Chris Rock describes himself as “an endangered species.” In what way? As “a black baseball fan.”
In a segment for HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” the comedian looked at how and why black players and fans seem to have abandoned participation and interest in what’s long been referred to as “the national pastime.” He pointed out that in the 1980s, black people made up about 20 percent of major league players; a recent MLB study put that number at 8.5 percent for the start of the 2013 season.
When Rock was a young man in New York, the 1986 Mets won the World Series with a roster studded with black stars such as Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson. But he noted — amusingly, of course — many ways in which things have changed:
- The 2014 World Series winner, the Giants, had zero black players (and “the closest thing to a person of color in the stands was their mascot, a biracial seal“), nor did their NLCS opponent, the Cardinals.
- Stillman College, a historically black institution located in Tuscaloosa, Ala., has one black player on its 35-man roster.
- Howard University dropped baseball altogether. (“Yeah, lacrosse is black enough for Howard, but not baseball.”)
- Some say baseball costs too much money, but that doesn’t stop it from being the sport of choice for poor Dominicans. (“The only equipment they have are twigs for bats, diapers for gloves and Haitians for bases.”)
- Baseball is stuck in the past (“You know, good old days of Ruth, DiMaggio, Emmett Till …”), and the game moves too slowly for today’s culture.
- Its notorious anti-celebration “code” is anathema to many black athletes. (“Baseball is like a visit to the queen — if you don’t bow correctly, it could be an international incident.”)
- Baseball even put its un-cool stink on 50 Cent, who threw a memorably awful first pitch and “hasn’t had a hit record since!”
- The decline of interest among blacks has widespread repercussions. (“You lose Black America, you lose Young America.”)
- Little League participation and World Series viewership are down overall. (“Of the people who still watch baseball on TV, five out of six are white, and their average age is 53. That’s not an audience, that’s a Tea Party Rally!”)
Unfortunately for the people who run baseball at its various levels, Rock didn’t provide any ways to reverse the current trend of apathy. All the comedian could suggest was, “Maybe if baseball gets a little hipper, a little cooler, just a little more black, the future can change.”
But it certainly didn’t sound like Rock thought that could, or would, happen. And the slow death of the sport is a prospect that many would not find amusing at all.
Here is video of the “Real Sports” segment: