By Dennis J. Freeman
Compton-African Americans has always had a hand in the sport of baseball. From the likes of Negro League stars such as Cool “Papa” Bell to the great Satchel Paige, African Americans have always starred in America’s pastime sport.
Today, baseball has almost become an afterthought to African American athletes. Most of today’s black athletes prefer the glamour and riches of the NFL and NBA than to the sometime stoic sport of baseball.
And the numbers back that claim up. African Americans made up less than 10% of all baseball players playing in the major leagues in 2010. When fellas like Jim “Mudcat” Grant came along in the 1950s, those numbers were significantly higher.
Major League Baseball is trying its best to increase those numbers by establishing baseball academies in urban communities where African Americans can have better access to those types of facilities.
Compton is where one of those facilities resides. MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton has been a huge success in that regards, attracting baseball talent from all over the Southland. One of the ways the UYA has been successful lately could be attached to the annual MLB Urban Invitational, which is held at the UYA.
In its fourth year, the UYA and MLB have held a three-day tournament at the UYA, inviting Historically Black Colleges and Universities to participate. This year is no different. Grambling State, Bethune-Cookman and Southern University are all playing in this year’s tournament, which plays out this weekend. Grambling, behind the stellar pitching of Adrian Turner, defeated Bethune-Cookman, 5-3, on Friday.
Meanwhile, Southern was downed by UC Irvine, 7-1, the only other school playing in the tournament. With the backdrop of rain looming, Turner quieted Bethune-Cookman’s highly touted hitting lineup, allowing three runs through the first eight innings of play. Turner said being able to play in the Urban Invitational, mean a lot to him as well as his teammates.
“It’s huge for us,” Turner said. “Every year we see Southern playing on the television, and we wanted to be in that. Last year, we wanted it, this year we got rewarded. It’s big for us.”
For “Mudcat” Grant, the first black pitcher in the American League to win 20 games, and roommate of Larry Doby, the second African American to play in the major leagues, history is of the essence. Attending the first day of the Urban Invitational, Grant said it is pertinent to baseball to bring more African Americans back to the sport.
“Since I came into the league in 1958, I think the percentage of blacks in major leagues at that time was about 22 percent,” Grant said. “Now, we’re down to about six percent. So, it’s very important, especially these black colleges, especially young black kids to see African Americans play the game of baseball. It doesn’t mean that we’re looking to erase anybody from major league baseball, but Jackie (Robinson) and Larry Doby would be very happy if those numbers increase to about 10 percent or to about 15 percent. It’s very important.”