Lebar: Baseball abandoned by most African Americans

Apr 20 2011 - 4:18pm

Darren Ford has many traits distinguishing him from his San Francisco Giants teammates. One is particularly significant.

Not that he's the fastest. Important, yes.

Not that he's competing with Sergio Romo for how much he can bury his head in his hat. It is a look.

Not that he replaced his No. 34 with No. 42 Friday. Every player in Major League Baseball wore Jackie Robinson's retired number in honor of the Brooklyn Dodgers great who broke baseball's color line in 1947. A field of 42s may confound announcers trying to figure out who's in the bullpen, but the practice is a cool one.

Back to Ford -- he had been called up to replace Andres Torres. And because of that odd quirk, Ford became the only African American player in a Giants uniform that day.

The reasons are myriad why the percentage of African Americans in the majors has dropped from about 25 percent in the mid-1970s to about 10 percent now. In the book "Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game," author Rob Ruck examines the effects of the dismantling of the Negro Leagues decades ago to the economic realities of, say, African American students choosing between partial scholarships for baseball and full ones for basketball. That's a slam-dunk.

The door isn't slammed shut. Robinson opened it and now the game is diverse and fun in so many ways. But Ruck notes we have lost something and baseball can't claim to be the national pastime with many potentially premier players not choosing it.

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