In the following excerpt from The Real Hank Aaron: An Intimate Look at the Life and Legacy of the Home Run King (Triumph Books, 2022), author and recent ABA Business Law Section Showcase CLE panelist Terence Moore discusses racism and equity in baseball. The Showcase CLE “Social Justice Intersecting with Sports: Is It Right?” took place at the ABA Business Law Section’s Hybrid Spring Meeting on Friday, April 1, 2022. Read an article delving into the program’s topic or watch the program as on-demand CLE, free for members.
Among Hank’s pet peeves? It was the insistence of Major League Baseball officials, along with team executives and scouts, that they really did want more African Americans in the game. While forming sad faces, those baseball folks said they couldn’t find them, hadn’t discovered how to retain them, or believed African American athletes were more interested in football, basketball, and other stuff, or they said the dog ate the homework after somebody forgot to set the alarm clock.
Eight percent. Eight percent! On the high side, eight percent represented the number of African American players in Major League Baseball during most seasons in the 21st century, and franchises often had rosters with zero African American players, including the Atlanta Braves, Hank’s team of nearly 70 years as a player and executive. In contrast, when Hank broke Babe Ruth’s home run mark on April 8, 1974, the percentage of African Americans in Major League Baseball was three times higher than eight percent. His 1974 Braves were on the low side since he was one of seven African Americans on their 40-man roster, but that was still 18 percent, and that was more than twice baseball’s 21st century average for teams.
“They’re trying to get all these people from all over the world to come here to play Major League Baseball. (Those who run MLB) don’t give a hoot, not one hill of beans, about (an African American) person. Not one thing whether we play baseball or not,” Aaron told me during a 2007 interview, revealed for the first time in the book. “This game of baseball, and you have to look at it, that this game was so, it was just folding until Jackie Robinson came in and lifted it to another playing level and trying to make it exciting for the fans—both Black and White.”
Aaron then sighed heavily and slowly raised his voice, “Terence, it is amazing how this game has changed for the benefit of how they want [the public] to perceive it to be, you know? Yeah, just keep your eye on it. Watch what I tell you about this game. I guarantee you [what I say is true].”
It was true. By the 2021 baseball season, which began three months after Hank’s death, the game’s biggest star was Shohei Ohtani, a pitching and hitting sensation from Iwate Prefecture, Japan, located 6,700 miles, a Pacific Ocean, and several times zones west of Mobile, Alabama, the old stomping grounds of an African American who became the greatest Major League player ever. Now baseball has virtually no African Americans.
Courtesy of Hank’s personal experiences as a player and as an executive in Major League Baseball since the early 1950s, combined with my 1982 research for the San Francisco Examiner on the state of Blacks in the game to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, Hank had splendid reasons to believe the game he cherished wasn’t loving African Americans as much as it claimed. This vanishing act involving African American players in baseball happened too fast, too dramatically, and too blatantly after the 1970s for The Myth to be more than a myth by the 21st century.
About The Myth: To hear many folks tell it, especially those involved with Major League Baseball, African Americans rolled out of bed one day and just didn’t like the sport anymore.
For more, check out The Real Hank Aaron by Terence Moore: “A heartfelt portrait of Hank Aaron, featuring nearly 40 years of stories plus never-before-told insights from the home run king.”