8/20/2014 1:35 P.M. ET
Baseball is still Magic for many African-American fans
Ex-NBA star and Dodgers part owner dispels myth blacks aren't into baseball
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
According to a growing consensus, African-Americans are disciples of football and basketball these days, but not particularly fond of the game Jackie Robinson courageously helped to integrate.
Sorry, but I don't believe that.
For those who do, they're not paying attention.
In other words, this always has been a pet peeve of mine: Claims that African-Americans aren't into baseball anymore. What caused me to think about all of this again was a lot of things, but none was more striking than a conversation I had with some guy named Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr.
Ever hear of him? Not only did Johnson dribble a little back in the day with the Los Angeles Lakers, but at 55, he now is a part owner of the Dodgers. He also is an African-American, and consider this: He didn't decide to join Stan Kasten and members of Guggenheim Partners in January 2012 in a bid to buy the Dodgers just to increase his business portfolio.
"No, I've been in love with baseball for a long time, and I've watched every World Series that I can remember -- and this was even before I joined the Dodgers," Johnson told me, tracing his affection for the sport back to his Lansing, Mich., days of the 1960s, when he cheered for everybody and everything involved with those powerful Tigers teams. "I followed the Tigers closely, and the same with baseball. Even right now, I love baseball so much that I still play softball. I'm telling you that baseball is a great game, and I've always felt that way."
It sounds like folks should stop repeating the myth that African-Americans think baseball is too slow, too boring or too something. Those same folks should look around, listen and then shake their heads before wondering how in the name of Hank Aaron they missed the truth: The state of baseball in the African-American community is more vibrant than they previously thought.
Let's start with Williamsport, Pa., where a totally African-American team from Chicago is competing in the Little League World Series. Not only that, the star of the whole event so far is a 13-year-old Philadelphia girl, Mo'ne Davis, who throws a baffling slider when she isn't frustrating hitters with 70 mph fastballs.
She's African-American, by the way. So is Russell Wilson, the third-youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, which he did so last season with the Seattle Seahawks. He still dreams of moonlighting as a Major League infielder after getting drafted by the Rockies in the fourth round four years ago. He even spent a day for fun this spring in the Rangers' camp, after Texas acquired him last December in Rule 5 Draft.
Then there is Jameis Winston, an African-American quarterback who led Florida State last season to the national championship of college football. He also pitches for the Seminoles' baseball team.
I could go on along those lines, but I'll return to Johnson, owner of five NBA championship rings with the Lakers. He also captured a national championship in college basketball at Michigan State after a prolific high school career in Lansing that produced a state title. He ranks either 1A, 1B or 1C as the greatest NBA player of all-time, but he now joins Clayton Kershaw, Vin Scully and Tommy Lasorda among the faces of the Dodgers.
"Like I said, I've always loved baseball, and I've been a huge baseball fan since I was a kid in Lansing. That was back when the Boys & Girls Club used to take us to the Detroit Tigers games. And our two heroes back then were Gates Brown and Willie Horton," Johnson told me, referring to African-American sluggers who helped the Tigers shock the Cardinals in the 1968 World Series. Johnson's smile widened, and he added, "Gates and Willie were the two guys we identified with the most, but [there was also] Al Kaline, Jim Northrup, Norm Cash, Mickey Lolich, Aurelio Rodriguez on third, Bill Freehan catching, Ernie Harwell calling the game. I've been a Tigers fan through the years, and I'll always be a Tigers fan."
Translated: No offense to Dodger Blue, which Johnson obviously pulls for these days, but he is a true baseball fan. That's because true baseball fans don't change allegiances when it is convenient to do so -- you know, if you're something like the part owner of another Major League team.
True baseball fans also go bonkers after meeting somebody associated with the game who is bigger than life.
"When I first came to L.A. after I joined the Lakers [in 1979], the second person I met was Tommy Lasorda, and it was a thrill, because of who he was to the game of baseball," Johnson said, referring to the Dodgers' iconic manager at the time. "He invited me to a Dodgers game. He gave me a cap, a jacket and he told me about L.A. So I owe a lot to Tommy. He also introduced me to [former Dodgers players] Dusty Baker, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Ron Cey. And, remember, they played a few times in the World Series."
I remembered. Then Johnson remembered something else: The first and the only time he played organized baseball as a youth.
"I was about 10 or 11 years old, and my career as a baseball player lasted one day," Johnson said, chuckling. "The ball came toward me so fast while I was in the batter's box that I was getting out of there. Before long, it was strike one, strike, two, strike three. The coach called me over and said, 'Son, I don't think this game is for you.' And I said, 'I don't think so, either.' "
So Johnson concentrated on basketball. I guess it sort of worked for him, but baseball remained deep in his heart.
Baseball still does.
The same goes for a slew of other African-Americans.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.