Plight of blacks is trivialized by Jackson's protest

MICHAEL OLESKER

April 06, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

So this is where we have arrived: It is 25 years since Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder, and his spiritual heir, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, spends yesterday picketing outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards because he thinks the front-office integration of baseball is one of the most pressing problems facing black America.

Memo to Jackson: If you'd walked just a few blocks slightly northwest of the baseball park yesterday, you'd have seen a street ironically called Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and a couple of blighted housing projects called Lexington Terrace and Poe Homes.

The last time anybody counted, the average major league baseball player was making $1.2 million. Per year. The last time the city of Baltimore counted -- which was 1990 -- Lexington Terrace and Poe Homes had median household incomes of not quite $5,000. Also per year. The average major leaguer earns $5,000 for about every seven innings of work.

And yet, 25 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., while his widow in Atlanta called for an end to urban violence, and the city of Los Angeles held its breath over the fallout of the trial of another man named King, Jesse Jackson was picketing a baseball park where, by no coincidence at all, President Clinton and more television cameras than you can count happened to be found.

On Opening Day yesterday, the Orioles lost to the Texas Rangers, 7 to 4, about which we have now said enough. Jesse Jackson used the moment to say baseball is a closed shop.

About this, much more needs to be said -- but not by Jackson and not on this day.

On the list of items facing black America, and the list of items a man of Jackson's stature should worry about, it is maybe 800th.

''I'm a social justice fighter,'' Jackson declared yesterday, waiting for television photographers to assemble outside Oriole Park. "Baseball has taken an arrogant posture. It is a dying art in urban America.''

About baseball's arrogance, there is little argument. About its old-boy network that keeps the management of ballclubs overwhelmingly white, there is also little argument. About its death in urban America, same thing. Estimates are that maybe 5 percent of those attending major league baseball games are black.

It is 46 years since Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line and opened the white man's major leagues to the richness of black athletes. But, beyond the playing field, there are closed doors in baseball when blacks come knocking.

By Jackson's numbers -- and you can argue that they're not strictly accurate, but they're close enough -- blacks and Hispanics account for only 21 out of 534 executive and department heads in baseball. There's one chief financial officer, no general managers, no directors of player personnel.

Having said that, where are we?

Twenty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, please HTC spare me any tears over the relative handful of jobs in major league baseball, and please spare me the sound of maybe the most eloquent civil rights voice of our time wasting this date on such matters.

Martin Luther King Jr. had more important things on his mind than the pampered millionaires of any color who earn their living in professional sports.

It's 25 years since Jesse Jackson stood over King's lifeless body on that hotel balcony in Memphis, and the problems of baseball -- as Jackson surely sees as well as anyone, any time he lifts his head beyond the television cameras -- don't make a ripple in the American social tide at this moment.

You want problems facing black Americans, Jackson could have seen them yesterday anywhere in Baltimore, where almost one in three black households has an annual income of less than $10,000. About 70 percent of females giving birth here last year were teen-agers, and the percentage among blacks was higher. We're murdering people by the hundreds every year here -- and more than 90 percent of the homicides are blacks killing blacks.

Please, as we recall Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, spare us the troubles of baseball.

Those wishing to prod America's conscience may talk to us of Lexington Terrace.

There were no television cameras there yesterday. Just people in trouble, and nobody in power paying much attention.

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