There’s one hope for the Jackie Robinson biopic 42.
And it’s more than just the hope that it opens No. 1 at the box office after its nationwide release on Friday.
Although that would be cool, it’s bigger than that, much bigger.
The hope is not only that after viewing the film, black people realize how much baseball is a part of our history. The hope is also that perhaps, they fall in love with the game again.
After all, baseball is our game, too.
Somehow, we’ve lost our way; we think baseball is for others, not us.
We couldn’t be more wrong. Baseball is a part of our heritage, cut from our cloth.
Since 1947, when Robinson broke the color barrier in the national pastime, becoming the first African-American player, the influence of our people has been great in the sport.
Check the record books. It’s pretty amazing how dominant African-Americans have been in a sport we weren’t even allowed to play in until about 60 years ago. The sport has been around more than twice as long.
When you look at the Top 10 players in the all-time homers list, black players hold four of the top six spots, including the top two with Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron, respectively. Babe Ruth is third.
And of the 25 players who have hit 500 or more, 11 of those players are African-American.
Robinson’s impact was, of course, bigger than just on the field. He made black people feel proud, made us feel like we were a part of an America which, at that point, treated us as second-class citizens with segregation.
That’s why blacks flocked to major league games to see him play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Often times, they could only sit in bad bleacher seats, reserved for “coloreds.” And some racist owners even made our people pay double or triple to try to keep them out of the park. And folks still showed up.
In the ’80s, we started to stray. The Michael Jordan craze hit us and people wanted to be like Mike. Makes sense. We happened to witness one of, if not the, greatest basketball player ever. People fell under Jordan’s and basketball’s spell.
But remember, even Jordan wanted to play baseball. And he was willing to go to the minors.
Sadly, the reason there aren’t as many brothers playing baseball today has a lot to do with two factors. No. 1, Major League Baseball outsourced many jobs 15 to 20 years ago. That’s when it started setting up baseball academies in Latin America.
It was a simple business decision. In the U.S., you’d often have to pay black and white players loot upfront and have to deal with agents and lawyers. That wasn’t the case in the Latin community.
Meanwhile, in our community, we had AAU basketball coaches making our kids quit baseball to focus on basketball. It happened to my nephew, who was an All-Star Little Leaguer.
We still have kids dreaming of being one of a handful of players that make it in the NBA draft. But there are only 30 guaranteed contracts out of the draft. In the NFL, even if you make it, you're entire deal isn't guaranteed. The average career in the NFL is less than four seasons.
But it baseball, if you're willing to put in your time and for low pay (about $1,000 a month with all expenses paid) until you make the 40-man roster, there are plenty minor league jobs out there. There 240 minor league baseball teams, just 16 NBDL teams and no minor league football teams.
But in baseball, if you’re willing to put in your time and effort, you can get a job. There are so many minor league teams. Plus, if you do make it to the majors, the money is far better than any other sport. The Ravens’ Joe Flacco just won the Super Bowl and got a contract for $130.6 million, but only $52 million guaranteed.
Alex Rodriguez signed a $275 million deal with the Yankees, and he will get every single penny. One of the top black stars in baseball, Detroit’s Prince Fielder, signed a $214 million deal two years ago.
Speaking of loot, we didn’t even mention Curt Flood, another black man in baseball, who made all the free-agent money in all sports possible by fighting baseball in court and winning.
No one is saying black kids shouldn’t want to play in the NBA or NFL. It’s just that they shouldn’t shun baseball. They should play it, as well, and not be talked out of it by selfish coaches.
Robinson – who was also a varsity athlete in football, basketball and track – changed this country forever and made us proud to be black in America – maybe even for the first time, for some.
We should never forget him or the idea that baseball is our sport, too. It always has been.