LOS ANGELES, CA — Every season Major League Baseball (MLB) honors the legacy of Jackie Robinson as they continue to bring awareness to accomplishments and struggles, he endured.
However, MLB has not brought awareness to an ever-growing problem that continues to persist in baseball in the lack of Black American MLB players.
To take it a step further, it is the lack of emphasis being placed on young Black kids having an opportunity to play baseball in order to grow the game amongst those in the Black community. To be fair, MLB did begin instituting the RBI program, along with working with The Players Alliance. There’s also the Breakthrough Series, Hank Aaron Invitational and Dream Series — MLB sponsored programs for minority players ages 13-18. These programs identify, develop and highlight elite Black talent, while supporting initiatives such as Play Ball, that foster a relationship between the younger generation of minority athletes and the game. However, more can be done in order to drive kids towards baseball instead of seeing kids in football, basketball, and soccer, just to name a few.
Is it a matter of awareness, promotion, and/or economics?
This season, just 7.2% of MLB rosters consist of Black Americans. That’s a dip of .4% from 2021 Opening Day numbers — and after talking to several players, managers and former players, one thing is very clear — it’s a problem that needs to be solved with a sense of urgency.
“The number of Black players is considerably down. I know we have to do better; we need to figure out ways to get into the inner cities and get people of color to play this game,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
“It starts at the young age because young Black kids are now playing football, basketball, soccer and anything but baseball. Whether it is Mookie Betts, Byron Buxton, CC Sabathia, (Andrew) McCutchen, I think we just try to promote the Black ball players, even when I was younger to see people that looked like me you want to follow in their footsteps.”
Back in the 1990’s before the strike that changed baseball, many children, including myself, saw Deion Sanders, Ken Griffey Jr., and Bo Jackson regularly on television commercials. They could be selling shoes, soft drinks, or excelling on the field. Whatever they were doing, it made us all want to play baseball. Other players were also featured such as Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis, Barry Bonds, and later Derek Jeter. Eventually, we saw a record influx of players from many Latin American countries, and it appeared as if MLB forgot about the Black American player with so many in their own backyard wanting an opportunity.
Has baseball forgotten, and if so, how does MLB attract the Black baseball player back to the diamond with hopes of someday making it to the major leagues?
Economically, baseball for a family or single parent of children is very expensive versus playing football or basketball where all you need is enough room to play and a ball, which is very cheap in comparison. The average cost for Pop Warner football for a child is between $175- $200. The average cost to play Little League baseball is over $300 not including gloves, cleats, bats, and insurance. When you factor in the cost of travel teams once players advance past Little League age, teams can run you as much $3000-$5000 for one season.
— Nick Hamilton (@NickHamilton213) April 15, 2022
“Kids need to see us, you can donate all the money you want, you can donate all the equipment you want but when they see you, it makes a different impression,” Edwin Jackson co-founder of The Players Alliance explained. “It gives them hope that they can see you do something.”
The lack of promotion for not just Black baseball players but baseball players as a whole is an alarming issue that has yet to be properly addressed and solved. Some players feel the lack of Black players in baseball is due to the lack of scholarships offered on the collegiate level. Some believe it’s a lack of culture instituted into baseball and if it were added, it could begin to change the landscape.
Black Culture Is Baseball Culture
“Mixing in Black culture into the game of baseball, when you go to an NFL or an NBA game you’re going to hear music that we listen to,” Dodgers pitcher David Price said. “It’s different in baseball, I understand that some kids might think baseball is boring, and we’re trying to cut down on time of baseball and to get more action into the game of baseball and that all of that stuff will help. I know going into an NBA game or an NFL game can be a little more exciting and a little more relatable to the young African-American kids that go there.”
Imagine if baseball took the initiative during the 2022 MLB All-Star Game in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse cities in the country. What if MLB brought out an artist like Drake, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, or Megan Thee Stallion and how much that would attract those from the Black community to pay attention to the league. However, it should be a continuous effort between promoting the game, getting more involved with diversity initiatives and promoting its Black stars like Betts, and future stars like Jo Adell, Jet Johnson, Tim Anderson, and Hunter Greene to name a few.
“I think the most important thing is providing for those players and children, I received that opportunity at the age of seven at the Youth Academy put together by the Angels and Dodgers,” Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene said. “Started at seven years old and finished up about 11 or 12 years going into high school. I had some amazing exposure to past players and coaches who had great careers in the game. Giving kids that opportunity and there are a lot of kids out there that’s all they need to take off and succeed, I think the more opportunities we can give for Black players and kids will continue to increase the numbers in the game.”
It can’t just be the organizations that bring awareness to this growing problem or just Black managers or players, but the white players as well must use their voices to raise awareness concerning this systemic problem.
“When you talk about equality and opportunity for everyone, we have to find a way to create more scholarships in baseball in the NCAA,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “I think that will get the ball rolling in order to create more opportunities for kids and more interest for young Black kids to want to take advantage of an opportunity to play this great game, and get an education and further along their career and have the chance to move on to play professionally and live out their dream of playing in the major leagues.”
Black Players Dominate MLB Record Books
Another issue that must be brought to light is teaching the history of players who have changed the dynamic of baseball. We all understand and are aware of the contributions and sacrifices of Jackie Robinson and the plight of Hank Aaron hitting home run number 715 and the threats he endured. But many don’t know the impact of Don Newcomb, Dusty Baker, or even Curt Flood. The impact of those players and others can inspire many who desire to play the game at a young age, and even some fans to be interested in watching games in person or on television.
Not only should MLB pour more money and resources by creating youth academies across the nation, but truly make a conscious effort and execute better promotion, sustainability and opportunities to not only have Black American baseball players on the field, but hire more Black managers in those dugouts across the league.
You can’t love to make money off the culture and then ignore the culture and the people in it when it’s convenient. Time to tap into the culture that can help keep the game elevated.
It’s time for MLB to wake up and realize you can truly no longer be mediocre when it comes to exposing the game to young Black baseball players and the Black community. With the popularity of the NFL, NBA, and MLS along with NCAA football, America’s past time will be a time in the past that many will not pay attention to.