CINCINNATI – Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron called on Major League Baseball on Friday to do more to increase participation by blacks in the game.
Aaron attended a panel discussion at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Ohio with former athletes, civil rights scholars and activists as part of baseball's Civil Rights Game weekend.
Aaron said progress has been made, but he'd like to see MLB do more to promote black involvement and opportunities in the game.
"That's a concern of mine; I would just like to see more American blacks play professional baseball," Aaron said. "There's something that needs to be done."
Baseball has taken steps to reverse the decline, and events leading up to Saturday night's first regular-season Civil Rights Game in Cincinnati are intended to support that effort.
Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, took part in the panel discussion. He has been assessing MLB's progress, and his latest report found that 10.2 percent of major leaguers last year were black, the most since 1995.
Harold Reynolds, a former All-Star player and now MLB Network analyst, said the high costs of playing on youth travel teams and going to instructional camps is a deterrent, and there is a need for more scholarships to increase the number of black collegiate players.
"Baseball should never be a game where you can't play because of finances," said Reynolds, who will take part in afternoon baseball clinics and games Saturday in downtown Cincinnati in the latest in a series of MLB black community outreach efforts.
Aaron, Muhammad Ali and Bill Cosby will be honored Saturday for their contributions to civil rights, with former President Bill Clinton as the keynote speaker.
The Chicago White Sox will face the Cincinnati Reds in the first regular-season Civil Rights Game on Saturday night.