Granderson spurs important discussion
Everybody with a social conscience should applaud Curtis Granderson, because he is a rarity among African-American baseball players. Let's put it this way: The prolific slugger and thinker for the New York Yankees actually spoke in public about an ongoing concern in baseball, and he didn't retreat into the shadows afterward.
In essence, Granderson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that, not only are African-American players nearly extinct in the Major Leagues, but so are African-American fans.
Thus the concern. Most African-American players during these post-Jackie Robinson years have preferred only to speak about the travesty with hushed voices. That is, if they've bothered to speak about it at all. They've feared the possibility of a huge backlash.
As for Granderson, not so much.
With no hint of wondering about facing consequences for his words, Granderson told the Star-Telegram that he encourages his teammates to join him in spanning the stands at home and away games in search of African-Americans. Then he said, "At first, it starts off as a joke. As the game moves on, you'll get to 10, or maybe 15. Depends on where you are, too. Places like Chicago or New York, other places it's easy. (In Texas), it's hard. So after a while, it becomes, 'Told you so.'"
He was just warming up. So was Darren Oliver, an African-American pitcher for the Texas Rangers who also was quoted in the Star-Telegram article. Oliver eventually threw a strike with his tongue instead of his arm by mentioning that football and basketball do a better job than baseball of promoting within the African-American community.
The good news is that Major League Baseball is trying to change the situation. In fact, Commissioner Bud Selig often has told me that bringing African-Americans back into baseball is among his personal missions, and here's part of his motivation: He is a close friend of Hank Aaron, the Hall of Famer who has been outspoken for decades on the drop of African-Americans in the game.
Now, with much help from Selig, there is baseball's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program and it has produced the significant likes of Jimmy Rollins, CC Sabathia and James Loney. Baseball also has built academies with an emphasis on finding more African-American participants in Compton (Calif.), Houston and Philadelphia.
Academies also are planned for South Florida and New Orleans, and all of the academies are under the direction of Jimmie Lee Solomon, baseball's executive president for baseball operations.
Solomon is African-American, by the way.
So baseball gets it, but the dwindling numbers regarding African-Americans in the game say baseball needs to do more.
Surely you've heard much of this before, but those associated with baseball can't say it enough, especially the ones who are African-American. They need to keep saying it often and boldly. Instead, few African-American players in Major League history have dared to say much about any of this at all. They've been particularly mute on the subject through the years if they still are active and vibrant.
Such has been the case forever.
We can go back to the late 1940s through the 1950s, when African-American players were more into caution than conflict during the early years of Jackie Robinson. Consider, too, that the number of African-Americans players in the game back then was rising, and the same went for the number of African-American spectators. Which only heightened the silence among African-American players.
It's just that when the numbers of African-American fans and players in the Major Leagues began to flatten and then to sink during the next few decades, that silence among African-American players continued. Even worse, that silence was so striking that it was loud, because it stretched from the days of the Willies (Mays, McCovey and Stargell) and Ernie Banks through the era of Reggie Jackson, Ozzie Smith and Rickey Henderson and into recent times.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was vocal on the subject as an African-American player, and so was Bill Madlock, a multiple batting champion.
Give or take a few others, that was about it.
We're back to fear.
Just last year, you had the Torii Hunter flap. He told the USA Today that he believed baseball's influx of Latin-American players in recent years gave some folks the impression that the game wasn't losing its African-American players. He erred to the reporter by calling the Latin players "imposters." But he was just trying to say that he felt many in society have a tendency to view Latin players as African-Americans.
Hunter's intent didn't matter. After years of carrying the reputation as a Gold Glove center fielder with an everyman's personality for the Twins and Angels, Hunter was portrayed as an angry black man by knee-jerk psychologists. He was so hurt by the controversy that he threatened to take the silent approach in the future. He didn't, but he provided another reason for African-American players to keep their mouths shut on the subject.
I understand their reluctance, but we need Curtis Granderson clones, and we need them in a hurry.
According to the yearly study on sports leagues by Richard Lapchick at the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethnics in Sports, the number of African-American players on Major League opening day rosters this year was 8.5 percent, the lowest level since 2007.
During the early 1980s, 18 percent of rosters on Opening Days was African-American, but a decade before that, it was 24 percent. And, not surprisingly, the steady drop of African-American players through the years has contributed to that of African-American fans.
Said Granderson to the Star-Telegram, "If you poll a lot of African-American guys that are between 20 and 40 years old (and ask) what NBA player did you watch and want to be, they're all going to say, 'Michael Jordan.' He was the best player, and he looked like us. (In) baseball, you have a group playing right now who could say, 'Ken Griffey Jr,' but he's no longer in the game, and there hasn't been anybody to replace him."
No question there. But we'll also need an African-American player to replace Granderson, when he tires of discussing this subject while mostly operating as a solo voice.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.