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John Young, founder of RBI youth baseball program, dies

LOS ANGELES — John Young, the founder of Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities, a program designed to promote baseball to teens in disadvantaged areas, has died.

Young died in an Orange County hospital May 8 at the age of 67.

After a career in professional baseball that lasted from 1969 to 1978, Young became a scout and was the first African American to be named director of scouting when he was named to that position by the Detroit Tigers in 1981.

In 1986, while scouting for the Baltimore Orioles, Young became concerned about the lack of top African-American players who were ready to be drafted by major league teams.

He took his concerns to Orioles General Manager Roland Hemond and then-baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

Ueberroth, who was the head of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, contacted Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who secured $50,000 for Young to start the program he called RBI for Reviving Baseball in the Inner City.

The organization started in Los Angeles in 1989 with a 12-team league of 13 and 14 years olds.

Two years later, Major League Baseball took over the program and today it serves 230,000 boys and girls in more than 200 cities across the United States, as well as in Canada, Curacao, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic

“All of us at Major League Baseball are saddened by the loss of John Young, a trailblazer and champion of both professional and youth baseball,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said May 9.

“The legacy John has left with the RBI program is evident in the impact it has had on young people who have grown to be important contributors to our society as teachers, police officers, doctors, youth coaches and as professional baseball players. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to John’s wife Sheryl, their children Dorian, Jon and Tori and their entire family, as well as his many friends throughout our game.”

Young grew up in South Los Angeles and attended Mt. Carmel High School and Chapman College in Orange, where he played on the school’s 1968 championship baseball team.

He was a first-round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers in 1969, the 16th player taken overall. His big league career was limited to two games for the Tigers in 1971 in which he was 2-for-4 with a double and a run batted in.

But his legacy in the game of baseball will be the RBI program.

“It’s like a child to me,” he said of the program. “To see the magnitude of RBI — what it has grown into — is unbelievable. It’s like a dream come true.”

Young developed the concept of RBI to overcome obstacles — including street gangs, a lack of organization, funding and community support — that prevented disadvantaged youth from learning and enjoying the game of baseball.

More importantly, Young also wanted to use participation in baseball as a means to overcome academic and social disadvantages faced by many inner-city kids.

Young is survived by his wife, Sheryl, and children Dorian, Jon and Tori. Funeral services are pending.