Walt Ambrose of Vashon High School in St. Louis, which produced Elston Howard, the first black to be named Most Valuable Player in the American League, agrees. "When I was a boy we played baseball every available minute," he says, "but black kids today seem to feel it's more fun playing basketball. Interest in baseball just isn't as great. We used to have 75 to 80 players turn out for baseball. Last year we had about 25."
Basketball and football certainly seem to be capturing the better young black athletes. Whereas athletic scholarships are common among black basketball and football players, comparatively few go to black baseball players. The Sporting News notes a concomitant paucity of blacks on its All-America college baseball teams—only 10 in the past seven years. In contrast, all five players on The Sporting News' 1976 All-America basketball team were black, as were 13 of the 24 on its All-America football team.
Walter Shannon, supervisor of scouting for the California Angels, says, "Black youngsters are becoming harder to sign. The jobs open to them are more attractive than minor league baseball. Basketball and football players can go right from college to the major leagues, but a baseball player generally has to work his way up, and the salaries in the minor leagues are small."
Jim Taylor, the tough fullback of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, is critical of today's NFL players.
"The modern player is basically selfish," Taylor says. "Spiking the ball in the end zone illustrates this. When I scored a touchdown, I used to realize it took 10 other guys to get me there. There are only a few left like me."
Taylor's comment on the much larger salaries the players are being paid is less caustic. "I say fine, let them get all they can get," he says, "but let them support it with performance."
He is critical of the owners, too. "The trouble between the players and the owners started when Billy Howton [then offensive end with the Packers] pointed out that football management had not provided a major medical plan for the players. Baseball and other sports had medical plans, but we didn't.
"This is where I blame the owners. They've had to be forced to do everything, first by the union and now by the courts."