As the Winter Meetings are getting ready to roll in Orlando, there’s a topic nobody is talking about that should be high on the Commissioner’s list of ‘to do’ items.
Yes, ’tis the season for trades and signings and big news – and the Stanton-related news-of-the-day will crush this op-ed post, but that’s okay – this is a message that will linger for a while. My topic today is something that the Atlanta Braves could probably spearhead if they use the new scouting resources Alex Anthopoulos is intending to hire.
Professional football is taking big hits this year – for news both on the field and off. I won’t discuss the kneeling protests, but I would like to suggest that there’s a whole ‘nother issue that might very well free up a lot of athletes to consider baseball instead.
All you really need to know is this from Time magazine (part of the parent company to FanSided, and thus owner of TomahawkTake), in July:
"The link between football and traumatic brain injury continues to strengthen. Now, one of the largest studies on the subject to date finds that 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder associated with repetitive head trauma."
NFL players are quitting the sport to save their lives. Players and parents are choosing not to have their sons continue with this sport – because it basically will shorten your life span and make your final years a horror for them and their families. The risk is clearly far too high.
Major League Baseball wishes to expand their own league to 32 teams. This much is on record.
I have written in this space my own questions about where this new major league talent would come from. But this week I realized… we already have enough athletes; it’s just that they’re currently playing another sport.
The Problem With Switching
Baseball has several barriers that will need to be dealt with before parents start encouraging their sons to switch over. Among them:
- Travel. There are football camps, sure; but elite baseball plays year ’round now with travel teams, area code tournaments, camp tournaments, and more.
- Matt Diaz, speaking on MLB/XM yesterday morning, mentioned a rule change that will require baseball players to ditch their bats and go purchase a new one for Little League, Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken leagues, plus Pony, Dixie, and AABC leagues. You can’t even use the old ones for practice.
- Have you priced bats lately? Those 2018 models start at $30, but can escalate to $450 or more.
- Other equipment. It’s not just gloves… it’s balls, cleats, uniforms… then meals, travel, hotels, perhaps finding someone trusted to host a child when away from home. Heck, according to Diaz, players are flown in to tournaments at times.
This kind of nonsense has to stop… especially if MLB wants to capture a new audience.
In 1947, the color barrier was broken. African-American participation – and yes, that’s the kind of athlete we’d be looking at getting to switch away from football – hit 10% in 1962 and peaked at 18.7% way back in 1981.
Currently: an abysmal 6.7% rate.
You want to increase minority participation in the sport? Fix the cost factors. Here are some ideas for doing just that:
- Stop screwing around with the rules – like these bat changes. This isn’t a safety change being made – supposedly it’s for the ‘integrity of the game’ in getting performance of the bats closer to high-performing wood. Whatever… frankly, it seems to be supporting an industry, but hurting the kids in the process. You really want to fix bats? Make them all identical other than weight and length variances. That would lower costs.
- MLB should subsidize youth baseball to a significant degree: not just fields, but equipment of all kinds. Their “Play Ball” initiative is intended to do this, but there’s little word on how much of an impact it might be having.
- Demand (and money usually does this) additional baseball scholarships.
Wanna know how many Division 1 NCAA scholarships each school can offer for baseball? 11.7. That’s it. Football (FBS) gets 85 of them. So over half of a baseball team cannot get a full ride, and often the money is spread around such that most have to subsidize their sport choice.
Heck, cross-country and lacrosse teams get 12.6 scholarships – each. Plus track teams get an additional 12.6.
So if you had a son with equal talents for football and baseball, which sport would you push him toward for college? Right – football is the cheaper alternative.
I don’t care how many minority tournaments are sponsored or camps with major leaguers are held. Those are fine, but they aren’t sustainable.
MLB needs to insist on clearing these obstacles to their sport at all levels, and costs are a key component. Indeed, it could be the primary component.
The Braves Angle
More from Tomahawk Take
- Atlanta Braves 2012 Prospect Review: Joey Terdoslavich
- Braves News: Braves sign Fuentes, Andruw’s HOF candidacy, more
- The Weakest Braves Homers Since 2015
- Atlanta Braves Sign Joshua Fuentes to Minor League Deal
- Braves News: New Year’s Eve comes with several questions about the 2023 Braves
The Atlanta metro area is ripe with young African American male athletes. If the Braves are serious about increasing their scouting presence (I believe they are), then the franchise needs to encourage these kids in their own backyard first.
Give the scouts somebody new to see… and in turn, players with talent will be on the Braves’ radar first.
If a kid believes that the only way he can get to a college baseball program or get seen enough to be drafted is via a travel team or some All-American tournament, then they won’t even start baseball if their parent don’t see a financially reasonable path to participation.
But an army of scouts able to check out pick-up games on random afternoons? … that would be a good place to find a lot of diamonds in the rough.
Baseball wants to add 50+ new major league player jobs in the coming years, plus another 300+ minor league jobs. Atlanta tapped into a resource called Curaçao 2 decades ago, and that bit of foresight spawned multiple major league players.
The next wave of premium talent could be right under their noses… if they can be persuaded to switch sporting allegiances. MLB – with the Braves leading the charge – should help them do so.