Elie Mystal: It’s sad to see baseball’s popularity waning in the Black community

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Elie Mystal is well known as an American writer and political commentator, but he's also a passionate baseball fan. He was born in Flushing, NY and could hear Shea Stadium from his apartment window growing up, making the New York Mets a visceral part of him.

Mystal, a the Justice Correspondend and Columnist at "The Nation", joined Kenny Mayne on Audacy’s “Hey Mayne” podcast and discussed baseball in all forms, including how it played a key role in America’s integration as a whole, the “cool” factor, and how MLB could market itself better.

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“It’s sad as a Black commentator, as a Black pundit, as a Black author, it is sad for me always that the popularity of this sport has waned so strongly in the Black community to be overtaken by football and basketball, when back in the day, baseball is – no pun intended – integral to our country’s success with integration,” Mystal said (3:20 in player above). “Jackie Robinson, that was no joke. There was a reason why it had to happen with baseball first. Before it happened with school it happened with baseball. There’s a deep history of – from Jackie Robinson to Curt Flood – there’s a deep history of African Americans not just contributing to baseball, but contributing to the country through baseball that we’ve really lost over my generation.”

Robinson broke baseball's color barrier on April 15th, 1947 -- nearly 20 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Most people at least have some knowledge of Robinson.

Flood isn’t as well known as Robinson but was also a pivotal figure in baseball's history. He refused to accept a trade after the 1969 season and demanded that commissioner Bowie Kuhn made him a free agent. His request was denied, and although his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court wasn't successful, it was a key point in the emergence of free agency.

“I always try to rep my baseball love when I get the opportunity because I think it’s such an important part of the American story and the history of contributions of African Americans to this country,” Mystal continued.

Although baseball is Mystal’s favorite sport, the same can’t be said for most Americans. While arguments usually center around access to equipment and fields, baseball doesn’t help itself.

“The main thing is that the sport’s not cool. I’ve got two kids. I’ve got nine- and six-year-old boys. Middle-class family, right. So they’ve got access to the bats and the gloves and the fields and whatever. Basketball’s the cool sport,” Mystal said, explaining that his oldest son doesn’t even enjoy playing basketball but knows more about it simply because his friends play and talk about it as the cool sport.

“Basketball has done a much better job of marketing itself as a cool, hip sport. Football in certain parts of the country obviously has that same thing going for it,” Mystal said. “I think baseball, because of its kind of old school unwritten rules aspect, I think does a very poor job of marketing itself to the younger generation. Watching a game and explain to my boy why flipping the bat is bad form these days. ‘That’s not how we do it in my day.’ Like it’s just enervating. You want Pete Alonso after he hits the big fly to run around with the bat, playing it like a guitar. That would be more cool. I think that’s part of what’s going on.”

And while basketball is viewed as cooler than baseball, it’s not for a lack of trying. Baseball, particularly MLB, just uses their resources elsewhere rather than in the inner cities and urban areas.

“On an economic level, you gotta look at where Major League Baseball invests its resources for young talent. It’s not like there’s not a lot of Black people in baseball, ‘cause Major League Baseball will go to the islands and find Black people who can play baseball and invest in that training, invest in those youth facilities, and get people from those islands into the sport in a way that they’re not doing, quite frankly, in urban environments, in places that would need just as much resources and training.

“You’re not seeing exactly that investment on the homefront. We’re kind of leaving it up to the high schools,” he said. “High schools are already doing a lot and are already pressed for resources. Basketball’s more popular. Football’s more popular. Football makes money.”

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