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DODGERS FYI

Dodgers' Joe Torre sees a troubling trend

With Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice set to enter Hall of Fame on Sunday, Dodgers manager expresses concern about the diminishing presence of African Americans in baseball.

July 26, 2009|Kevin Baxter

The addition of Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice to the Hall of Fame today could mark the end of an era.

Both players broke into the majors in the 1970s, when more than a quarter of big leaguers were African American. By 2007, that number had dropped to 8.2%, leading some to wonder whether today's ceremony could mark the last time two African Americans share the podium at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

And that, said Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, is something about which baseball should be concerned.

"If there's something that can be done, I think we have to make a concerted effort to make [baseball] attractive," Torre said. "I'm not smart enough to know what that is. But we have to do more. We have to be more proactive."

Torre, who retired in 1977, played alongside Hank Aaron with the Braves and was a teammate of Bob Gibson and Lou Brock in St. Louis at a time when African Americans were prominent in the game, winning 12 National League MVP awards between 1953 and 1969.

"What you're missing as fans is very athletic people with a tremendous amount of ability," said Torre, whose Dodgers opened the season with seven African Americans on their roster, most in the majors. "It's a shame. We certainly should be able to appeal to the black athlete.

"Jackie Robinson started it. He certainly changed the whole dynamic of this game."

Second baseman Orlando Hudson agreed.

"To see us not playing baseball, it's hurting," Hudson said. "Especially after what Mr. Jackie Robinson went through to let us play this great game."

Hudson said one factor that has diminished baseball's appeal among talented young athletes is the sport's lengthy minor league apprentice system, something neither the NFL nor the NBA has.

But Hudson also said the sport has not done a good job of marketing itself to African Americans.

"Look at the commercials. It's all about LeBron [James] and Kobe [Bryant]. Or LaDainian Tomlinson," he said. "Baseball's not really put out there like that. You've got Ken Griffey, the Michael Jordan of baseball. But no commercials have been done for him. It's ridiculous."

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Family affair

Jason Schmidt will be making his second big league start in 25 months this afternoon -- which for Schmidt feels a little like living on borrowed time. The three-time All-Star needed two years to come back from shoulder surgeries, so when Torre handed him the ball for the first time Monday, Schmidt brought his family in from Arizona for the game.

"I didn't know if that was going to be my last game," he said.

The long rehab got an extra push from the pitcher's eldest son Mason Tyler, whose T-ball team Schmidt helped coached. After one recent game the 5-year-old told his father that he was really starting to like baseball, to which Schmidt answered, "Now you know why daddy plays baseball."

"Dad," said the boy, who had no memory of his father in uniform, "you don't play baseball."

"That's when I told my wife, 'We're coming back,' " Schmidt said.

Mason Tyler sat restlessly through Schmidt's last start. And dad hopes he'll be paying attention again today.

"Every start could be my last start," Schmidt said. "That's how we are in this thing."

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Anger management

Andre Ethier, who was hitting .526 with six extra-base hits and five RBIs in his last five games before Saturday, has been known to throw his helmet and bat after making an out in a key situation. And that's OK with Torre.

"He's not getting better. I don't want him to," Torre said. "I want it to mean something to him. And I don't mind his getting bent out of shape over it. That's how much he cares about it. As long as he doesn't carry it over. When you carry it over, it starts affecting his next at-bat."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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DODGERS TODAY

VS. FLORIDA

When: 1 p.m.

Where: Dodger Stadium.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket. Radio: 790, 930.

Probable pitchers: Jason Schmidt vs. Chris Volstad.

Update: Schmidt, the former flamethrower trying to reinvent himself as a soft-tossing control specialist after two shoulder surgeries, survived a 35-pitch, three-run first inning in his long-awaited comeback start six days ago, giving up only one hit over the next four innings to earn his first win in 27 months. Volstad, a former first-round draft pick, is a ground-ball pitcher who struggles when he gets the ball up, having given up 20 homers in as many starts. The Dodgers homered twice against Volstad and beat him in May in Miami, but the 6-foot-8 right-hander is unbeaten in the state of California, having won in San Francisco and San Diego this month and at Dodger Stadium last season.

-- Kevin Baxter

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