By Dave Wischnowsky
The WISCH LIST
I love Little League Baseball, and always have.
My dad, Joe, was the winning pitcher on the 1958 Kankakee Jaycees All-Star team that was the first from Illinois to win the United States Championship at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
His stories of that squad sparked my lifelong love affair with the game, and over the past couple of weeks it’s been wonderful to see so many people from all over fall in love with Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West – the latest Illinois team to win the U.S. Championship in Williamsport.
With soul-sucking news about shootings and violence pouring out from Chicago’s South Side on a daily basis, JRW has emerged as the feel-good story that the city needed to pump it up this summer. But the all-black Little League team from Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood may also be the feel-good story that Major League Baseball has needed too.
At least, that’s my hope. Because, I’d like to see MLB take the ball that JRW hit and run with it by using their run as a launching pad to better promote baseball among black youths throughout the country.
In 1981, the share of African-American players on Major League rosters reached a peak of 18.7 percent, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Today, however, blacks accounted for only 8.3 percent of players on opening day rosters, the least since 1958.
For the sport of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, that statistic is a sad one, and last year Aaron told USA Today, “I think Jackie certainly would be disappointed in the way things are today, especially for African-Americans. Let’s face it, baseball was down, and when he came along, he put a big spike into baseball with the way he played, and along came other great black ballplayers.”