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The Dodgers announced Saturday that once again they’ll participate in Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), a program that promotes baseball in underprivileged minority communities.
This year’s program will have more than a thousand kids five to 18 years old on 185 teams. They’ll play at 11 locations and more than 400 coaches will also take part.
A kickoff event was held at Dodger Stadium.
“Dodgers RBI is built on the belief that making baseball accessible to inner-city youth can make a difference on the field, at school, in the community and in these youngsters’ futures,” said Dodger owner Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
The club says it will also place special attention on increasing participation among African-Americans between the ages of 13 and 18 years old, and academics overall.
The RBI program began in Los Angeles 26 years ago and the Dodgers have been involved throughout.
Baseball’s Blacks Decline
The question is, do programs like RBI really work?
MLB’s has been around for nearly 30 years, but the number of African-American players has steadily dropped every decade since the 1970s.
Only 8 percent of all current major leaguers are African-American, according to Major League Baseball. That’s down from a high of 19 percent, according to noted baseball researcher Mark Armor of the Society of American Baseball Research.
When looking at the drop of black players one has to take into account that baseball has become more diverse, as the number of Latin American and Asian players has increased.
However, Major League Baseball - now a $9 billion industry - has yet to figure out how to market the game against the other options a young, black, inner city male has.
“Little League is not a problem,” New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia told the New York Times earlier this year. “Kids love to play Little League from 5 to 12, and they’ve got a great program. It’s from 12 to 15. It’s getting them from Little League to high school baseball is where we lose them — to football, to the streets, to basketball, to everything.”
And, with the one-and-done option alive and well in college basketball, the allure of becoming a multi-millionaire at 19 years old has become just too tempting for a kid from Watts to pass up.
The Dodgers keep plugging away, though. In 2013 they expanded their RBI program to Pico Union, Long Beach, Inglewood, and Compton after the organization’s foundation commissioned a study that found those communities were underserved.
Last year, MLB also created a diversity task force it said was “to address the talent pipeline that impacts the representation and development of diverse players and on-field personnel in Major League Baseball, particularly African-Americans.”
For that to happen, those in the highest ranks of the game will need to put action behind those words.