In 12 days, Americans will take to the polls to elect the next president of the United States.

There is a 50 percent chance that, for the first time, a black man will be elected our commander-in-chief.

With that sort of progress, you'd expect anything dealing with race to be improving and advancing.

While that's not the case in some parts of society — there are too many examples to sort through — you can say it's true in baseball.

The irony here is that, while the depth of black players in America's self-proclaimed "pastime" has decreased, the top tier has ascended to the baseball elite.

In Game 2 of the World Series tonight, seven black players — Carl Crawford, Cliff Floyd, B.J. Upton, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, David Price and Edwin Jackson — will suit up on baseball's biggest stage.

Just this April, MLB received an A- for race diversity from Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

Still, just 8.2 percent of MLB was black in 2007, down from 8.4 percent in 2006 and the lowest level in at least two decades.

In 1975, blacks accounted for 27 percent.

"The number of black players in this series, doesn't necessarily go against what he (Lapchick) found," said Bob Kendrick, Director of Marketing for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

"Coincidentally you have two of the teams that have a fairly substantial nucleus of African-American players. Still, we're excited that you have the opportunities to have two teams that have not just African American players, but African-American star players. As we continue to try and get more urban youth to play this game this is a good thing. Even though the numbers are diminishing, those in the league are of star quality or rising."

Kendrick says there are several reasons that blacks aren't playing baseball at the rate they once did.

"I think there are various factors that have led to this ultimate decline and lack of overall interest in this sport," he said. "Some are socioeconomic. Certainly the other sports have grown in stature tremendously and have grown in mass appeal to the urban corps -- The lack of sand lot opportunities to play this game have hurt. If it's not played in an organized fashion then kids are just not playing. Back in my day you didn't have to have nine guys to play. You made your own rules to adapt to whatever the situation was. That's not the case now."

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has made a good faith effort to increase participation by blacks, 61 years after Jackie Robinson first integrated the league.
Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) completed its 20th season in 2008. From its inception in 1989 through the 2007 season, RBI grew from a local program for boys in South Central Los Angeles to an international campaign encompassing more than 200 cities and as many as 120,000 male and female participants a year.

Since the start of the program, designed to increase participation by minority youth, Major League Baseball and its clubs have designated more than $30 million worth of resources to the RBI program.

Kendrick says more needs to be done.

"I don't know if I ever thought the numbers would decline at such an alarming rate," he said. "The Nergo Leagues demonstrated that we played the game as good as anyone. The declining numbers come from the declining interest. Certainly we didn't think we would see the numbers spiral in this direction this fast."

While there are a myriad of reasons for the decline, Bomani Jones points to another sport as the culprit.

"Football is where the money is", said Jones, host of 'The Three-hour lunch break' on WRBZ in Raleigh. "Football and Basketball are the collegiate sports that produce revenue. Coming from a place that has no money, aren't you more likely to play the sports that have money?"

Jones said that young blacks are steered towards football because, even at the high school level, it is the main revenue producer.

He also added that a cultural shift of the black population from the rural south to more urban areas has also contributed to the decline of blacks in baseball.
"There's no sand lots in an urban jungle," he said.

Obviously this is an issue that has a multitude of causes and a host of guilty parties. What's most important, though, isn't that young black children like baseball.

It's that they get the chance to play, just like everyone else.

With stars like Howard, Rollins and Upton starring in the World Series, hopefully black youth will gravitate more towards the game that gave us Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Satchel Page and Josh Gibson.