Look at that list of famous Phillies. The new team here underscores an old problem: Baseball can be quintessentially American. It is also increasingly white. This isn’t breaking news, so we’ll look at the causes and, more importantly, the possible solutions. But when there are two World Series teams that don’t boast a single American-born black player, it’s surprising.
“To say that we are challenged in our game to attract many of the best athletes to play our great game is an understatement,” Tony Clark, head of the MLB Players Association and a 15-year big leaguer himself, previously said. season
Clark knows because he didn’t choose baseball. Baseball chose him. He played basketball at the University of Arizona, but his hardwood career was slowed when he suffered a back injury as a freshman. Even after the Detroit Tigers took him second overall in 1990. At the time of the MLB draft, “I really looked it up and even joked that I was a basketball player in a baseball uniform,” Clark told me a few years ago.
This is not unique to Clark. When Tim Anderson was growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he had a choice of what to watch and what to idolize.
“I liked Ken Griffey Jr.,” the Chicago White Sox shortstop said at this summer’s All-Star Game. “Other than that, I haven’t really looked. I watched a few guys, but I was more of a basketball player. I wasn’t really sold on baseball.
Rhys Hoskins, frontman of the raucous clubhouse, is Philly through and through
There is something in that. Black kids born in the United States can’t turn around in this World Series and see one face on the field like they do. It’s the first case since 1950, so the issue is getting renewed attention this fall.
But even if, say, the New York Yankees had beaten the Astros and the San Diego Padres had beaten the Phillies in the league championship series, the difference would be nominal. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would have given the World Series some black star power; both Yankees sluggers are mixed race. Josh Bell is the prominent black face of the Padres.
So much for that though. The playoffs featured several American-born black players – Mookie Betts of the Dodgers, Michael Harris II of Atlanta, Triston McKenzie of Cleveland. It was the dots on the tapestry, not the brushstrokes, that colored it. There are no similar players filling the bench or the bullpen, the rotation or the outfield. NBA and NFL teams have US-born black players on their rosters. MLB teams don’t.
It’s a lost opportunity for kids to see people who look like them and grew up like them working together for the betterment of a big league team. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports has been charting racial participation in baseball and other sports since 1991. His annual report said 7.2 percent of players on this year’s Opening Day roster were black, the lowest percentage in the report’s history.
So it’s not 2022. problem. This is a problem that has been rooted and exacerbated for decades. It’s cultural. It is economical. This is logistics.
Major League Baseball has explored various ways to make its rosters more similar to the populations of the cities they represent. in 1989 the league created the Revitalizing Inner City Baseball program, whose mission statement is to “encourage youth of all backgrounds to become more involved in the mainstream of the game.”
Those are great intentions. Actually, it didn’t work. So why continue to bother with a well-thought-out strategy that didn’t produce any results? It’s time for MLB to have a comprehensive plan, not just in major league markets, but also in minor league cities, big and small.
A living, breathing, still-evolving attempt to do something different in Washington, DC. It can work. And if so, it should be replicated. The Washington Nationals Junior Baseball Academy launched its YBA Play program for prospective baseball players as young as 6 in 2016, two years after the facility opened east of the Anacostia River.
From 2021: Ken Griffey Jr. is still trying to make baseball cool
“By offering kids the chance to play baseball in a fun, engaging, fast-paced environment, we’ve found that prior access to the game, prior participation in the game, is not necessary for kids to enjoy the game.” said Tal Alter, CEO of National Philanthropies in Washington. “When you get kids who enjoy the experience — no matter who they are or where they’re from — they stick with it.
The YBA Play program didn’t create big players – that’s not the point anyway. But there’s growing evidence that the game fosters a love of the game by teaching skills through drills that may not even match baseball — quick bursts rather than slow slides. The Academy’s more competitive, next-level program, Hustle, includes more than 100 players each year. They are provided free gear, equipment and coaching, eliminating the financial and logistical challenges that prevent so many kids from underserved communities from participating in travel baseball.
The first group of kids participating in Hustle programs are finishing their high school careers, with many playing varsity baseball and some preparing to play in college.
“I think it’s fair to say that representation is important and that our kids absolutely pay attention to who’s on the big league rosters,” Alter said. “We hear them talk about it all the time.”
There are people working on these issues at all levels of the MLB front office, and commissioner Rob Manfred spoke Monday about the clubs’ failure to put diverse faces in the front office and in the executive workplace. The league has a list of programs and events — the Hank Aaron Invitational, the Dream Series during Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, diversity training camps and more — designed to provide more opportunities and identify more potential big leaguers. Indeed, baseball considered it a victory when four of the top five players in the July draft were black-Americans, and all four participated in some league-sponsored development program.
Still, Astros manager Dusty Baker is the most prominent black character — really only American-born black character in this series. And he took note of the absence of black players, saying, “I don’t think that’s something that baseball should be proud of. It looks bad.”
It’s not just that it looks bad. This is bad. What was once a national pastime no longer looks like a nation. The World Series has a new feel when it returns to Philadelphia. Hopefully lists like the ones competing here will become a thing of the past. Baseball must identify and develop ways to expose and encourage young athletes from all mediums and communities to their sport. choose baseball, not the other way around. Without it, something is lost.