NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 114-122
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The Welcome Theory
An Approach to Studying African American Youth Interest and Involvement in Baseball
Presented at the Tenth Annual NINE Spring Training Conference, March20-23, 2003
David C. Ogden
Brothers Moses and Welday Walker became the first African Americans to play at a Major League level. Both played in 1884 with Toledo of the American Association, the catcher Moses in 42 games and Welday, an outfielder, in 5 games. 1 Moses "Fleet" Walker may have returned to the big leagues in 1887 had not the International League and some players, most notably Chicago White Sox Hall of Fame first baseman Cap Anson, campaigned for their exclusion.
Thus began more than sixty years of African Americans being shunned from the ranks of the Major Leagues. The initially tacit, but increasingly clear, message was that African Americans were not welcome in the white culture of baseball. African Americans made room culturally for the sport and fashioned their own version of big league baseball, but now baseball seems to occupy little space in that culture. There is evidence that African Americans are poorly represented on baseball fields and in baseball stands. 2 Whether African Americans are or are not welcomed by baseball is unclear but is not the issue here. The issue is whether baseball is welcomed by African American culture and how that is related to the roles to which African Americans were relegated in the early decades of professional baseball.
The Welcome Theory
Several communication and social theories may help explain what appears to be little interest in baseball among African Americans. From a social constructionist's viewpoint, tv images may serve to reinforce the social messages that African Americans are not likely to find other African Americans at baseball games, and that African Americans do not favor an outing to a baseball game as an opportunity to socialize or to build relationships. 3 From the view of semiotics, low numbers of African Americans in the stands and on the ranks [End Page 114] of youth and college teams may symbolize for other African Americans, and society in general, baseball's cultural dearth among certain segments of society. But those theories also may point to a more fundamental one, the "Welcome Theory," whose roots go back to the clash of cultures during the earliest years of professional baseball.
In short the Welcome Theory proposes that certain groups feel as if they don't have a sense of belonging in sports venues or in certain sport and leisure activities. This sense might or might not be related to racial or gender discrimination. It may have to do with the influence of family and friends, access to facilities, and social messages delivered through mass media and other communication forms. As applied to African Americans and baseball, however, the Welcome Theory may have for its foundation the decades of black ball being separated from white ball. Even with the integration of Major League baseball beginning in 1947, the social message that African Americans were unwelcome in predominantly white baseball has a deep history.
Just as Frank Grant, the Walker brothers, and other African American baseball pioneers were made to feel unwelcome in baseball venues (among other venues), African Americans today feel the same sense of unease at certain sporting establishments. Research has demonstrated that African Americans not only feel unwelcome at specific leisure and sports venues (such as country clubs) but also feel their children are better off pursuing certain sports activities over others. 4 One study found that African Americans felt "most welcome" playing basketball and "least welcome" at a country club. African Americans also perceived basketball as one of the most important leisure activities for their children. 5
The perception that certain activities are better suited for certain races is not confined to African American culture. Steven F. Philipp offers evidence through his research that such a perception is shared across races. In his study, European...