I read an interesting article that was initially published in 2016. It described the findings of “Called Out at Home” from the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. In this study, I learned about the surprising increase of African American plays in Major League Baseball (MLB) between 1947 (when Jackie Robison became the first African American in the Major Baseball League) and 1981 when 18% of the players were African American (which was higher than the percentage of African Americans in the general public). However, the percentage of African American players declined to 7% through the 1980’s and 1990’s. Why did this drastic decrease occur? That’s the questions asked in this study.
To answer that question, the researchers looked at the birth data of about 85,000 college and professional baseball players. They sampled over 600 current Major League Baseball players and researched their families’ structure. They discovered something interesting.
- 80% of the African American professional players came from a home in which their father was present (compared to 40% of African Americans in the general population).
- Children who live with their father had about a 25% greater likelihood of playing baseball than those who lived in a home without a father. More specifically, 20% of those living with a father played baseball compared to only 16% of those living without a father.
- While African American players in MLB declined, players from Dominican Republic and Venezuela increased…and many of these plyers had grown up in poor communities. This suggests that the decrease in African American MLB players was not determined by money or socioeconomic status alone.
- As an aside, the researchers also discovered that high school students living with their fathers were actually less likely to play basketball than students without a father in the home.
As the authors of the study considered these findings, they suggest that some sports require a great deal of support and finances, like football, hockey, and lacrosse.
Other sports require little support or finances, like basketball and track. Kids can excel by practicing alone or with a group of peers in a “pick-up” game at the park.
Baseball falls in between these two extremes. In baseball you need one other committed person, a ball, a bat, and a glove (preferably two). The authors make the case that the best person to be the committed person in the case of baseball is a father!
Whether a father is in the home or not may not be the only factor explaining the decline in African American players in the MLB, but it does point to the power of a Dad. I’m not suggesting that a child can become a professional ball player simply because he or she has a dad at home either. But this research supports the idea that having a father at home helps a child thrive. Whether it be in the sports their children choose or the life choices their children make, a father makes a powerful difference. So, get your child and grab a ball and glove. Go outside and play some catch. After all, the real goal of playing catch is not just learning to catch and throw a ball. The real goal is to develop a relationship, impart life, and promote values of love and compassion.
**After I published this blog, a friend told me about another African American player who played in the Major Leagues 6 decades before Jackie Robinsons. Read the fascinating story of Moses Fleetwood Walker here. And thank you for correcting me and helping me grow.