Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from "After Jackie: Pride, Prejudice and Baseball's Forgotten Heroes" by Cal Fussman. Copyright (c) 2007 by Cal Fussman. Reprinted by permission of ESPN Books. Click here for information on how to purchase the book.
MY FIRST FULL year with the Twins was 1999, and that's when I really noticed it. All the teams would come to town and I'd say to myself, Man, there's only one over there, none over there. Awhile back Cincinnati had eight. I was, like, Whoa, only two now ...
We talk about it as players. I remember one time, Derek Jeter came over to me and said, "Hey, we're getting scarce."
Sometimes you look out in the crowd at a ballpark and you don't see any black faces. If you pay attention, you'll see that's the way it is. After glancing over 5,000 people, maybe you find a few black faces.
I look for them, black faces. I don't think that means I'm a racist or anything. It's natural. If you were playing in Japan and you looked up in the stands and saw some American faces, you might say, Hey, there's Americans out there tonight.
It makes you think of the guys who were fighting a long time ago. Satchel Paige. Josh Gibson. Cool Papa Bell. Finally, Jackie broke into the major
leagues, and we get up to where we were nearly 30%. Now, we're down to less than 10%.
There are so many reasons why African-Americans have turned away from baseball, and I've heard 'em all. The money. The father-son thing. The marketing.
Look back to Michael Jordan and those shoes. Every kid wanted Air Jordans. Everybody knew Jordan played basketball, and now you see every kid with a basketball.
It translates. I went back home to Arkansas, and I was talking to a group of kids, and I mentioned Ken Griffey Jr. They said, "Who's that?" I said, "Are you kidding me?" But they didn't even know who he was.
Barry Bonds is supposed to be the Michael Jordan of our game, but he's getting scrutinized with all these steroids accusations, and the game of baseball is running away from him.
Meanwhile, the NBA is showcasing Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony. You see 'em on commercials. They're always happy. You see it so much it kind of brainwashes you. It makes you want to play basketball. A kid sees himself as a little Dwyane Wade, not a little Torii Hunter. We all know you have to be 6´5˝ to be Dwyane Wade. But a dream doesn't care about reality.
The reality is that baseball has become a country club sport, like tennis or golf. You have to pay for equipment -- and that's expensive. A glove sets you back a hundred bucks, minimum. How much does a basketball cost? Twenty bucks? One's enough for 10 kids to have a game. And if you live near a hoop, you don't need another kid to practice with. You just go to the park and shoot. A baseball glove won't do you much good if you're by yourself.
And that glove is just for starters. A bat's gonna get you for another $50. Then, if you want to play organized ball, like Little League, there's uniforms. And if you want to compete against the best kids, you're gonna need to get on a traveling team and go to tournaments. That's where the scouts will see you. There's not too many scouts going into the 'hood. They're waiting until a select team is playing at a tournament in a nice area. Everybody who's good will be there, and that's where you'll get seen.
Everybody knows you need some money to get into the country club.
That's how kid baseball's being played these days.
-- Torii Hunter