African Americans should embrace Jackie Robinson legacy

By Rob Parker - Sports Columnist
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DETROIT - There's one hope for the movie, "42."

And it's more than just it reaching No. 1 in box office after the story about Jackie Robinson is released in movie theaters nationwide on Friday.

Although that would be cool, it's bigger than that, much bigger.

The hope is not only that black people realize how much baseball is a part of our history, but that they fall in love with the game again.

After all, baseball is our game, too.

Somehow, we've lost our way, we think baseball is for others, not us. Today, African Americans make up less than eight percent.

We couldn't be more wrong. Baseball is a part of our heritage, is cut from our cloth.

Since 1947, when Robinson broke the color barrier in the national pastime, becoming the first African American player, the influence of our people has been great in the sport.

Check the record books. It's pretty amazing how dominate African Americans have been in a sport we weren't even allowed to play in until 60 years or so ago. The sport has been around more than twice as long.

When you look at the Top 10 players in homers all-time, black players hold four of the top six spots, including the top two with Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron, respectively. Babe Ruth is third.

Robinson's impact was, of course, bigger than just on the field. He made black people feel proud, a part of an America which at that point treated us as second-class citizens with segregation.

 That's why blacks flocked to major league games to see him play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Often times, they could only sit in bad bleacher seats, reserved for coloreds. And some racist owners -- including former Tigers' owner Walter Briggs -- even made African Americans pay double or triple to try to keep them out of the park. And peeps still showed up.

In the 80s, we started to stray. The Michael Jordan craze hit us and people wanted be like Mike. Makes sense. We happen to witness one of, if not thee, greatest basketball player ever. People got caught on the game.

But remember, even Jordan wanted to play baseball. And he was willing to go to the minors.

Sadly, the reason there aren't as many brothers playing baseball today has a lot to do with two factors. No. 1, Major League Baseball outscored many jobs 15-20 years ago. That's when it started setting up baseball academies in Latin America.

It was a simple business decision. In the U.S., you'd often have to pay black and white players loot upfront and have to deal with agents and lawyers. That often wasn't the case in Latin community years ago. 

Meanwhile, in our community, we had AAU basketball coaches making our kids quit baseball to focus on basketball. It happened to my nephew, who was an All-Star Little Leaguer.

We still have kids dreaming of being one of a handful of players that make it in the NBA draft. But there are only 30 guaranteed contracts out of the draft. In the NFL, even if you make it, you're entire deal isn't guaranteed. The average career in the NFL is less than four seasons.

But it baseball, if you're willing to put in your time and for low pay (about $1,000 a month with all expenses paid) until you make the 40-man roster, there are plenty minor league jobs out there. There 240 minor league baseball teams, just 16 NBDL teams and no minor league football teams.

 Plus, if you do make it to the majors, the money is far better than any other sport. One of the top black stars in baseball, Detroit's Prince Fielder,  signed a $214 million deal two years ago.

No one is saying black kids shouldn't want to play in the NBA or NFL. It's just they shouldn't shun baseball. They should play it as well and not be talked out of it by selfish coaches.

Robinson -- who was also a varsity athlete in football, basketball and track -- changed this country forever, made us to be proud to be black in America for the first time.

We should never forget him or the idea that baseball is our sport, too. It always has been.

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