By Ethan Sands
For the first time since 1950, the World Series will be without any U.S.-born Black players. Dusty Baker, the Astros’ storied 73-year-old manager, was just a year old, and the clock had just struck four years for Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson the last time.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and there has since been a rich history of Black ball players following in his footsteps and leading their teams deep into the postseason.
Houston’s outfielder Michael Brantley and relief pitcher Josh James are both injured, while the Phillies had no Black players on their opening roster this year for the first time since 1959. Leaving both teams without a U.S.-born Black player on their World Series rosters.
“That is eye opening,” Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, told the Associated Press. “It is somewhat startling that two cities that have high African American populations, there’s not a single Black player.
“It lets us know there’s obviously a lot of work to be done to create opportunities for Black kids to pursue their dream at the highest level.”
The Yankees Aaron Hicks, the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts, San Diego’s Josh Bell, Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie and Atlanta’s Michael Harris II all fell short in this year’s playoffs of reaching baseball’s biggest stage.
While there are many Afro-Latino players for fans to cheer on in the final days of the 2022 season, the thought of having someone to look up to that looks like you and has a similar upbringing is still lost on young baseball fans.
The discrepancy is apparent on the field, but a more significant issue might be in the executive offices or calling balls and strikes. Chicago White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams is the only Black leader of baseball operations for a Major League team. Alan Porter is the only Black umpire, and Carlos Torres is the lone Latino review official on the World Series crew.
Although the lack of U.S.-born Black players is alarming, the game is slowly reaching marginalized communities.
MLB founded its first Urban Youth Academy in 2006. Eleven alumni of the MLB Youth Academy (which opened its first location in Compton, Calif.) have reached the Majors, including Hicks, Kyle Higashioka, Hunter Greene and Dillon Tate.
The 2022 Draft made history when four of the first five players selected were Black.
Druw Jones, Kumar Rocker, Termarr Johnson and Elijah Green all competed in an MLB Youth Academy along with other initiatives such as the MLB Youth Academy, DREAM Series and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. Since 2018, 635 MLB Develops program alumni (90% of whom are Black) have gone on to play at the college level.
“I just want to follow in the footsteps of the guys who paved the way,” Johnson, the fourth overall pick in this year’s Draft, said. “Like Marquis Grissom, who has his own baseball association, or something like MLB Develops.”
Grissom is the President and Founder of the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association and a former Major Leaguer. He’s helped with the 44 Classic — named in honor of club legend Hank Aaron — in each of its first four years. The event furthers Aaron’s legacy to increase diversity in baseball by highlighting top, diverse high school baseball talent from the Southeast. He also helps with the RBI Fall Development programs.