Frank Robinson – Letter to the Author

Frank Robinson – Letter to the Author 

Here is something new for MUD.  This is a edited letter I wrote to Frank Robinson after reading his 1987 bio Extra Innings.  This is a great read and it is not only a bio it also goes into the struggles that he and his contemporaries had in being the first black men to crack into management and the front office of the ballclubs.  Looking around the Majors today.  There has been some improvement but I cannot see an overwhelming shift, white managers, coaches, and front office staff are still predominatley and unevenly white.  I hope to hear back from Mr. Robinson and I would like to post his response for readers here.  So stay tuned.

Dear Sir, 

I am an avid reader of baseball publications and I very recently picked up a used copy of your 1987 book Extra Innings.  I feel you voice the endemic problems with integration and how long and hard it has been for minority players to find work after their playing careers.  I write this letter looking for a response to the current status, of not minority players but the status of American-born black players. 
 
Throughout your book you continually state how there is a lack of representation by minorities in the front offices and coaching rank of Major League teams.  When I look around the Major Leagues now, 20 years later and almost 60 years after Jackie Robinson suited up for the Dodgers the situation has not changed dramatically.  There are many more minorities, but African-American players are not significantly more represented.

Also, it seems and stats prove there are less American born black players in the Major Leagues.   In the 2006 season there was only one African American GM and apart from yourself, only one African-American manager.  I am sure you would agree that the situation, overall, has improved somewhat since you wrote your book in 1987, but where are all of the black American-born players?  There have been some great Latin born black players in recent years but it seems that the number of American-born black players has stagnated or declined.  I have found studies that show that less than 10% of the 2006 rosters were made up of black American-born players.  I grew up a Toronto Blue Jays fan and still am and thinking back now, the team of the 1980s and 1990s were mostly black players.  Willie Upshaw, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby, Cliff Johnson and Joe Carter, were just a few American born Black stars and they were complemented with black Latin stars such as Tony Fernandez, George Bell and Devon White.  In 2006 the Blue Jays had one player on their roster who was African-American born – Vernon Wells.

I also see that since 1987 black managers have a hard time finding new jobs and even winning awards.  Dusty Baker, Don Baylor and yourself, are the only African-Americans to find new jobs at the helm of a club, also the only black managers to win the Manager of the Year award.  Mr. Baker’s and Mr. Baylor’s second tour of duty were both with the Chicago Cubs.  The only manager to lead a club to win or even play in the World Series, Cito Gaston, has not been able to get work at the helm of a club for 10 years.  It appears to me that baseball as not progressed too much since Mr. Campanis spouted off on television a generation ago.

Briefly, in regards to personal awards, in the 20 years since 1987 nine different African-Americans won the MVP award while in the 20 years before 1987 15 different black Americans won the top honour.  There have been ZERO Cy Young winners in the last 20 years, that is 40 different winners, that have not been US-born blacks!  There were only 3 US-born black players to win the Cy Young 1967-1987, 4 counting Ferguson Jenkins.

Is there still a hope or a place for American-born minorities?  Baseball in the Pacific Rim is growing in popularity and is beginning to produce ML players of varying success.  However, there are no American born players of Asian heritage playing in the Majors that I can find.  Of American produced players the vast and uneven majority are white. I am curious to know what you think of the status of American-Born Black baseball players in the American National Pastime. 

On a sidenote I have, in the most recent years, noticed an integration in my nation’s national sport, hockey.  In 1980 Canadians were the majority of NHL hockey players by a 95% margin.  In 26 years that margin has shrunk to about 60%.  This has been as a result of integration.  There was never an agreement amongst NHL owners to hire only-Canadians but the international political situation did not allow players born in Eastern Europe to emigrate to play in North American based leagues.  This integration is seen in Junior and minor-pro leagues as well.  However, hockey has been growing in Canada despite the shrinking percentage suiting up in the National Hockey League.  More youngsters are being involved and there is so much more opportunity to play hockey for males and now females in amateur and junior leagues, minor-pro leagues, European leagues, the NCAA and Canadian Colleges.  These opportunities were not as rewarding 25 years ago.

The experience for an athlete in the United States is different than any other nation that produces baseball players.  There are many avenues for top athletes to pursue.  I believe and I would assume you agree that the experience for an African-American athlete in the USA is different for a black athlete in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic or even Canada.  I want to know if you think that organized baseball in the United States is a dog with fleas and is so implemented with racism that top minority athletes in the USA do not pursue a career in professional or collegiate baseball because of this endemic racism?  Do you believe there is a trend for top minority American athletes to pursure other sports in their teen years because of active or perceived racism.  Are top black and other minority American athletes becoming track stars, football stars, basketball stars instead of going to college on baseball scholarships or playing through several years in the minors after eating up high-school competition?

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  • Nice letter. Have you sent something like this to anyone before? If so, ever hear back?

  • Early

    I write letters to politicians, always hear back. Never sports players.