It seems ironic. At a time major league baseball executives say they’re worried that the number of African Americans playing in the big leagues continues to drop, commissioner Bud Selig is considering allowing the Oakland Athletics to move to San Jose.
Back in the 1970s, 27 percent of those playing in the majors were black. Now it’s down to about eight percent. That’s less than half the 17 percent in 1959, when the Boston Red Sox became the last team to integrate.
There are many possible explanations for the decline.
- The globalization of the game, with more players from Japan, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, squeezes roster space.
- For inner city youth, organized baseball is prohibitively expensive when compared to basketball.
- College scholarships for football and basketball players are far more generous than they are for baseball. And other sports are gaining popularity.
In recent years, baseball has tried to reverse the trend through its RBI program (Reviving Baseball in Inner cities). Still, it’s gotten so bad that the World Champions, the San Francisco Giants, formerly led by players such as Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Barry Bonds, have no African Americans on their roster. Not one.
Certainly keeping the A’s in Oakland won’t, in and of itself, prevent a further drop in the number of African American players. But just as certainly, on a symbolic level at least, moving the A’s to San Jose sends the wrong
Of all the big cities in California, Oakland by far has the highest percentage of blacks: 28 percent. San Jose’s black population is 3.2 percent.
Even before Oakland got a major league team 45 years ago, the East Bay had a rich history of placing blacks in the game. A surprisingly large number of black baseball greats and Hall of Famers were either born or raised in Oakland and neighboring Alameda: Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson, Willie Stargell, Vada Pinson, Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, Jimmy Rollins, Dontrelle Willis and Jermaine Dye among others.
There are many reasons that A’s owner Lew Wolff has for wanting to move to San Jose.
- Players and fans alike consider the existing Oakland stadium one of the worst in baseball, and given Oakland’s recent political history, the prospects of a united City Hall working with the A’s to get a new stadium there seem doubtful.
- San Jose city officials have already set aside a site for a new ballpark near downtown, although the state is questioning the validity of agreements now that redevelopment agencies have been terminated.
- San Jose is a much bigger city than Oakland, and since it is in the heart of Silicon Valley, a team there would likely be well positioned to sell out lucrative luxury boxes.
- The city also has ideal summer baseball weather, warmer and drier than either San Francisco or Oakland.
If it weren’t for objections from the San Francisco Giants, who claim San Jose is part of their territory, major league baseball almost certainly would have approved the move long ago. Financially it just makes too much sense. San Jose is where the money is, but Oakland is where the history is. Baseball should think long and hard before selling it out.