Jackie Robinson courageously began the integration of major league baseball and a generation after blacks filled one of every four big league roster spots, the African-American ballplayer is becoming a rarity again. As the 2003 season neared its midpoint on Sunday, there were only 90 blacks in the major leagues, or 10% of the players on 25-man rosters and disabled lists. "And you can expect that number to go down even more," says Southern University coach Roger Cador.
The trend in high school and college, coupled with what some blacks identify as a cultural disconnect with the game, suggests that the disappearance of black players from the major leagues will continue. According to the 2003 Racial and Gender Report Card, prepared by Richard E. Lapchick of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, the number of blacks (defined as US.-born African-Americans) in the major leagues dropped almost by half from 1995 to 2002-from 19% to 10%. The number is down 63% from 1975, when blacks filled 27% of roster spots.
The evidence is on view at every major league ballpark. On the weekend of June 13-15, for instance, the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals met for the first time since the 1964 World Series and drew 165,000 fans to the three-game interleague series at Yankee Stadium. Between them the Yankees and the Cardinals suited up only three blacks: New York shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Charles Gipson and St. Louis outfielder Kerry Robinson. When they last played in '64, during the heyday of the civil rights movement, the Yankees and the Cardinals featured six African-Americans combined.
Among other evidence that the black presence in the game is diminishing:
?Seven African-Americans were named to the 2002 All-Star team, compared with 15 in 1972.
?There are 13 black pitchers in the majors, including only five starters.
?There are 19 blacks younger than 26 in the majors; only one of them ( Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins) has been an All-Star.
?The Boston Red Sox do not have a black starting pitcher or every-day player for the first time since 1961, two years after they became the last team to integrate their roster.
The picture in college baseball, which provides a great portion of the next generation of major leaguers, is also bleak:
?In 2001, according to the most recent analysis (using data supplied by the NCAA) from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, African-Americans made up 6.7% of Division I college ballplayers on scholarship (excluding those at historically black institutions, such as Southern).