Commissioner Bud Selig's contract is set to expire in 17 months. When it does Selig expects to gracefully walk into the sunset at age 80 leaving the game in the hands of an eventual successor.
Bob Costas' name came to mind as, not only as candidate heir to Selig's throne, but a legitimate one. Costas is arguably the top sports journalist in the country. He also happens to adore baseball.
Does Costas' impeccable journalistic career, his love of baseball and overall intellect make him a viable candidate to lead Major League Baseball?
Instead of wondering I decided to reach out to Costas and gauge his potential interest in being commissioner. I also wanted to know Costas' thoughts about possible changes he would make in baseball and what he'd recommend to increase the percentage of African-Americans playing in the Major Leagues.
When asked if he would consider replacing Bud Selig as commissioner Costas responded:
"I have no interest at in succeeding Selig. I have always flatly stated I considered myself unqualified for the position."
I then proposed the following hypothetical question: If you were commissioner what is the one thing you would change about the game to make it better?
Costas replied, "I would expand the use of instant replay in the post-season, and change the rule regarding 40 man rosters in September. Having so many players available distorts strategy, and it makes no sense to play important pennant race games under drastically different conditions than the rest of the season."
The number of African-American players is steadily declining. In 1975 the player representation rate was at an all-time high of 25 percent but today it's at an all-time low. According to Dr. Richard Lapchick, the director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports, African-American participation rate is at 7.7 percent.
I asked Costas what variables he feels have contributed to the methodical decline in African-American participation and what needs to happen to entice more African-Americans to play the game? Costas stated, "Baseball has actually tried very hard to increase African American participation, with marketing efforts, and with inner-city academies and programs like RBI reviving baseball in the inner cities. But they are up against some cultural trends."
He continued, "Young black athletes seem to prefer basketball and football, which obviously have much higher levels of African-American participation. Also, very few college baseball programs offer as many scholarships or the full scholarship benefits that basketball and football do. And college baseball, in most places, is not a glamour sport drawing large crowds like the football and basketball programs do."
Costas then touched on the economics of the game and how that potentially factors into the African-American decline: "In addition, elite baseball programs at the youth level have become more and more expensive with travel teams and the like. Many, though certainly not all African-American kids, can't afford to be part of those programs where as their high schools provide basketball and football opportunities."
Costas talked about the family unit and how it plays a pivotal in the lack of a strong African-American presence at the Major League level. Costas suggested, "Last, and this is a sensitive area, but one that does realistically play into the issue. Baseball tends to be a father son game-at least when a kid is first introduced to it. As we know, in certain portions of the black community, fatherlessness is a problem that goes well beyond baseball, but probably is a factor when it comes to declining baseball participation among black youth."
Some experts, me included, believe racism plays at least a role in the lack of African-Americans currently in baseball. To the contrary, Costas suggests the lack of an African-American presence is not so much a result of race-rather it's a complicated cultural dichotomy that exists within the African-American community.
Costas stated, "This is not a question of bigotry. Witness the huge influx of Hispanic players, many of them players of color, along with increasing numbers of players from Asia. This is a cultural rather than racial question. It's complicated, but I believe baseball is sincere in the pride it feels about the rich history of African-Americans in the Major Leagues, and its desire to see more African-Americans -- both on the field and in the stands."
Sadly facts indicate African-Americans are methodically becoming strangers to a game that was once a rich part of the fabric in their communities.
It's safe to say there's no clear-cut reason for the methodical decline of African-Americans participation: Only the passage of time and a well orchestrated plan will change the current issues that hamper baseball in hopes of a brighter future for African-Americans in the game.
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