Rising Black Stars

by
Samori Benjamin

With the first black president of the United States of America on hand,the increased number of African-American players in the all-star game made their presence felt.

 Last summer during the final season of Yankee stadium when Major league baseball held their annual mid-summer classic in the house that Ruth built there was a lot of magic in the air for a celebration that brought nearly every living hall of famer to the Bronx.  The All-star festivities featured the greatest performance in the history of the homerun derby as Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, making his first appearance in an all-star game,  took a run at reaching the moon with a few of his monstrous  shots into the Bronx night, as he set a home run derby single round record with 28 jacks.   Fans who packed into the most historic ball park in the game’s history, or watched at home on their television sets got to see all the baseball they possibly could have wished for as the contest ended with the American League winning in 15 innings over a time of 4:50 which set the record for the longest all-star game in terms of time, and tied the 1967 All-star game as the longest in terms of innings.  But there was something missing, and the moment didn’t seem right to some of the games past greats who were in attendance.

Out of the 67 players on both the American league and National league rosters in 2008, just three were African-American, the lowest number of African-American ball players in an all-star game since 1948, one year after Jackie Robinson broke the sport’s color barrier, when there were none.  Past stars of the game from Joe Morgan and Don Baylor to Ernie Banks all expressed to me their disappointment with the small number of African-American ball players in the all-star game.  Joe Morgan who has been a part of the espn broadcast team, who brings the homerun derby to the nation, for years,  spoke before Josh Hamilton’s all-time derby performance about how the 08’ derby would be different from any he ever covered because there were no African-American nor Latin ball players participating in the derby.   

Derek Jeter, Milton Bradley, and Grady Sizemore were the only African-American ball players in the 2008 game, and only Bradley was born to two African-American parents.  “You don’t want to T anybody off with anything  you say, I’ve already done enough of that,” said Milton Bradley at last summer’s all-star game.  “But right now who do they promote? ‘They promote Ryan Howard, but really you can’t think of anybody else, Barry Bonds the greatest homerun hitter of all-time gets crucified.”   Barry Bonds whether fair or not, has become the face of the steroids era because of the way he hit 73 homeruns in 2001 to set the single season homerun record, and then the way he surpassed Henry Aaron as the all-time career homerun king, all of which has been put into serious question with countless reports of Bonds’ steroids use over the latter part of his career.

Bonds and many other ball players of his era provided the long ball for fans at an all-time clip which many can argue helped attract excitement to the sport because the homerun is the most awe-striking play on a baseball diamond.  The 2009 All-star game however, held in St. Louis Missouri,  did not feature any of the top 10 active career homerun hitters, and the number of African-American players in the game rose from 3 a year ago to 10.  Five were first time all-stars, ball players who can bring a lot of excitement to the baseball community and possibly generate some excitement with the young African-American demographic who seem to identify more with the athletes of the NBA and NFL than those of major league baseball.  The increase of African-Americans in the2009 all-star game contributed to a focus of speed and defense in the game, and a number of the African-American ball players put their stamp on the game.

The game winning run was driven in and scored by African-American ball players Adam Jones of Baltimore  and Detroit’s Curtis Granderson, and the MVP of the game for the American league, who won for the 13th consecutive time (2002 all-star game ended in a tie), was Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford who became the first position player to win All-star game MVP without driving in a run in the game since Willie Mays in 1968.  In fact the speedy Crawford did not score a run in the game either and Jones, Granderson, and Crawford finished the game for the American league in the outfield, in large part because of their speed and athletic ability which made for a superb defensive outfield during the most critical part of the game.  Crawford who went 1 for 3 in the game robbed Colorado’s Brad Hawpe of a potential go ahead homerun in the 7th inning which allowed Jones and Granderson to produce the go ahead run in the 8th inning that gave the American league the win.  The catch was so spectacular and came at such an important time in the game that it prompted those in the press box to name him game MVP.

To close things out New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera polished off the American league in the 9th inning collecting his 4th all-star game save of his career which is an all-time record.  This was preceded by Milwaukee Brewers star Prince Fielder winning the homerun derby the night before and President Barack Obama throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the all-star game.  Rivera will be the last player to wear the uniform number 42 of Jackie Robinson, and the dream Jackie had for major league baseball sure looks a lot brighter after the 2009 all-star showcase.

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