College Baseball Becomes Primarily a White Game : Demographics: Limited scholarships, and rewards offered to black youths by football and basketball are the key factors.
The NCAA Division I baseball playoffs begin this week with 48 teams competing for the national championship.
Increasing parity makes it difficult to predict which school will win the 44th College World Series, but one thing is certain: The team that does will not be guided by a black coach and it will have few, if any, black players on its roster.
At a time when blacks account for large portions of Division I college football and basketball programs, college baseball is, almost exclusively, a white man’s sport.
--Other than in the predominantly black Southwestern Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, there are no black head coaches at any of the 270 schools that field Division I baseball programs.
--Blacks accounted for 37% of Division I college football players and 56% of men’s Division I college basketball players in 1988, according to a study submitted to the NCAA last year by the Washington D.C.-based American Institutes for Research. Yet based on figures contained in the study, only 7.2% of the nation’s 8,000 Division I college baseball players were black--and if the players from black schools were excluded, the figure drops to 2.6%.
--Wichita State, Texas, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana State and Cal State Long Beach each brought 22 players to last year’s College World Series. Of those 176 players, eight were black. Louisiana State, North Carolina and Florida State had no black players.
“On the surface of it, the easy answer is that college baseball coaches are prejudiced,” USC Coach Mike Gillespie said. “But that just isn’t true.”
The 37 individuals interviewed for this story--including high school and college baseball coaches, current and former college players, major league scouts, researchers and college admissions officials--offered varied opinions about why more blacks are not involved in college baseball.
Whether black or white, all agreed that the eligibility of high school seniors for the professional baseball draft diminishes the talent pool available to colleges. Major league baseball does not keep statistics regarding the race of draftees or major and minor league players. But cash signing bonuses--large or small--and the opportunity to begin the pursuit of potential multimillion-dollar salaries draw players of all races away from the college game each year.
“I don’t know of a coach who would shy away from a black kid because he’s black,” Arizona State Coach Jim Brock said. “The only reason would be because he’s afraid the kid is going to sign (a professional contract).”
College baseball coaches say they are handicapped in recruiting black players, especially those from low-income families, because of the economics of competing in--what at almost all schools--is a non-revenue producing sport. Unlike football and basketball, which can offer full scholarships to virtually every player, baseball is limited to 13. Partial aid, therefore, is the rule.
“You look for the best guys who can qualify academically, who fit your needs the best as players and who may or may not be able to pick up part of the tab for coming to your school,” Gillespie said.
Coaches and scouts alike bemoan the deterioration of youth and high school baseball programs in the inner-city, which has fueled the defection of potential prospects to football and basketball--sports that receive more publicity and television exposure at the high school and college level.
However, some blacks and whites believe colleges are not making the effort to recruit black baseball players, some of whom could one day become coaches.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of blacks not wanting to go to college,” said Don Buford, the Baltimore Orioles’ director of instruction who played at USC and then for 10 years in the major leagues. “I don’t think they’re being recruited in the numbers whites are.”
Said Stanford outfielder Jeff Hammonds: “The only blacks that are recruited heavily are those who are going to get drafted high. The (black) players that make it to D-1 (Division I schools) are supposed to be the program player, the franchise player.”
“There really hasn’t been a push by anyone to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the recruitment of blacks?’ ” said Dave Wilder, an assistant at Cal who is one of the few black, full-time Division I coaches in the country. “There’s no pressure. You get into that comfort zone and it’s easy to allow things to stay the way they’ve always been.”
Several black players have used college baseball as a steppingstone to stardom in professional baseball, including Jackie Robinson, who played for UCLA in 1940. Reggie Jackson, Hubie Brooks, Barry Bonds and Oddibe McDowell all starred at Arizona State, and Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith and Tony Gwynn were outstanding players for their college teams.
Miami Coach Ron Fraser, who has won two national championships in 27 seasons with the Hurricanes, believes only one thing keeps college baseball from attracting more black players.
“If we had more full boats (scholarships), we’d have more black players in college baseball,” Fraser said.
The NCAA allows Division I football programs a maximum of 95 full scholarships. Basketball programs can offer up to 15. Baseball was allowed unlimited scholarships until 1974 when the NCAA, attempting to reduce costs and achieve parity, established a maximum of 19. In 1976, the maximum was reduced to 13.
“At our school, you’re talking about a scholarship worth $20,000 a year,” Pepperdine Coach Andy Lopez said. “I’m sorry to say this, but if you make a mistake here, you make a really big mistake.”
To spread the wealth as much as possible, most coaches split scholarships among the entire roster.
“The day of the full scholarship in college baseball is almost over,” Loyola Coach Chris Smith said. “So, you can’t blame an inner-city kid for turning down a half-scholarship after he realizes his family is going to have to come up with $8,000 a year.”
John Young, a scout for the Texas Rangers who is black, said college coaches could improve the situation for themselves and potential black recruits by relying less on athletic scholarships and working more closely with their school’s financial aid offices.
“There are a lot of dollars out there for minority students and kids where the family income is lower,” said Young, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles and played at Chapman College. “I’m not going to say it’s a cop-out, but unless something has drastically changed, there are all kinds of monies for minorities.”
Many of the black players at schools such as USC, UCLA and Stanford play for the baseball team while attending school on football scholarships. UCLA’s Shawn Wills, a running back, and Michael Moore, a wide receiver, are two of four black players also on the Bruins’ baseball roster this season. Wide receiver John Jackson is one of two black players at USC, which has had many football/baseball players, including Rodney Peete, Anthony Davis, Mike Garrett and Marvin Cobb.
“If I was strictly a baseball player, I would have been one of those guys who may not have had the opportunity (to play college baseball) and may never have been able to show my talents,” said Jackson, who was a late-round selection by the Angels last year. “A lot of black athletes will never find out if they’ll develop, because--mostly for financial reasons--they’ll never have the opportunity.”
Most observers of college baseball foresee the scholarship situation for blacks and other minorities getting worse before it gets better.
Fearing even greater financial cuts by university presidents if it did not suggest some of its own, a committee representing the American Baseball Coaches Assn. reluctantly submitted a proposal last month that calls for a cutback to 12 scholarships.
“It’s one more way you put an impact on that person in a ghetto area or an area where there isn’t a lot of money,” said Fresno State Coach Bob Bennett, who served on the committee. “We need to get more chances for that guy to participate rather than less.”
Kermit Taylor has coached varsity baseball at Washington High in Los Angeles for 15 years. During that time, six of his former players signed pro contracts and one, Johnny Rabb, made it to the major leagues. Taylor, however, said none of the six players that signed were recruited by colleges, a problem inner-city ballplayers still encounter today.
“I try to promote them to go on to college, but I don’t get much help from the college coaches,” Taylor said. “A lot of them (players) are not even scouted to the point where you get them (coaches) there to find out if they’re eligible. At least give them a shot. Come out and look at them to see if you want them.”
Lopez, the Pepperdine coach, said geography and time-management play major roles in recruiting. Few coaches venture into the inner-city unless they are tipped off to a specific player by alumni, scouts or a high school coach.
“Let’s be blunt about it, there aren’t a lot of people that are comfortable going into Fremont and Locke,” said Lopez, who grew up in a low-income area of San Pedro. “Unless you have the perfect fit--a player who is an athlete, student and college-oriented rather than pro--a college baseball coach probably isn’t going to go into South Central Los Angeles.”
College baseball coaches in Southern California say they would be a greater presence in the inner city if there were better facilities that could accommodate night baseball.
“The easiest kids to watch are in Orange County and Long Beach because of night baseball,” said Long Beach Coach Dave Snow. “The kids in the (San Fernando) Valley play on scout teams in the winter so they get identified as sophomores and juniors.
“If a good athlete at Manual Arts decides to play baseball his senior year, it’s hard for us to see him.”
Academic eligibility problems and unrefined skill levels that result from limited playing experience in youth programs also plague recruiting efforts in the inner city.
Of the 16,306 black students expected to graduate from public high schools in California this year, about 800 will be eligible for admission to the University of California system, and the majority will be female, according to Dr. James Dunning, director of admissions at UC Irvine. Dunning said black males accounted for only 5.8% of the student population in the California State University system in 1987.
“It’s a breakdown at the high school level and the elementary levels,” said Jethro McIntyre, a veteran scout for the Montreal Expos who is black. "(College) coaches aren’t keeping them out. These kids are not ready to do the curriculum that’s being asked of them at those institutions.”
Unlike their colleagues in football and basketball, college baseball coaches are reluctant to offer scholarships to players who fail to meet standards under the NCAA’s Proposition 48.
“Prop. 48 kids are not an option,” said Gene Stephenson, coach of defending national champion Wichita State. “We could not afford to give a guy a very good scholarship and have him sit out and not play.”
Talented ballplayers are still to be found in the inner cities. But scouts say much of that talent is unrefined because youths are not playing as much baseball as they once did. Players with rough edges can be signed and sent to the minor leagues for development over a period of years, but UCLA Coach Gary Adams said the economics of college baseball demand immediate results.
“We look for a guy who’s going to be a sure thing by his sophomore year,” Adams said. “A coach doesn’t want to go through the trial and error with that kid while he’s losing. Let’s face it, there is an emphasis on winning.”
Coaches and scouts believe baseball loses hundreds of prospects to basketball and football, which offer more glamour at the high school and collegiate levels and a shorter road to big professional salaries after college.
“A college baseball player doesn’t have the same kind of celebrity status,” Illinois Coach Augie Garrido said. “You’re just not perceived the same as the basketball player that’s going to UCLA and will come out to the NBA.”
For many athletes, choosing a sport other than baseball often boils down to economics. The equipment can require a financial investment of hundreds of dollars.
“It’s much easier, and cheaper, for kids to grab a basketball and, even if they’re by themselves, find a hoop to practice their skills,” UC Santa Barbara Coach Al Ferrer said. “You can’t play baseball by yourself. Kids in the suburbs have organized leagues and their parents can afford to pay the money it costs to play in them.”
Meanwhile, youth baseball programs in the inner city have been hurt by financial and organizational problems.
“We don’t have as many kids coming out, especially in the Little League programs,” said Taylor, the Washington coach. “There aren’t as many teams and the American Legion program hardly exists anymore. The junior varsity programs are being deleted because they can’t find people to coach. It’s not long before that impacts the varsity programs.”
As the executive director of the 3,000-member Black Coaches Assn., Rudy Washington said he would welcome advice from black baseball coaches--if there were some to provide it.
“In all other (coaching) groups, there is a small nucleus to start with,” said Washington, head basketball coach at Drake University. “In college baseball, because there’s none, there’s nowhere to start.”
Most universities require their head coaches to have at least a bachelor’s degree, with a master’s and/or equivalent related experience strongly recommended.
Professional baseball lures some potential black candidates for college coaching positions by offering former players scouting and coaching jobs. Other candidates pursue higher-paying interests outside of baseball.
“There just aren’t any role models,” said Wilder, the assistant at Cal who played at Cal State Fullerton and in the Oakland Athletic organization. “I want to open doors so it will be easier for others. In order for there to be opportunities, you have to go back and get involved.”
The first step is developing more black college baseball players. Last summer, Hammonds and Todd Steverson, both of whom would have been No. 1 draft picks had they not committed to Stanford and Arizona State, respectively, opted for college. So did Calvin Murray, who was drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Indians but chose to attend Texas.
“I see it as the beginning of a trend,” said Mike Kelly, a black sophomore outfielder at Arizona State who was recently chosen as college player of the year by Collegiate Baseball magazine.
Phil Pote certainly hopes so.
Pote, who is white, has coached and scouted inner-city baseball in Los Angeles since 1957.
“There needs to be more positive programs where kids can play, learn the basics and have fun doing it while succeeding,” Pote said. “That’s going to carry over to the high school level and spin off to the college level.”
John Young, the Texas Rangers’ scout, took a giant step in that direction last year when he launched the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) youth program in Los Angeles. This year, about 600 youths between the ages of 13-16 are participating in two developmental leagues.
Pote, 57, is involved in a drive to build a baseball complex at Southwest College in L.A. that could be used as a site for clinics, all-star games, playoffs and as an overall rallying point for inner-city baseball.
“Everybody, the colleges and the pros, need to make the effort to get into the inner city and find the players,” Pote said. “There’s no telling how many Ozzie Smiths you’d find out there.”