x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

MLB: Baseball rebuilding link to Jackie Robinson's game

Ironically, the number of African-Americans in baseball has dropped from a high of 27 per cent in the 1970s to about nine per cent today.

Brooklyn Dodger infielder Jackie Robinson in 1952.
Brooklyn Dodger infielder Jackie Robinson in 1952.

Baseball's annual celebration of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke MLB's "colour barrier" in 1947, may earn extra attention this time around, thanks to Hollywood.

The just-released movie 42 tells again the story of the African-American athlete, who was hand-picked by Branch Rickey, general manager of the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, to desegregate the all-white major leagues.

Recently, baseball has engaged in a re-emphasis of that moment in American history by celebrating the April 15 anniversary day of Robinson's first game. His No 42 has been permanently retired by every team, although the veteran pitcher Mariano Rivera, who was already wearing 42 with the Yankees when MLB retired the number, is allowed to wear it. The other exception, of course, comes Tuesday when every player on every team will wear the number.

Ironically, the number of African-Americans in baseball has dropped from a high of 27 per cent in the 1970s to about nine per cent today.

The shift of inner-city youths to basketball and football, coupled with the increase of Latinos and Asians in the sport, have weakened that link to Jackie Robinson's game.

To answer, for more than a decade, MLB has been sponsoring youth programs, making incremental progress in re-attracting blacks. Whatever the results over the next decade, the sport should be encouraged to continue the two-pronged approach — the ceremonial and the practical.