Of the 64 players chosen for Major League Baseball's All-Star Game today, only 10 are black. Among the 16 players the fans chose to start, only one - Derek Jeter of the Yankees - is African American.
This is a far cry from the 1979 All-Star Game, which featured 16 African American players, including seven starters and seven future Hall-of-Famers.
This season, a little more than 10 percent of all Major League Baseball players are black. While that represents the first year-over-year increase in more than a decade, it's nowhere near the number of black players in the mid-'70s, when they made up almost 30 percent of the major leagues.
The presence of African American players at virtually all levels of the game has diminished to such a point that many historically black colleges and universities deliberately recruit white and Latino players so they can field full teams.
There are many theories as to why the number of black ballplayers has declined so markedly. Some cite the inability of Major League Baseball to successfully market the game to black youths, as the NBA and NFL do.
Others cite the high cost of attending games. Even Tiger Woods has complained about the ticket prices at the new Yankee Stadium.
Of course, many poor black youths are thwarted simply by a lack of available space and equipment for baseball.
And then there's the increasing number of international players, particularly from Asia and Latin America, which has caused some tension in the sport. In a 2007 interview with GQ magazine, Gary Sheffield, a black 20-year veteran of the game, made the controversial claim that the major leagues were relying more on Latino players because they are easier "to control."
Longtime music executive and baseball fan Bill Stephney suggests another reason for the diminishing presence of black baseball players. According to Stephney, baseball lost legitimacy in black communities when black fathers became marginalized in those communities.
There is merit in Stephney's observation. Unlike basketball, which youngsters can learn by watching older kids play, baseball requires a level of organization and instruction that, very often, only adults can provide. Indeed, my own father sparked my interest in baseball when I was young; I can't imagine I would have become interested in the sport without his involvement.
My father belonged to a post-World War II generation of American men who were growing up when Jackie Robinson broke the sport's color barrier, an act loudly cheered by those struggling against legal segregation.
It bears noting that among the black ballplayers in the major leagues today, a significant number are sons of former major-leaguers, including John Mayberry Jr. of the Phillies, Gary Matthews Jr. of the Angels, and Prince Fielder of the Brewers. All three of their fathers - John Mayberry Sr., Gary Matthews Sr., and Cecil Fielder - were all-stars at some point in their careers.
More telling is the example of two sets of brothers: Dmitri and Delmon Young, and B.J. and Justin Upton. The Young brothers were the first siblings to be drafted within the first five picks of baseball's amateur draft, in 1991 and 2003, respectively. The Uptons were among the top two picks in the 2002 and 2005 drafts. Both sets of brothers talk about the instrumental role their fathers played in their careers, with baseball serving as a common language that bridged the generation gap.
The late Buck O'Neil, a veteran of the Negro Leagues and, in his later years, one of baseball's great ambassadors, once suggested that kids never recall going to their first basketball game with their fathers. But they often do remember such a first baseball game.
Last month, President Obama promoted the importance of being a good dad, saying he wanted to start a "national conversation" on the subject. Maybe that conversation could take place on a baseball diamond, with fathers and sons and a duffel bag filled with balls, bats, and gloves.