Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Is college baseball becoming a "country club" sport?

Seeing that we have had previous discussions on this site about race in baseball as well as the whole high school/college signability issue, it seems appropriate to stir some discussion with this Wall Street Journal article from James Wagner. Recent NCAA figures show that a surprisingly high 86% of college baseball players (across all 3 divisions) are white, begging the question of how this can be when one look at a Major League roster is evidence of the amount of talent outside the white community. Wagner points to a number of factors, but the most interesting to me is the way college scouts do business.

"What bugs many coaches most is that baseball, a sport that has a legacy of integration dating back to Jackie Robinson, has become at the college level a game for the privileged -- a country-club sport. To be noticed by college recruiters, they say, players must participate in travel leagues and showcase tournaments, attend camps and work with well-known trainers and coaches. Only the families of wealthy kids can afford this, coaches say."

The dearth of baseball interest in the African-American community has been well-documented, but could this supposed shift in the atmosphere of the game be partly to blame? I would suggest that the two are more likely complementary, with college coaches and recruiters focusing on such traveling tournaments and showcases where they have the best chance of finding a large pool of talent. The fact that baseball isn't being played as much in the inner-city understandably causes recruiters to look elsewhere, but its a cyclical process. It's tough to get excited when you don't think the system is giving you a chance.

Even more worrisome to me is the lack of Latin American players, as there is obviously both huge interest and huge talent in that community. Part of the onus is on them to accept scholarship offers when they receive them rather than go where they're drafted, but I can't really blame them for doing so in a lot of circumstances.

I guess it just seems unfortunate that in the light of all that has been written lately about the feel good story of Pedro Alvarez, there aren't more stories like that out there. He really is the perfect example of how college baseball can be a great experience for both sides, and I think everyone involved in Pedro's story would agree with that.

So here's to you, Pedro (yet again).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who, in general, is more likely to choose college over a big money contract, the "country club" guy or the lower income guy? The most recent baseball concern at Vandy has been, "Which of our signees will actually stay with us vs. going pro?" How much does that factor compound when we are talking about Big State U, which cannot sell recruits as much on the education value in their decision? The lower income guy, maybe, doesn't approach the decision feeling he has as many options to defer his payoff day.