I remember the day when former St. John’s basketball coach Steve Lavin recruited the rangy 6’6 lefty from Leuzinger High School in my hometown of Lawndale, California, who was also a baseball pitcher with high heat that clocked 96 mph.
The prospect was Amir Garrett and his first love was for basketball, a game he was pretty darn good at. He was considered a four star recruit and played one season at the prestigious Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, so the recruiting war for his services was rather intense.
Leuzinger is the same high school that produced 2017 NBA MVP Russell Westbrook and a number of there NBA players, so Garret was right on track.
By the time he had arrived at St. John’s he was already a millionaire, having secured a $1 million signing bonus from the Cincinnati Reds, as a 22nd round draft pick.
As the Major League Baseball season begins it’s 2018 campaign, Amir Garrett looms as a rare specimen.
He’s an African American playing Major League Baseball, the fact that he pitches makes his story all the more alarming.
After a year at St. John’s under Lavin where he showed promise as a basketball player, but not to the level of drawing the interest of NBA scouts, Lavin encouraged him to pursue his baseball career.
It was his father who encouraged him to take up the sport, and former Major League All Star and World Series champion Eric Davis, who works in the Reds front office,
pushed him to concentrate solely on baseball.
Eventually, Garret did but not until he exhausted his efforts to try to prove the critics in basketball wrong.
After his lone subpar season with St. John’s, Garret continued to chase his hoops dream by transferring to Cal State Northridge, an obscure mid major program in Southern California.
The advise from Davis was significant, especially since Davis was a two sport star at Fremont High School in Los Angeles and has both his basketball and baseball uniform numbers retired.
Ironically, Garrett and Davis both illustrate the enormous challenge that Major League Baseball has in attracting African Americans to play the sport.
The number of African Americans playing major league baseball is in a steady decline, in 2017 opening day rosters comprised of just 7.1 percent and without receiving any official numbers it’s safe to say it will be even lower this year.
Some argue that baseball doesn’t care.
“The numbers are low, but it is not a phenomenon that is shocking to me,” commissioner Rob Manfred told Sports Illustrated.
“We’re aware of the fact that the numbers are low. That’s why we have in place programs that are designed not only to increase the number of African-Americans playing the game, but also to specifically address the pitcher-catcher issue.”
Then right before the start of spring training 51 professional and amateur scouts fired (in the last four months), with most still unemployed, and applying for financial assistance to pay medical bills and mortgages.
The Dream Series is a program created to help reverse the scarcity of African-Americans in the game, but it is clearly not working.
In a couple of weeks Major League Baseball will celebrate Jackie Robinson’s 71st anniversary since he broke the color barrier.
Amir Garrett will be among the starting pitchers for the Reds this season, playing in ballparks where most of the fans are white, the players more international than American and the African Americans somewhere on a basketball court in the NBA, or on the AAU circuit.
The Cleveland Indians, which introduced the first African American player in the American League in Larry Dolby, will begin the season with its lone African American Michael Brantley on the disabled list.
Baseball is a beautiful game, one that is better to experience in person than by watching it on television.
As a Los Angeles native I remember when the then California Angels played in the neighborhood. Back then I could emulate Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills or the sweet swing of Willie Crawford, the center field heroics of ‘Three Dog’ Willie Davis, the list goes on.
As people we all can relate to people who we can identify with, culturally or otherwise and when he can’t we don feel as included.
If the fans are white, the managers and general managers white, the owners white, the reporters and broadcasters are white, then what attraction is there for us? And does anybody, especially baseball give a damn?