This week, the eyes of the baseball world will be on Seattle as the All-Star festivities build towards Tuesday night’s Midsummer Classic.
Seattle is a city that has always had a strong connection with Black Americans, and Black baseball, dating back to the early 1900s.
As many as four teams had taken root in the Pacific Northwest prior to the creation of the Seattle Steelheads as part of the West Coast Negro League in 1946.
That was the same year that Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a minor-league contract.
The West Coast League had an expiration date before it ever took the field as MLB was moving closer and closer to admitting its first Black player into its ranks.
Owned by Abe Saperstein, the same man who founded and financed the Harlem Globetrotters, the Steelheads were a local success.
However, the league around them was crumbling and ended play in July of its inaugural season.
When the Mariners arrived in 1977, nearly 30 years later, baseball was full of Black stars.
The American League All-Star team that year included eight MLBbros, with the National League roster having eight of its own.
Compare that to this season, where just six Black players made the cut. Two of those, Aaron Judge and Marcus Stroman, won’t even suit up.
It’s a discouraging number, and down from a year ago, but it is what it is.
However, Seattle has long maintained a lineage of Black stars for its franchise. Starting with Rupert Jones, the team’s first All-Star, and moving through names like Alvin “Mr. Mariner” Davis, Harold Reynolds, the team’s Golden Era with Ken Griffey Jr., and on to Mike Cameron and now JP Crawford.
So, there was no more appropriate setting for the first Swingman HBCU Classic.
Griffey, the greatest Mariner of all-time, and one of the most universally loved athletes in any sport, has always understood the place that Black athletes have held in the game that he has dedicated his life to.
With just over 6 percent of all MLB players being Black, somehow and somewhere, the connection between our community and baseball was frayed.
The timing of the game comes at an inflection point in our country’s history. The Supreme Court of the United States recently struck down policies that consider race in college admissions. The debate over buzzwords like “opportunity,” “equity,” and “fairness” once again rages on.
People have argued that affirmative action and its equivalents have tarnished the achievements of Black Americans; cheapened them even.
Though, statistics show that the playing field is far from even for all those in the game.
This is why the Swingman Classic is so important.
The perception of inferiority that is associated with HBCU programs is pervasive in our culture, despite all evidence to the contrary. Those attitudes lead to many talented people, both in sports and in life being overlooked.
The Swingman Classic gave 50 young men the opportunity to show what they could do. Not as Black baseball players, but as baseball players. They got to be around others like them, who made the journey from schools like Southern University and Florida A&M to the diamonds of the big leagues.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) July 8, 2023
They interacted with Hall of Famers and were given a level on encouragement and validation that they may never have felt before on the biggest stage many of them will ever see.
The final score ultimately will be forgotten. Hopefully, what the game meant will not and we see this, along with baseball’s other efforts to bring Black Americans back to the game, continue to bear fruit.
Ken Griffey Jr was known for having the sweetest swing in baseball during his career. This may be the one that defines his legacy as much as the more than 600 that resulted in home runs.