Orlando Hudson on African-Americans in Baseball

Orlando Hudson has been outspoken — at times, controversial — when it comes to African-Americans in baseball. The San Diego Padres second baseman cares deeply about the subject, and his knowledge of the game spans from the Negro Leagues to the present day. Perhaps most important to him, though, is the game’s future.

The numbers are sadly staggering: In 1975, African-Americans populated more than a quarter of major-league rosters. By 1996, when Hudson signed his first professional contract, the figure was 17%. Today, only 8.5% of this season’s Opening Day big-leaguers were African-American. The downward trend is one that Hudson would like to see reversed.

The four-time Gold Glove winner addressed the subject when the Padres visited Fenway Park earlier this summer.

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Hudson, on the man who preceded Jackie Robinson: “Fleetwood Walker was the first African-American to play in the big leagues. People say that Jackie broke the barrier, but Fleetwood broke in back in [1884]. He had a couple of years in before they said, ‘We don’t want blacks in baseball.’ He was a light-skinned brother. He was the first one and then — 60 years later — Jackie came along, in 1947. It was like, ‘OK, I’m here to stay.’ He played nine or 10 years in the big leagues. Then it was [Don] Newcombe and [Larry] Doby, and so forth.

On the players who followed Robinson: “They aren’t [as well known] because they were there at the same time as Jackie. Here’s a prime example: At one time you had Jeter, A-Rod, Tejada, Nomar and Vizquel. Wow. All right, out of that bunch you have four who are still playing. Nomar is out, so nobody talks about him anymore. Everyone forgets that Nomar was one of the best in the game. They mostly talk about Jeter and A-Rod. That’s why I think that Doby and those guys aren‘t talked about. Jackie got all the limelight. Branch Rickey was like, ’OK, this is the first guy, right here, Jackie Robinson.’ People just gravitated to him.”

On the integration of Latin players: “Jackie opened the door for not just African-Americans, but to Latin players, which, to me, are of African descent. True that. When slavery broke up and some white folks went to the islands, and whatever… they spoke Spanish. They had white folks and they had Africans there. Nobody came to Africa speaking Spanish, but even though they didn’t learn our language, they’re still our people. Jackie opened the door for them, for Latins and also for Asians. It’s a wide-open game for everybody. He didn’t just do it for African-Americans. Just like Martin Luther King. It was equality. This is a game for all of us.”

On why it took so long to have an African-American manager in the big leagues: “They wouldn’t let [us] manage in the big leagues, but [we] could have managed in the big leagues. Why did it take so long? If I said what I wanted to say, I’d be out of baseball. I wouldn’t be able to go to no stadium anymore.”

On independent leagues and the Negro Leagues: “Basically, that’s what the independent leagues look like right now. They look like the old Negro Leagues. A lot of independent teams have a lot of African-American guys trying to back into the minor leagues, to try to get to the big leagues, any way they can.

“Why [are they playing in independent leagues]? That‘s a question you‘re going to have to ask me after I retire.”

On the decline of blacks in baseball: “The numbers are in steady decline. I rehabbed for a few days this year in A-ball and I saw a few African-American brothers playing the game. That was good. A couple of first-rounders, a couple of second-rounders. It’s good to see them down there and I hope they stick with it. But do you know what, man? Basketball and football do so many other things, and you can get to the league quicker. And it’s not such a grind.

“When I’m back home, African-Americans say, “It’s a white man’s game. It ain’t made for us, man.’ At the same time, they forget that blacks dominated this game, way before their parent‘s time. During their great grandparent’s time. Blacks dominated the game. If they really knew that white folks back then said that Babe Ruth is the white Josh Gibson, and that black folks said that Josh Gibson is the black Babe Ruth, they’d be like, ‘Dang. Seriously?’ Yeah, like seriously. Babe Ruth had a lot of respect for Josh Gibson, just like Josh Gibson had a lot of respect for Babe Ruth.

“You have to remember, when the old Negro League all-stars played against the white all-stars, the Negro Leagues won 75 percent of the time. And it brought tons of money to the game, but they stopped it. The guy who took over as commissioner [Kenesaw Mountain Landis] was very racist. He said ‘no,’ because the African-Americans were beating them.

“You’d hear older white guys [saying], ‘Damn,’ and bragging on how good Satchel Paige was. They’d say, ‘That’s the toughest pitcher — and the best pitcher— I’ve ever seen.’ Those guys paved the way for us, but now African-Americans don’t really play. Damn.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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Cuban Pete
Guest
Cuban Pete

I think the decline in Black baseball players is due to more than anything else to the rise of Latino players. It isn’t a racist thing – it’s a talent and motivation thing.

There are more talented baseball players coming from DR, PR, Cuba, and Venezuela than are coming from the US because of the opportunity to escape poverty through baseball. The talented US athletes, black or white, are gravitating toward sports that highlight the athleticism more because they can be millionaires regardless what sport they choose; basketball and football require much better athleticism than does baseball, and the riches can come quicker.

It’s also about access: Baseball also requires more players and equipment than basketball or football; likewise hockey. Soccer is not an option for riches here as it is everywhere else in the world.

If you combine access and athletic motivation look at the influx in pro sports over the last two decades of Asian players. There are athletes there who are finding success outside of their country in baseball and basketball. Forget football for now; it is an American culture thing. Only in the US is there such a passion for that sport. Europeans look it more as an intersting offshoot of rugby than an actual sport to play for fun or profit.

The next big country in producing baseball players? Why not Brazil? The athletic talent in that country is off the charts as the multiple soccer championships tell you; the opportunity to escape poverty through sport is already in the culture. All that is needed is some smart team willing to invest a decade in development and education and the next batch of superstars in baseball could be one-name types: Pele, Ronaldo, et al.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled posting.

RC
Guest
RC

Baseball requires more players and equipment than football, a sport that is 11 on 11, and requires significant pads?

Joe
Guest
Joe

Football is a great deal more expensive than baseball to build a team around, that’s for sure. Even in high school.

Brandon Warne
Guest

Yeah. Each player wears the same pads. Many different mitts, bats, and batting gloves, etc. are there before factoring in catcher’s gear?

And the number of players comment can be thought of in a manner of all the players that are in college, the minors, indy leagues, and the pros. With football, it’s really just college and the pros, and the UFL if you choose to include it.

Garrett
Guest
Garrett

Yeah, the sum total of baseball gear pales in comparison to football gear. The player comment in your interpretation is pretty absurd as well.

What would make sense is pretending he’s Eurotarded and talking about soccer.

Brandon Warne
Guest

Guess you aren’t here to make any friends, are you Dwight?

deadpool
Guest
deadpool

I think the point was directed more at the pick up style game than a real league. If you want to gather neighborhood kids together to play baseball they each have to have a mitt and there needs to be at least on bat and ball.

To start a pick up football game you just need the ball.

Brandon Warne
Guest

Very well said, deadpool.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

To play a game of pickup baseball, you also need a field. Kids play football pretty much anywhere. And there are basketball courts all over the place.

Garrett
Guest
Garrett

I like the assumption of across the board “athletic talent”. Apparently genetic makeup plays no part in athletic talent. I will alert all Asian track and field teams that their dream of WR 100m times is still alive without mass genocide.

gnomez
Guest
gnomez

Fastest guy I know is Thai. So… out the window.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

Related to this, I’ve long wanted to see the change in the number of African-American MLBers as a percentage of American players because I think the statistics commonly cited are misleading. Sure, the number of African-Americans has steeply declined, but so has the number of Americans.

Not that I don’t think it’s a legitimate problem, I’d just like to see more accurate statistics.

Llewdor
Member
Llewdor

Exactly this.

Blacks make up roughly 12% of the American population, so that 17% number from 1996 reflects a massive over-representation, especially since not all of the players are even Americans.

If African-Americans now accounted for 17% of all MLB players, would anyone be concerned about the decline of the non-black American player?

Garrett
Guest
Garrett

Why is it a problem? Using generalizations to identify racism is retarded. If there are less qualified African Americans, then so be it. Having more African Americans at the expense of a more talented black Latino player would be ridiculous.

Statistics should not be used the judge the prevalence of “racism” especially when baseball is more diverse than at any point in the past.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

No one claimed it was racism. In fact, every discussion I’ve seen has discussed it in other terms. Lack of infrastructure, cultural attraction to other sports, the fact that it’s a longer and tougher road to the big money, etc.

Garrett
Guest
Garrett

So why care?

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

This is racist.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

i recall a new york times article where they go indepth in the youth systems of soccer clubs in netherlands. basically there are two ways to develop talent

1) kids play it everyday because of the love of the game. for example in brasil theres less development but all the kids love it. they see pele and others and want to be them. also probably to the great success those players have kids want to play it more

2) in smaller countries like netherlands where the talent pool is lower you have to identify talent and develop it. so players like vna persie you go with young kids and put them through a youth academy. you keep developing those kids.

so i think during the 1980s and 1990s football and basketball exploded in popularity because it was actually on tv regularly and you have a lot more marketable and popular african american players. michael jordan is an icon and world famous. you cant really say about ken griffey or ryan howard or andre dawson in the same time frame.

also US doesnt really develop talent well. we keep kids playing with their same age group as opposed to ability and we’ve bound athletics to our school system. we cant scout and sign 16 year olds like they do in latin america and get them with professional trainers and coaches.

John
Guest
John

Do the riches come quicker, though? There are only 14 lottery slots in basketball. Football only a few rounds of high money. High school kids in the first couple of baseball rounds get payed richly. The road to get to the “show” may be tougher but the financial argument is one I don’t understand.

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