75 years after Jackie Robinson, MLB rosters still lacking Black players

Rachel Robinson (r., with son David)

Rachel Robinson (r., with son David)
Photo: Getty Images

What do Tim Anderson, Aaron Judge, Byron Buxton, Mookie Betts, and Devin Williams all have in common? Of the 81 players that were selected for the All-Star Game, the aforementioned five represent the African-American-born contingent.

That’s 6.17 percent, which is fewer than the 7.2 percent of African-American-born players that were on Opening Day rosters this season — even lower than the 7.6 percent from 2021.

These are just a few of the examples of the pathetic efforts of Major League Baseball and baseball culture as a whole, taking place this season — a season in which, for the first time in 63 years, the Philadelphia Phillies didn’t have an African-American player on their Opening Day roster.

This is how baseball, at its highest level, is “celebrating” Jackie Robinson’s legacy 75 years after he made history.

Before Tuesday night’s MLB All-Star Game, Mookie Betts took the field wearing a shirt that read, “We need more Black people at the stadium.” He also took the mic to lead the crowd in wishing Rachel Robinson — Jackie’s widow — a happy birthday as she turned 100 this week.

The game’s best African-American player was sending a clear message: “Baseball, do better.”

Baseball enthusiasts and people who believe in hope more than reality will tell you that diversity in the sport is on the rise. The numbers will agree with them. And while numbers never lie, they can always be manipulated. Check this out from MLB.com:

“The 2022 season is another example of how diverse the game has become since Jackie’s (Robinson) time. Of the 975 players on Opening Day rosters and inactive lists, 38% came from a diverse background (Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American) — a slight increase from 37.6% in 2021.”

People love to juke the stats when it comes to diversity. Like when companies hire white women to fill their diversity quotas instead of hiring a person of color — specifically an African-American one. Don’t be fooled, when Major League Baseball points out how many players come from a “diverse background” it’s their sleight of hand trick to get you to focus on how few of them are African-American.

Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts
Photo: Getty Images

Earlier this week, fellow Deadspin columnist and baseball fanatic Rob Parker opined about why he feels things are changing for Black players in baseball. We have differing opinions. Because while things may be better for Black players in general, that isn’t the case for African-Americans. Parker mentioned how the 2022 MLB Draft was inspiring to him because four of the first five picks were African-American (Drew Jones, Kumar Rocker, Termarr Johnson, and Elijah Green) and came up through the MLB’s DREAM Series. He also mentioned that during last year’s All-Star Game, MLB pledged $150 million to the Players Alliance to help increase diversity in baseball. And finally, he believes that MLB should be credited for having Robinson’s No. 42 retired by every team.

To that I say:

● Just because African-American players were high draft picks it doesn’t guarantee them anything, let alone stardom in the majors. Look at Kyler Murray for example, he’s the only player — of any race — that’s ever been a Top 10 Draft pick in both the NFL and MLB. And yet, after declaring that he was initially going to choose baseball over football, Murray hasn’t been on the diamond since he hoisted his Heisman Trophy. Just because something has potential, doesn’t mean it’s going to come to fruition.

● Don’t give the benefit of the doubt to a league that’s dealt with diversity issues for decades just because they donated $150 million in an attempt to get more Black people to play baseball. The NFL and team owners give money out all the time, and they continually show us that they don’t care about Black people. Besides, Forbes is estimating that MLB could crack $11 billion in revenue. So before you go praising that $150 million donation, realize that it’s a drop in a bucket to Rob Manfred.

● Oh, and about Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 being retired across the league. Never confuse guilt with adoration. Especially when the men that Robinson represented are still polling at single-digit percentages on MLB rosters.

“When you’re talking about African-American ballplayers, we need to do better,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told the Los Angeles Times earlier this season. “I think about it all the time. It’s really getting uncomfortable.” In that same article, Tony Reagins, a former GM for the Angels that currently serves as the MLB’s chief baseball development officer, said, “What we need to do is to get more players, specifically African-American players, playing college baseball.”

Last week, the NCAA baseball rules committee recommended that “starting with the 2023 season, celebratory props would not be allowed outside the dugout,” in an effort to keep the game as white and boring as possible on every level. Ironically enough, days later GQ Magazine published a story on “How Shohei Ohtani Made Baseball Fun Again.”

Pay attention to who baseball’s culture allows to “make the game fun” and celebrate.

Baseball should be a game for all, and the diversity that has taken place should be acknowledged. But with that should also come the understanding that while more people of color are finding success and getting better opportunities, the one group that’s always been left out in the cold is still freezing — 75 years after they were told they’d be given a seat at the table where it was warm inside. 

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