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You might not want to look, Jackie

April 16, 2013|By Evan F. Moore | For RedEye

Baseball just isn't what it used to be.

With the recent release of the Jackie Robinson biopic "42," again people are asking: Where are all the African-American ballplayers?

There are only five between the Cubs and White Sox's major league rosters—Dewayne Wise, Donnie Veal, Deunte Heath, Edwin Jackson and Scott Hairston.

When I was growing up, there was an abundance of black ballplayers in Chicago, including Andre Dawson, Leon Durham, Harold Baines, Shawon Dunston and Frank Thomas. And my early experience with baseball was similar to "The Sandlot." During the summer, my friends and I would stay out all day playing baseball and talking about our favorite players. When we weren't playing, we collected baseball cards.

As for my father, he didn't root for a particular team; he liked certain players. At a young age, he exposed me to the history of the Negro Leagues. I even did a presentation in sixth grade—unfortunately, my classmates had never heard of any of the players.

Now, 66 years after Robinson broke the color barrier, the number of African-Americans playing the sport has plummeted. There are several major reasons for this:

>> Violence in major cities. Parents are understandably hesitant to let their kids go outside where they can't keep an eye on them.

>> Lack of resources. Recent Chicago Public Schools closings hurt this as well. If there is no access to bats, gloves and balls, kids can't play.

>> Basketball's rise. Basketball takes up much less space, and kids can play anytime—rain, sleet or snow. Also, these kids saw Derrick Rose become the No. 1 pick and acquire a substantial amount of wealth within one year of leaving Simeon. A baseball player, on the other hand, usually has to wait much longer.

Last month, University of Miami point guard Shane Larkin, son of Hall of Fame shortshop Barry Larkin, said the reason he didn't gravitate to baseball is because it's "boring." That goes to show you baseball is no longer appealing to African-American kids like it once did. Baseball isn't as glamorous as basketball or football.

Does it bother me that there aren't as many black ballplayers as it when I was a kid? Yes. As an African-American, I'll admit that. How can this generation of inner city kids become interested in baseball? Both the Cubs and Sox are heavily involved in the Major League Baseball's RBI program. These programs not only teach kids about the love of the game, but about character building and self-esteem.

There are strides being made, but the reality of the world these kids live in makes it difficult. Jackie Robinson probably would be upset with how things turned out.

Evan F. Moore is a RedEye special contributor. @evanfmoore

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