The NCAA Division I baseball playoffs begin this week with 48 teams competing for the national championship.
Increasing parity makes it difficult to predict which school will win the 44th College World Series, but one thing is certain: The team that does will not be guided by a black coach and it will have few, if any, black players on its roster.
At a time when blacks account for large portions of Division I college football and basketball programs, college baseball is, almost exclusively, a white man's sport.
--Other than in the predominantly black Southwestern Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, there are no black head coaches at any of the 270 schools that field Division I baseball programs.
--Blacks accounted for 37% of Division I college football players and 56% of men's Division I college basketball players in 1988, according to a study submitted to the NCAA last year by the Washington D.C.-based American Institutes for Research. Yet based on figures contained in the study, only 7.2% of the nation's 8,000 Division I college baseball players were black--and if the players from black schools were excluded, the figure drops to 2.6%.
--Wichita State, Texas, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana State and Cal State Long Beach each brought 22 players to last year's College World Series. Of those 176 players, eight were black. Louisiana State, North Carolina and Florida State had no black players.
"On the surface of it, the easy answer is that college baseball coaches are prejudiced," USC Coach Mike Gillespie said. "But that just isn't true."
The 37 individuals interviewed for this story--including high school and college baseball coaches, current and former college players, major league scouts, researchers and college admissions officials--offered varied opinions about why more blacks are not involved in college baseball.
Whether black or white, all agreed that the eligibility of high school seniors for the professional baseball draft diminishes the talent pool available to colleges. Major league baseball does not keep statistics regarding the race of draftees or major and minor league players. But cash signing bonuses--large or small--and the opportunity to begin the pursuit of potential multimillion-dollar salaries draw players of all races away from the college game each year.
"I don't know of a coach who would shy away from a black kid because he's black," Arizona State Coach Jim Brock said. "The only reason would be because he's afraid the kid is going to sign (a professional contract)."
College baseball coaches say they are handicapped in recruiting black players, especially those from low-income families, because of the economics of competing in--what at almost all schools--is a non-revenue producing sport. Unlike football and basketball, which can offer full scholarships to virtually every player, baseball is limited to 13. Partial aid, therefore, is the rule.
"You look for the best guys who can qualify academically, who fit your needs the best as players and who may or may not be able to pick up part of the tab for coming to your school," Gillespie said.
Coaches and scouts alike bemoan the deterioration of youth and high school baseball programs in the inner-city, which has fueled the defection of potential prospects to football and basketball--sports that receive more publicity and television exposure at the high school and college level.
However, some blacks and whites believe colleges are not making the effort to recruit black baseball players, some of whom could one day become coaches.
"I don't think it's a matter of blacks not wanting to go to college," said Don Buford, the Baltimore Orioles' director of instruction who played at USC and then for 10 years in the major leagues. "I don't think they're being recruited in the numbers whites are."
Said Stanford outfielder Jeff Hammonds: "The only blacks that are recruited heavily are those who are going to get drafted high. The (black) players that make it to D-1 (Division I schools) are supposed to be the program player, the franchise player."
"There really hasn't been a push by anyone to say, 'Hey, what's going on with the recruitment of blacks?' " said Dave Wilder, an assistant at Cal who is one of the few black, full-time Division I coaches in the country. "There's no pressure. You get into that comfort zone and it's easy to allow things to stay the way they've always been."
Several black players have used college baseball as a steppingstone to stardom in professional baseball, including Jackie Robinson, who played for UCLA in 1940. Reggie Jackson, Hubie Brooks, Barry Bonds and Oddibe McDowell all starred at Arizona State, and Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith and Tony Gwynn were outstanding players for their college teams.
Miami Coach Ron Fraser, who has won two national championships in 27 seasons with the Hurricanes, believes only one thing keeps college baseball from attracting more black players.