Brandon Phillips has always stood out. He has been cool and unapologetic about the quirkiness – he even puts purple Kool-Aid in his teammates' shoes as a prank. Phillips, some people might suggest, plays the game the way Negro Leaguers did.
Only a few of us have seen a single inning of Negro League ball, but we have heard about it. The literature and oral histories are thick with tales, often taller than life tales, about the great Black ballplayers, about men named Buck, Satchel, Josh, Bullet and Cool Papa, men who thrived in a league where the only thing white was the baseball.
All of them would like the 32-year-old Phillips, the All-Star second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, because they would be seeing in Phillips what they don’t see in other Black players today: a flashy enthusiasm for the game.
Then again, those Black ballplayers of yesteryear might be taken aback, not by the lack of skill in Black ballplayers today, but the absence of them. The state of Blacks in Major League Baseball is a sorry one; their absence has been much discussed this season because of 42, Hollywood’s cinematic salute to Jackie Robinson.
In the summer of ’47, Robinson ushered in an era of baseball where Blacks could perform with whites on the game’s biggest stage. The All-Star Games in the years after he integrated the big leagues featured Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, Dave Parker, Larry Doby, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson and so many more.
Blacks had a significant presence.
Blacks have abandoned baseball in ways so evident that it’s not a topic to argue.
The reason? Who knows for sure, but give Major League Baseball credit for trying to figure out what drove Blacks away from the game. Commissioner Bud Selig created a task force in April to look into why Blacks don’t play, follow or obsess over baseball.
So little do they care about baseball that they would be hard-put to name any of the Blacks who made the 35-man roster of either league’s All-Star team. As for the starters in the game next week, they could stop as soon as they hit Phillips’ name.
Somewhere between Robinson and Phillips, the game lost its allure to Black fans. For all the things baseball holds dear to – its history, its simplicity, its conservative ways are three – it is those things that might have driven Blacks away. They don’t see themselves in the product on the field and in how the game is played.
To them, baseball is … well, dull.
In the age of social media, dull translates into apathy. Nobody wants dull when they can have all the rhythms of life – the flash, the spirit, the cool that is part of this generation.
They might find those traits in Phillips, a social media junkie. But Blacks aren’t looking for a solo act. They need more than Brandon Phillips, all of his skills notwithstanding, to stoke their interest in the game.
Yet in a sport with so few athletes who look like Phillips, sound like Phillips and play with his spirit, Blacks show zero signs that they will reconnect with baseball in the foreseeable future.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)