The Color of Cricket and Baseball

As we argue in Right Off the Bat, the image of cricket as an English game or of baseball as an American pastime is deeply inaccurate. Both are global sports, attracting people from all corners of the world, whether to play in the United States or for their own countries. People of African descent have played major roles in both games as they’ve developed, and have produced some of the greatest players ever to grace the green sward. However, it has not gone without notice that, in the last decade or so, the color of baseball and cricket has, as it were, lightened.

During the 1980s and 1990s, English cricket boasted some excellent black players: the fiercesomely fast Devon Malcolm, the stylish Mark Butcher, the accurate Gladstone Small, the all-rounder Phil DeFreitas, and many others were regular fixtures in the team. Perhaps not coincidentally, these decades coincided with the era when the West Indies cricket team was the greatest in the world: young Afro-Caribbean men could look at their charismatic and brilliantly talented heroes from the islands and dream of playing of their adopted or native country. Since then, however, while the number of players of African descent has remained the same, it’s only because a number of white South African–born players have qualified to play for England. These days, players of color (with the exception of Michael Carberry) are likely to be of South Asian descent.

Baseball has suffered a similar drop-off in the number of young black players moving up into the major leagues. In a recent article in Salon, Roy Ruck notes that “more African-Americans were elected to Congress as Republicans last November than appeared in the [2010] World Series.” He cites more opportunities for black athletes to excel in other sports, and the increasing amount of money and resources needed within communities to nurture urban talent.

Although the lack of black baseball players and black English cricketers should definitely be a cause for lamentation and concern, it should be noted that baseball and cricket are now profoundly colorful, in ways that wouldn’t have been thought imaginable by the grandees of either sports half a century ago. Baseball is huge in Latin America and East Asia; cricket is enormous in the Indian subcontinent. The result is an incredible repository of talent and background that only lends our favorite sports glamour and richness.  Here’s Devon Malcolm at his most destructive:

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About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
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