As The World Series began for the 118th time last Friday night, Major League Baseball made history. But it wasn’t the kind of history to celebrate. For the first time since 1950 neither of the participating teams, the Houston Astros or Philadelphia Phillies, had any American Black players on their active roster. The only Black American participant was Houston manager Dusty Baker, who is in his 25th year as a major league manager following a distinguished 19-year playing career.
Baker, who was on a World Series winner as a player but not as a manager, had this response when asked his feelings about this situation. “I don’t think that that’s something that baseball should really be proud of. It looks bad. It lets people know it didn’t take a year or even a decade to get to this point,” Baker said,
This comes after a season in which Black American participation in both leagues was down to seven percent (7.2). As a comparison, when the Phillies were in the 1983 World Series, their roster included Joe Morgan, Eddie Murray, and Gary Matthews. “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,” Baker added.
Lots of reasons have been given for the continued lack of Black American participation in baseball. They range from MLB putting more emphasis on finding talent in Latin and Central America to the decline of baseball teams at inner city high schools and HBCUS. Others cite the difference in scholarship opportunities for baseball players vs. football and basketball players as another big reason.
College baseball is an equivalency sport. Rather than a host of individual scholarships, the available ones are divided and given to multiple players. So the full ride that most football and basketball players receive seldom goes to baseball players, and it definitely restricts opportunities for Black youth who come from lower income backgrounds and need a full ride to attend college.
Plus, there’s the popularity of travel baseball, which sees young players on teams playing against other travel squads. But it takes plenty of money to be on a travel squad, and once again that’s not an activity overloaded with Black participants. Finally, the soaring popularity of football and basketball also is a factor. The rosters in the NFL and NBA are both roughly two-thirds Black, and both their unions are headed by Blacks.
But the baseball future picture isn’t totally bleak. Four of the first five draft picks in the 2022 MLB draft are Black Americans, something that Baker cites as evidence positive change may be coming. “You can tell by the number of African-American draft choices (help is coming). The academies are producing players. So hopefully in the near future we won’t have to talk about this anymore or even be in this situation.”
With only two Black managers (Baker and the LA Dodgers’ Dave Roberts) and Black participating having been on the decline for decades, the sport could use some good news on the diversity front. No one anticipates that the day will return when Black sports fans embrace baseball the way they did in the days of the Negro Leagues, or follow it as closely as they did in the earliest days of the sport breaking the color barrier.
But the hope is MLB won’t continue having World Series where neither team has a single Black American on its roster.