On average, the 32 Major League Baseball teams have less than two black players on their respective 25-mn rosters and disabled list, according to the annual study by USA TODAY.
Last year’s mark of 7.1 percent black participation in the Majors was a historic low so I guess the good news is that the number crept up to 7.8 percent on Opening Day of 2018. It’s also the biggest increase from one season to the next since 2007-2008.
Of course, there are teams – nearly one-third – that do not have an African-American player on the roster.
MLB executive vice president Tony Reagins said he would like to see that 7.8 percent mark grow to 20 percent, adding that “we’re starting to see some progress. But is there a lot of work to be done? Absolutely. That’s a lofty goal. But this isn’t a one-time effort. We are fully committed to this. Is there a lot of work to be done? Absolutely.’’
MLB will release its first Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report next week, and I can’t wait to see what the St. Louis Cardinals have to say for themselves.
Each franchise completed a survey asking how many minorities hold front-office positions and the number of minorities who are on scouting and coaching staffs. The number of minority players in minor-league systems will also be examined. Importantly, these facts and figures will be released to the public.
“It is important that we create an atmosphere within baseball where diversity is celebrated and inclusion is promoted as a strength of our business,” MLB said in a written statement.
My guess is that Commissioner Manfred is waiting for the report’s release to share his thoughts. He’s probably very disappointed in what he has learned.
USA TODAY columnist Bob Nightengale wrote this week, “Major League Baseball no longer is accepting excuses for its African-American declining population and is taking full responsibility. It is embarrassing to Major League Baseball that the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox series this week features more African Americans than three entire divisions.”
The NL Central, home of the Cardinals, either has some black players I don’t know about or it is one of the three.
Some other alarming findings include:
- The Los Angeles Dodgers, the franchise that Jackie Robinson debuted for on April 15, 1947, has just one black player and that is 33-year-old Matt Kemp.
- The Cleveland Indians have black outfielders Michael Brantley and Rajai Davis, which makes them the only AL Central team with more than one African American.
Look for MLB to increase its scouting and activity in urban areas, according to Reagins, a former L.A. Angels GM.
“We’re going to focus on going back to the inner cities, those high schools, those baseball programs, that have been forgotten,” Reagins said.
“You’re going to see our scouts go back to the same areas that provided us with Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry and Eddie Murray and Kenny Landreaux in South-Central LA., that used to be a breeding ground for MLB.”
While Kemp is nearing retirement, about three-fourths of MLB’s black players are younger than 30. In 2017, Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene were selected first and second, respectively, in the draft by the Minnesota Twins and Cincinnati Reds. This is just the fourth time this has occurred since the draft was initiated in 1965.
Because some players choose not to identify themselves as black, USA TODAY and the Society of American Baseball Research have conflicting totals on the number of African-American players.
According to SABR, black players constituted 8.4 percent of Opening Day rosters, up from 7.7 percent in 2017. SABR figures say black participation is at its highest level since 2012.
In 1981, 18.7 percent of all MLB players were black and they comprised 22 percent of All-Star Game Rosters. Last year’s All-Star Game teams had just 5 percent had less than 5 percent.
Meanwhile, the NBA player population is 74 percent black and he NFL is at 65 percent.
Yet, quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed as is safety Eric Reid – two men who still refuse to say that they will always stand for the national anthem.
Jackie’s daughter hits homer
Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon was not bashful when asked about the lack of protests by black baseball players.
“I don't think they have much choice,” she said before her father was honored before the New York Mets hosted the Milwaukee Brewers last Sunday on Jackie Robinson Day.
“They are in the minority, where in football and basketball you have a group and therefore you can take a group action. So, players, if they speak out individually, they could be the only African-American player on their team and it could be a difficult spot for them to be in.”
Pittsburgh All-Star second baseman Josh Harrison, a man that speaks his mind, said younger players don’t want to make waves, in part because veteran players are mum.
“For younger guys coming up, if guys with 10 years or so in this league haven’t really done much, you lean on those guys for advice,” Harrison said.
“If you don't have anybody telling you one way or the other, you'll keep your mouth shut. You don't want to ruffle any feathers. If you don't have anybody to help you in that regard, you'll see a lot of guys be quiet."
Robinson said NFL and NBA players are not only protesting, they are helping their communities off the field.
"They do it around their involvement in community themselves and talk about why that's important," she said.
“Part of the protest with the NFL or the NBA is how do we funnel some of these proceeds from the games, where we're helping to bring these proceeds, and funnel them into the African-American community? So, some of the baseball players do that through their own charities or their own work within communities that they're playing (in).”
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, is a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and can also be heard on Frank Cusumano’s “The Press Box.” His Twitter handle is #aareid1.