PHILADELPHIA – When Jimmy Rollins rooked his first All-Star team to the Philadelphia Phillies 20 years ago, the majors had 13 black players.
This year it is only 7.6%.
As the Phillies celebrated Jackie Robinson Day along with the rest of baseball on Thursday and Friday, Rollins considered the decline.
“It’s more than a thing,” Rollins told The Associated Press. “Marketing. The NBA and the NFL, these guys’ faces are plastered all over the screen. Baseball, there isn’t really a lot of marketing. Of course everyone knows Mike Trout and rightly so, but there are some young black players who do something too Deserve light. “
Rollins pointed to Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds as popular players who were well marketed in their teens.
“But when you start walking outside of those select few, the sport itself doesn’t market anyone in a way that will attract downtown kids,” he said.
Rollins and teammate Ryan Howard won the NL Most Valuable Player Awards with the Phillies in 2006 and 2007 in a row. The possibilities of marketing two superstars on the same dominant team should have been endless.
“I remember we, a lot of black players, had a phone call to Spike Lee years ago,” said Rollins. “We flew to Chicago. We were at MLB and the union and Spike Lee. We talked about doing advertising. That never happened. It was like a one time thing. Not to knock on MLB, but they will do things that look great on first sight. However, the impact is minimal as there is generally never a real follow-up. It’s not just baseball. Many organizations do that. “
Rollins also attributed the decline in black baseball players to socio-economic factors.
“You need space to play baseball,” he said. “That doesn’t exist in many places. In the country you will find a field. Children don’t play stickball in the city. A basketball that you could pick up and dribble. It’s easier to find a dish. You don’t have to use nine players to play basketball. You can play one on one. The cost, you need the tools, you have to pay for travel teams. In other sports we know it has been well documented. They’re sponsored and those things don’t happen in baseball.
“You also see how baseball is traditionally passed from father to son. If your dad isn’t around, you’re less likely to be exposed to baseball because it’s more of a team sport. “
Rollins recently hosted a special series for Bleacher Report about being black in Major League Baseball. The first part debuted Thursday in honor of Jackie Robinson Day and featured Rollins chats with Howard, Dwight Gooden, and 2020 Rookie of the Year winners, Kyle Lewis of the Seattle Mariners and Devin Williams of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Lewis and Williams were the first black ball players to win rookie honors since Gooden and Alvin Davis in 1984, three years before the BBWAA renamed the award in honor of the man who broke baseball’s color barrier.
“Jackie was the man who went through the whole fire, faced criticism, heard all the bad words and things that got in his way, and still went out and performed well enough to win rookie of the year,” said Rollins. “But outside of baseball, it was just a reflection of what America had to do, and that became more inclusive.
“We know about baseball, but its activism and civil rights struggle not only began on the field, it has already happened. We have to see it in uniform. Then he pushed himself further away from the field and fought for the right to be basically human, to be a man, to be respected, to be seen. I think people need to realize that he’s not just Jackie Robinson the baseball player, but that there’s more to his life as a man. “