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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Astros are the first World Series team in more than a half-century with a roster that doesn't include a single African-American player.

The Astros are the first World Series team in more than a half-century with a roster that doesn't include a single African-American player.

"Of course I noticed it. How could you not?" Morgan said while the Astros took batting practice before the opener in Chicago. "But they're not the only ones. There are two or three teams that didn't have any African-American players this year."

Morgan said it's a predicament and a challenge for Major League Baseball. While more players from around the world are making it to the majors — Japan, Korea, for example — the number of blacks is declining.

"It's a daunting task to get African-American kids into baseball, and I don't see the trend changing," he said.

The last World Series team without a black player was the 1953

New York Yankees. It wasn't until 1955 — eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 — that Elston Howard became the first African-American in Yankee pinstripes.

African-American players accounted for just about 9 percent of big league rosters this season.

"We know that we have to work to do," Commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday. "We'll continue to intensify our efforts. I'm very aware, I'm extremely sensitive about it, and I feel badly about it. But we need to get to work to change things."

Astros general manager Tim Purpura agrees.

"I think it's a huge, huge problem for baseball," he said. "The pool of African-American players just isn't there. And as baseball becomes more college-oriented in its draft, there aren't a lot of players to pick.

"The African-American athletes are going into other sports," he said.

The most recent survey by the

taken during the 2003-04 season, showed that only 6 percent of Division I baseball players were African-American. Half of the men's basketball players were African-American, as were 44 percent of football players.

Houston has a half-dozen Hispanic players — it was the first team to open a baseball academy in Venezuela, about a dozen years ago. Bench coach Cecil Cooper is African-American.

Outfielders Charles Gipson and Charlton Jimerson, both African-American , played for the Astros during the regular season.

The White Sox have three African-American players on their Series roster: Jermaine Dye, Carl Everett and Willie Harris, along with coaches Tim Raines and Harold Baines.

They also have eight Hispanic players and Japanese second baseman Tadahito Iguchi.

"We're diverse because we're looking for the best in talent and character," general manager Ken Williams said before the Series started. "It just happened that way. I could care less what the makeup of the club is as long as it works as a whole."

Williams is the only African-American general manager in the majors. A former big league outfielder, he joined the White Sox in 1992 as a scout, confident he could find players in the inner cities. After a year of trying, Williams felt as if he'd failed.

Morgan is disturbed by what he's found, too.

A two-time NL MVP, Morgan helped Cincinnati win two straight championships. In 1976, along with fellow African-American teammates Ken Griffey, George Foster and Dan Driessen, the Big Red Machine swept a Yankees team that had 10 African-American players on its roster.

Just 10 years ago, Atlanta and Cleveland each had five African-American players when they met in the World Series.

In 2003, Derek Jeter and the Yankees lost to Florida. Jeter's father is African-American and his mother is white; the All-Star shortstop has said he considers himself both African-American and white.

"There's a perception among African-American kids that they're not welcome here, that baseball is not for inner-city kids," Morgan said. "It's not true, and I hate that the perception is out there."

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