The gates were finally open for Black ballplayers after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. More and more players of color became major leaguers. According to Mark Armour of the Society of American Baseball Research, the peak for African-American players in the MLB was 1986 at 19 percent.
Tony Gwynn Sr., who is one of the greatest hitters who ever lived, was arguably the best player in the game the following season posting a .370 batting average and collecting 218 hits.
“I was just a little kid then but I remember my dad playing and there were so many African-American stars in the game then like him and Barry Bonds,” Tony Gwynn Jr. said.
Some of the finest players in the game during the late ‘80s were Black. Rickey Henderson was the greatest leadoff hitter and stolen base artist ever.
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“I used to go to the Coliseum in Oakland, just to see Rickey play,” Jimmy Rollins said. “He was amazing and inspiring.”
Ken Griffey Jr. was the Mike Trout of his era and then there were sluggers, such as Cecil Fielder and Kevin Mitchell.
Why are there so few Black men playing baseball? Does it have anything to do with how the NBA and the NFL are marketed? Ken Griffey Sr. thinks so.
“I believe the way those sports are marketed has had an effect,” Griffey said. “They do a great job and many African-Americans buy into it.”
Griffey’s own son, Trey Griffey lined his walls with football players when his father was playing a decade ago.
“His favorite player back then was Willis McGahee,” Griffey said.“He idolized him. I was just dad. I played baseball and it was all about football for him. I think the marketing got to him”
Gwynn believes that cost plays a part in sport.
“Baseball equipment is expensive,” Gwynn said. “Baseball bats for kids are about $160 and a glove is about $100. That’s a lot of money. Compare that to football where in many instances the equipment is provided and basketball, in which all you need is the neighborhood playground, some sneakers and a basketball. It doesn’t take much to get that. It’s a shame that less African-American kids play baseball today because it’s such a great game.”