60 Years Later: What Would Jackie Think?

The paucity of black skippers was just the most visible way MLB signaled that African-Americans -- in the unfortunate words of former Dodgers executive Al Campanis -- "lack the necessities" when it came to nonplaying jobs. In a 1982 survey of 24 clubs, blacks held only 32 of 913 front-office white-collar jobs. The survey also found only 15 of 568 full-time scouts were black.

It apparently didn't occur to lily-white baseball execs to market their teams to the black community. They took for granted African-Americans, who flocked to major league parks to cheer the early black players. Commissioner Bud Selig likes to recall traveling from Milwaukee to Chicago with his best friend -- and now U.S. Senator -- Herb Kohl for one of Jackie Robinson's first games against the Cubs. They were among the few white faces in the upper deck.

"The black fans went to baseball games because of the black pioneers -- the Jackie Robinsons, the Larry Dobys gave them a lot of pride," says Bill White, a black player in the 1950s and 1960s and later a Yankee broadcaster and National League president. As those pioneers retired and as sports like basketball and football ascended, White believes, baseball's hold on African-Americans weakened.

He also believes MLB didn't do enough to market the game to black fans or black players.

"The average salary was higher in baseball, the pension was much better, but I don't think baseball was selling that," White says.

Caucasian scouts were disinclined to bird-dog the declining number of inner-city ball fields when college baseball programs had so much talent. These were cushier environs -- also whiter. Since 1992, the NCAA has limited college baseball teams to a mere 11.7 scholarships, so their rosters are heavy on Caucasians with fewer financial considerations. Just 6.5 percent of Division I baseball players were black in 2005, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics.

Even baseball teams at historically black colleges and universities (known as HBCUs) are now often comprised of mostly whites and Hispanics. Bethune-Cookman University, currently the No. 2 ranked HBCU baseball team in the country, plays its home games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach, Fla., site of Robinson's first exhibition game in the Dodgers organization. Only seven of Bethune-Cookman's 31 players are black.

This is not what Jackie had in mind, rues Graham, a Daytona Beach resident who lays a wreath at the ballpark in Robinson's memory each year on his friend's birthday, Jan. 31.

"I'm concerned," he says, though he doesn't lay all the blame on MLB. "I don't think enough of us African-Americans have gotten together to maintain kids' interest."

What would Jackie think?

Jules Tygiel, a leading Robinson scholar, believes Robinson would demand bold strokes from MLB to restock with black players and reconnect with black fans.

"Baseball integrated because Branch Rickey took a chance on affirmative action, on going outside the usual way of business," says Tygiel, a professor at San Francisco State University who has written and edited three books about Robinson. "Jackie Robinson would say baseball has to go out and take affirmative action again."

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