Saturday, Neesa and I went to watch the St. Louis Cardinals play the Cincinnati Reds with our youngest son Jacob. Around the third inning Neesa turned to me and said: “I have never seen so many white people in one place.” There were many black employees, but it wasn’t until the sixth inning that I saw a single African-American fan. Of course, there were many more, but the largest racial group in St. Louis is African- American, and it was obvious that African-Americans are not supporting the team in the numbers one would expect or that one might see in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles (the latter having I would argue the most racially diverse crowd in baseball).
So what is the problem? Until Neesa spoke, I did not notice what many African-Americans know very well. See here. In 2014 there were no African-American players on the Cardinal team (they were one of three in baseball – joined by Arizona and San Francisco). Kerry Robinson, a former Cardinal who in 2003 was the only Black player on the team, remarks that Black fans are frustrated because they are “not seeing someone they can identify with.”
This year they have one African-American player: Jason Heyward who was acquired in a trade from Atlanta. Heyward is a terrific athlete an outstanding defensive player who has the potential to breakout at the plate (Indeed, many observers expect a breakout). As it stands, without a breakout, he is no slouch at the plate. He should hit in the high .260’s to .270’s, with home runs in the teens and double digit steals perhaps in the low 20’s. There is no team in baseball that would not benefit from having Heyward on their roster.
I should emphasize we are not talking about the prejudicial days in which Jackie Robinson broke into the league. Heyward hit a home run on Saturday. The Cardinal crowd gave him a standing ovation (unlike the reaction to a rare home run from Cincy’s Zack Cozart – you could hear a pin drop) and the crowd would not stop applauding until Heyward came out of the dugout to take a bow. Moreover, he was greeted with enthusiasm in the dugout. He is a potential star – one with which (the Post Dispatch reports see link supra) African-Americans can identify. Moreover, he is the kind of person who feels an obligation to serve and connect with the Black community.
Heyward, however, will be a free agent at the end of the season and it is not clear the Cardinals will pay what it will take to keep him. This would be a shame. The Cardinals are a great franchise that sports many storied Black players including three in the Hall of Fame: Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith. In fairness, the decline of African-American baseball players is a general phenomenon. At one point 25% of players on the 25 man baseball rosters were Black; it is down to 9%. But Cardinal Manager Mike Matheny deserves no awards for his clueless comment in a 2012 interview that it was the first time he had thought about it because it was all about merit. MLB and the Cardinals do have some outreach programs for Black youth (someone should tell Matheny), but they have an obligation to all of their fans, and they could start by signing Heyward. Many Blacks are holding off to see how the Cardinals handle this. We can hope for the day that the Black citizens of St. Louis return to Busch stadium.