After a World Series that featured no Black American players, Major League Baseball is ready to present a platform for the best players from Historic Black College and Universities to take their place on the same stage that will be the center fo the MLB universe during the mid-summer night’s classic.
At the winter meetings on December 6 the league announced the first HBCU showcase featuring elite players from Black Colleges. The philanthropic and educational event, which will center around an HBCU “All-Star” Game that will be held during the 2023 MLB All-Star Week in July at T-Mobile Park, home of Seattle Mariners MLBbro legend Ken Griffey Jr, who played 13 seasons with the club and is spearheading this event.
HBCU Swingman Classic Highlights Top 50 HBCU Baseball Prospects
The HBCU Swingman Classic, which will be powered by the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, will highlight the history and legacy of HBCU baseball programs while also providing the top 50 prospects from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the SWAC an opportunity to showcase their talent on a national stage. The student-athletes will be selected by a committee that will include Griffey Jr., representatives from MLB and MLBPA, and scouts.
Griffey Jr., who is an Ambassador for the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, said:
“I am excited to help these kids get the national attention that they don’t receive compared to other college baseball programs. Over the years, we have seen the decline of African American players, not because they don’t want to play, but rather because they haven’t been seen. College scholarships for baseball are not comparative to other sports, and a lot of families cannot afford to pay the difference. So, this effort is the industry coming together to give these kids an opportunity to play the game they love on the national stage. Financial restrictions prevent them from going to schools that give more exposure. The HBCU Swingman Classic will try and close that gap.”
The game also furthers MLB’s efforts to diversify the game and highlight the Black and brown talent pool that is rapidly growing in America.
Ken Griffey Jr. Helps Cultivate The Next Generation Of MLBbros
The HBCU Swingman Classic joins the annual Hank Aaron Invitational as youth-oriented and diversity-focused programs powered by the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, a joint initiative by MLB and MLBPA to support efforts that focus on improving the caliber, effectiveness and availability of amateur baseball and softball programs across the United States and internationally.
“Major League Baseball is thrilled to continue to work alongside Ken Griffey Jr. and the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation to bring this groundbreaking event to MLB All-Star Week,” said Tony Reagins, Chief Baseball Development Officer, MLB.
Historically, many HBCU alumni have reached Major League Baseball, including Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Lou Brock as well as Marquis Grissom, Rickie Weeks, Jr., Vince Coleman, Tommie Agee, Tom Alston, Earl Battey, Joe Black and others. Hall of Famer Larry Doby is also an HBCU alumnus but did not play baseball at the collegiate level.
“This is going to make an immense difference in the perception of [HBCU] baseball to play on a stage like the All Star Game,” said former Southern University coach Roger Cador. “You’ve got to give all the credit to Ken Griffey, Jr. who wanted to make this happen to bring more Black players to the game.”
“He carried the torch on this and wanted to do something for HBCUs.”
Roger Cador Builds A Baseball Powerhouse At Southern
Cador took a startup program at Southern in Baton Rouge, LA on the opposite side of town from the powerhouse that LSU was when Skip Bertman was leading the Tigers. Despite lacking any significant financing, he built the Jaguars into the most dominant HBCU program in college baseball.
He sparked the program with help from Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, who was hitting coach with the San Francisco Giants and the late Bob Gibson who was pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves.
They provided him with used equipment that led to a 33-year run of dominance in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) featuring 14 championships and a Golden Spikes Award winner and former major leaguer in Rickie Weeks. He also beat Cal State Fullerton in the 1987 NCAA Playoffs and played for the SWAC Championship 27 times.
HBCU All-Star Events Bring Visibility To Black College Athletes
The concept is one that the National Football League and National Basketball Association adopted starting earlier in 2022 with the other leagues opening platforms for HBCU student athletes to display their talents.
Last February, Howard University and Morgan State moved a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball game to Cleveland, and it became the signature event of their All-Star Weekend in the city.
In April, the first HBCU All Star Basketball Game was played in New Orleans featuring top stars from the four major conferences on the Sunday between Final Four Saturday and championship Sunday.
After no HBCU players were selected in the 2020 NFL, The “Coach Prime” phenomenon helped kickoff the two specific showcases that put elite players on a platform that was designed to give them a chance to audition and be evaluated for talent to play on the next level. The league staged an HBCU combine that gave many unseen players a chance to display their skills as they would during its annual public workout pilgrimage to Indianapolis.
With MLB hosting its first combine in 2022, look for more events aimed at highlighting the immense HBCU athletic talent pool that is often ignored by pro organizations.