Are African Americans Underrepresented in College Baseball?

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

If you’ve read this site for a while, you may have seen my post about a young man named Mendez Elder who plays in the inner-city baseball league I’m involved with. Mendez did attend The Perfect Game National Showcase and I hear he made the most of his opportunity. He was 2-for-4 with a standup triple, a single and two stolen bases. His arm was rated as above average Major League arm playing both Right Field and Catcher. He really made us all proud!

Without organizations like L.E.A.D., however, I fear the number of African-Americans playing baseball at the collegiate level will continue to dwindle. On the rosters of this year’s eight College World Series teams there were just 11 African-American players out of 275 – that’s only 4 percent of players. Why?

We hear a lot of debate about whether college scholarships are sufficient compensation to college athletes or if they should be paid for their performance on the field. What we fail to discuss is the blockade many young men face trying to earn one of these coveted scholarships.

Most of the guys I know who played college baseball spent years playing travel baseball and taking private pitching or hitting lessons. They have the latest gloves, bats, cleats, and custom baseball uniforms.Their parents will tell you they spent thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars over the years getting their son to a level where he could compete for a college scholarship. The last time I posted on this I received responses pointing out the fundraising that is done by most travel teams. However, these teams are not located close enough to the inner-city for most of the young men I work with. Many come from broken homes. Many live on very tight budgets. Their parents can’t drive them out to the suburbs where the travel teams are concentrated because they are working multiple jobs or don’t have a reliable vehicle. That’s not to say they are the only youth with disadvantages to overcome, I’m simply explaining why there was a need in this community for an organization like L.E.A.D.

Back to why the number of African-Americans playing collegiate baseball is dwindling….

Collegiate baseball scholarships are getting harder and harder to earn. The NCAA limits the  number of full scholarships in baseball to 11.7, however, the typical team roster is between 25-45 players.  In 2008, new rules were adopted that limited the number of players on aid to 30 for the 2008-2009 season and 27 for the 2009-2010 season.  Scholarships used to be split into amounts that allowed most, if not all, of the roster players to receive some sort of financial aid.  Unfortunately, there was some abuse that caused the new rules to be implemented.  Coaches were giving out “tryout scholarships” which lured the player to campus with a small scholarship.  The amount was small enough that the coach could cut the player during fall practices without if effecting his bottom line.

Sometimes rules aimed at one problem make way for a new kind of problem.  Under the new rules, only 27 players can be on scholarship and each scholarship must be for at least 25% of the tuition, room and board.  Compare that to football where 85 full scholarships are available for about 87 roster spots (active and inactive), or basketball where 13 full scholarships are available for 12-15 roster spots.  Which sport would you choose to play if you were a young African-American athlete who could only get a college education through an athletic scholarship?

Consider this: the champions of the 2009 College World Series, the LSU Tigers, had two African-American players, neither of whom were on baseball scholarships.  Instead, Chad Jones and Jared Mitchell were both on football scholarships.

African-American young men who, like Mendez, grow up in the inner-city simply cannot afford to play travel baseball or take private lessons. Without participation on travel teams or being part of top-notch high school programs, these young men do not develop on the baseball field and/or go unnoticed.

For the young men who participate in L.E.A.D., a revolutionary inner-city baseball organization, college isn’t just a fairytale. It’s something they’re taught they can achieve with dedication to their studies and fine-tuning of their skills on the diamond. These young men aren’t playing baseball to become the next major leaguer. They’re playing baseball to earn a college scholarship – the only way most of them will ever set foot on a college campus as a student.

L.E.A.D. has changed that for quite a few young men in Atlanta by creating the first-ever inner-city travel program that doesn’t cost the participants one dime. The L.E.A.D. Ambassadors play against elite travel teams like nearby East Cobb, a perennial contender in AAU and Baseball America’s “Most Outstanding Youth Baseball Program in the Nation” for the entire decade of the 1990s. In addition to the baseball opportunities, scholarship and community service are emphasized, with 100% of the L.E.A.D. Ambassador graduates being accepted to college since the program’s inception and over 2,000 hours of community service being performed. Since being formed in 2008, 87% of the participants in the program have gone on to earn college scholarships to play baseball while pursuing higher education.

I don’t know the best way to address the shrinking population of African American collegiate baseball players, but I do know I was shocked to learn that they made up just 4% of CWS team rosters. Certainly the story would be different if we looked at rosters for teams in BCS bowls or March Madness. What I do know is that L.E.A.D. is an amazing organization making progress in this area, so I encourage you to check out their website and support their efforts or similar efforts in your community.

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  • Average citizen
    June 24, 2011

    Are whites under represented in the NBA and NFL? We all have an equal chance in today’s era. Writer’s just like to dwell about it and that’s the only reason some think it’s still an issue. Leave the past out of it and think about today.

  • Adam
    June 24, 2011

    That is a good article. I have some friends thatsay whites are under represented in football and basketball, can yoi give those numbers?

  • Kevin
    July 1, 2011

    LSU also had Chris Magee and Leon Landry on that 09 team. Both played, both on scholarship, both African-American.

  • Alvin Stone
    July 1, 2011

    Why does it matter the color of the athlete? Is this a complaint about quality in college baseball? The best baseball players will choose minor or major league baseball over college baseball if they are drafted. In professional baseball, those drafted athletes that want an education will negotiate an education clause if they fail to make the team or get cut for any reason.

    Some athletes that play college football get drafted by baseball while they are in school and “pay” for their college education with the bonus plus have the opportunity to get drafted again in football and forego baseball. So, the best athletes have more options.

    Add to the fact that college baseball offers “partial” scholarships and you have athletes chosing other options. Football needs to develop a minor league system (perhaps in conjunction with the NCAA or NFL) and give those athletes that may not be “inclined” to attend college other avenues. The graduation rates for baseball, football, and basketball at many BCS programs are extremely low…so education is not the primary reason many atheletes attend college (and it’s markedly lower for African american athletes in many cases). College is not for everyone. There are too few options (avenues) available to top athletes out of high schoo, particularly in football for those that don’t want a college education. Where are the college sponsored trade schools?

    They are, baseball, football, basketball etc., directly related in the eye of the athlete.

  • Dr. Evans
    May 17, 2012

    Your absolutely correct! Baseball is very exspensive to train a player to get to ANY LEGITMENT LEVEL. MY grandson is 12 years old and an excellent MVP African American Player, but the cost to get him to that level and keep him advancing cost money that most African American families can not afford. Not only are we dealing with private batting lessions that can cost $300 amonth but the inability of him recognizing other African American Players around him doing the same.

  • W L Smith
    April 12, 2013

    WL Smith I have done research about the decline of blacks in baseall. I know the reason they, are the kids parents. Fotball, Basketball litte league coaches that are white and only concerned about the other kids and the non recruitment of black players in high school that attend predominately white schools,junior colleges and universities, especially juko in the state of alabama. starting with the Alabama Coaches Association in Montgomery. Check the past and present history of this organization. the late Coach Eddie Stanky of the University of South Aabama plyed ball with the Late Jackie Robinson yet he refused to shake the man hand or talk with him. Mobile Alabama has Five Ball Hall of Famers tha were born in Mobile Alabama. The lack of beball players in this country is in-part due to what i mentioned at the the beginning however that does not mean that those are only reasons and we all what that is and it’s definitely not their ability to play baseball, it is the lack of opportunity form certain paople for certain REASONS. COME ON MAN.

  • Dave
    November 9, 2013

    I thought this was an article from the Onion at first. I can’t believe anyone could write this and not realize how ridiculous it is. I’m watching the Alabama/LSU football game right now and I count on one hand the number of white players on the field for both teams combined. But that doesn’t matter does it?