So, when did major league baseball become the PGA Tour?
That was my initial thought when I read that only 67 African-American players were on Major League Baseball opening day rosters. That’s a far cry from a high of 18.7 percent African-Americans MLBers in 1981. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2014/04/14/jackie-robinson-day-mlb-hank-aaron-racism-still-exists/7723045/) Today, watching MLB is almost like watching the PGA Tour, in terms of looking for African-American players. Tiger Woods is still the only current PGA Tour player of African descent, and he is out indefinitely. OK, that’s a bit of a stretch, especially considering Woods has been practically the only African-American on the PGA Tour for years, while baseball has always had African-American stars. Nonetheless, there is a link between the two sports. Baseball is losing black players, and golf can’t produce black players. Why is this occurring? However, before addressing that point, it should be noted there were actually more black players on the PGA Tour in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s than there are today.
African-Americans Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Pete Brown, Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe, Jim Dent, and have all won events on the PGA Tour during those three decades. Peete (12 career victories) was one of the game’s best player’s during the mid ’80s. He won the Player’s Championship, and played on a Ryder Cup team. (http://www.pgatour.com/content/pgatour/players/player.01935.calvin-peete.html/career) Yet, with Tiger Woods being arguably the most recognized athlete on earth, the number of black golfers have not grown.
Meanwhile, in baseball, the number of African-Americans in the MLB continues to slide despite programs like MLB’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) program. Of course, “Inner Cities” is a code word for African-Americans.
One thing that is no longer an issue in golf or baseball is discrimination. Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, and Sifford earned full playing rights on the PGA Tour in 1961. However, a case can be made that this is still an issue of color. This time it is green, as in money. A major impediment is that golf and baseball are very expensive sports.
The cost of green fees, equipment, and the fact that most courses aren’t located in inner city areas, keep a lot of African-American kids from the game. And, while Tiger Woods is arguably the most recognized athlete on earth, very few African-Americans have chosen not to emulate him. The same can be said for the LPGA Tour, where Woods’ cousin, Cheyenne, is competing.
The primary track for developing black golfers, the caddy system, has all but died. Of the black former PGA Tour players mentioned earlier, all but Peete got their start through caddying. However, caddying is all but gone at most courses these days. Money is also a problem in baseball, where the elite travel teams play all over the country. Most black kids simply can’t afford to play. The Huffington Post took a look at the expenses of playing baseball, and it is clear that black families are choosing not to, or can’t afford, the costs. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/09/black-baseball-players_n_5079219.html Aside from money, the interest in baseball simply is not there. Sandlot games, which spawned many black players in the past, no longer exist. Just think about the last time you saw a group of kids playing a sandlot baseball game? Most predominantly black high schools in the country don’t even have golf teams, and the teams you see are not good. The same thing applies for predominantly black baseball teams on the high school level. So, naturally, if they aren’t playing golf or baseball in high school, you won’t see many playing at the collegiate level, either.
That is the case even at the Historically Black Colleges Universities (HBCU).
Go to practically any HBCU website and look for the golf team, and the teams will be composed of mostly, if not all, white. And, while you are there, click over to the baseball team’s page. If the school even has a baseball team, you will likely see mostly white players. http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/72021954/white-players-making-up-majority-of-historically-black-college-baseball-teams. Like MLB’s RBI program, The First Tee of America is designed to introduce young people from all walks of life, to golf. As a former instructor/coach at the First Tee of Nashville, I know precisely what an excellent program it is. Kids are given equipment, and instruction.
They learn leadership and life skills. In Nashville at the Vinny Links course, they have access to a 9-hole course that is free of charge. Despite all of these resources available, the number of African-Americans who take the game seriously are few. Neither the First Tee or RBI have been successful in developing professionals.
This is certainly not to discount the important work these organization have done in developing the leadership skills, and making the introduction to the sport. In that regard, if a pro never comes out of those programs, and they continue to build good citizens, their work is priceless. But for the sake of this article we are discussing the development of pro athletes in golf and baseball.
Today, in the African-American community, young men and women dream of the NBA and WNBA. Football remains highly popular, and track and field programs continue to produce outstanding competitors.
However, golf and baseball, and you can make a similar argument regarding tennis, another high-end cost sport, struggle. Some find golf and baseball boring. Others find it too difficult, and simply do not have the patience and discipline to develop their skills.
Whatever the case, African-American kids are not developing in these two sports. The emphasis and training have to start at a young age. If not, by the time they get to high school they are not going to be able to hit a curve ball, or pound a 300 yard drive.
While they may be able to learn baseball and golf and pursue it as a recreational sport, becoming a pro, or even a collegiate level player is very unlikely.