Vanishing Act: What happened to black baseball in Arkansas?

Across Arkansas, like the rest of the nation, this is becoming more and more the exception. (courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

I’ve seen baseball change—I hate to say it like this—to a middle-class white-man’s sport over the years that I don’t think is fair across the board.” – Norm DeBriyn

Arkansas eked out a 5-4 win against Baylor on Sunday to set up a decisive Game 3 on Monday at 6:05 PM on ESPNU (or ESPN2, depending on the cable gods’ whims). If Arkansas wins, it heads out to Omaha for its second College World Series in four years. Despite a recent stretch of weak hitting, despite UA’s horrendous showing at the SEC Tournament and in Game 1 vs. Baylor, the Razorbacks’ season would gain instant salvation. With the increased media attention paid to Arkansas since its last CWS appearance (2009), it would be safe to say “Arkansas baseball has never been hotter than it is right now.”

Lost in the glare, though, would be some startling statistics: Five African-Americans started on the Hogs’ 1985 CWS team, but the numbers have dropped precipitously since then. In the last 14 years, there have been at most four black Hog baseball players. Moreover, in the SEC West in 2010, 2.3% of baseball players were black; that number was 72% in football, 80% in baseball.

Why has African-American participation in baseball nosedived in recent decades? I spent a few months exploring this question by talking with the likes of long-time UA baseball coach Norm DeBriyn, pitcher D.J. Baxendale, Democrat-Gazette writer Rick Fires, former Razorback Arvis Harper and Fitz Hill, a former UA football coach, and D’Vone McClure, one the first African-American Hog baseball signees in years.

My result is an article, which can be accessed in different ways:

1) As a chapter in my non-fiction book African-American Athletes in Arkansas below:


2) The original version published in Arkansas Life magazine. In the lower left corner, click on “Vanishing Point: The [changing] face of baseball in our urban centers and colleges.”

3) For those with Democrat-Gazette subscriptions, here’s an updated version.


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