There are no U.S.-born Black players in the World Series. Why that matters.


PHILADELPHIA — The World Series finally moved Tuesday night to a city where it hasn’t been in 13 years, and there’s some encouraging news for sports surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies. The Houston Astros were the crew here (somehow). The Phillies boast an unprecedented collection of stars like Bryce Harper, Rhys Hopkins, JT Realmuto, Zach Wheeler, Aaron Nola. How nice.

See a list of notable Phillies. A new team here highlights an old problem: baseball can be American. It is also increasingly white. This is not breaking news, we look at the causes and more importantly – potential solutions. But with two World Series teams boasting not a single black player born in the United States, it’s surprising.

“To say we’ve had trouble getting so many of the best athletes in our game to play our best game is an understatement,” said Tony Clark, head of the MLB Players Association and himself a 15-year big leaguer. 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 cut short after a back injury during his freshman year. Even after the Detroit Tigers took him with the second pick in the 1990 MLB draft, Clark told me a few years ago, “I really looked at him, even joked, I’m a basketball player in a baseball uniform.”

And it’s not just for Clarke. When Tim Anderson grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he had a choice of what to watch and who to idolize.

“I liked Ken Griffey Jr.,” the Chicago White Sox shortstop said at this summer’s All-Star Game. “Other than that, I didn’t see it at all. I had guys I saw, but I was also a basketball guy. I’m not really sold on baseball.”

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Rhys Hoskins, frontman of the noisy club, “Philly is over and done with”

There is something to this. Black kids born in the United States can’t watch these World Series and see their faces contributing on the field. This is the first time this has happened since the 1950s, and this fall brings new attention to the issue.

But even if, say, the New York Yankees beat the Astros and the San Diego Padres beat the Phillies in the League Championship Series, the difference would be nominal. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would have given some Black star power in the World Series; two Yankees sluggers are of mixed race. Josh Bell is a prominent black face in the Padres lineup.

That’s it. American-born black players — Dodgers’ Mookie Betts, Atlanta’s Michael Harris II, Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie — took part in the playoffs. They were dots on the tapestry, not the brush that painted it. There are no similar players filling the bench or the bullpen, the rotation or the outfield. NBA and NFL teams have black players born in the United States on their rosters. MLB teams don’t.

What’s missing is an opportunity for kids to see people who look like them and work together to improve a big league team. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports has been tracking racial participation in baseball and other sports since 1991. Its annual report says 7.2 percent of players on this year’s Opening Day roster are black — the lowest percentage in the report’s history.

So this is not a 2022 problem. It’s a problem that has been ingrained and exacerbated for decades. It is cultural. It is economic. It’s logistical.

Major League Baseball has explored various ways to make its rosters more closely resemble the populations of the cities they represent. In 1989, the league established the Inner City Baseball Revitalization Program, which included in its mission statement the goal of “facilitating the greater involvement of youth of diverse backgrounds in the mainstream of the game.”

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This is a great intention. Actually, it didn’t work. So why abandon a well-intentioned strategy that just doesn’t work? It’s time for MLB to have a comprehensive plan, not just in its big league markets, but in major and minor league cities.

There is a living, breathing, still evolving effort in Washington to do something different. It might be working. And if so, it should be repeated. The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy launched the YBA Play program for 6-year-old baseball players in 2016, two years after the facility opened on the east side of the Anacostia River.

From 2021: Ken Griffey Jr. is still trying to make baseball great

“By offering kids the chance to play the fun, exciting, fast-paced game of baseball, we’ve found that early access to the game, prior exposure to the game, is not necessary for kids to enjoy playing the game. ,” said Tal Alter, CEO of Washington Nationals Philanthropies. “When you get kids who enjoy the experience, no matter who they are or where they come from, they stick with it.”

The YBA Play program didn’t make the big leagues – it didn’t matter anyway. But there’s growing evidence that he’s fueling his love for the game by teaching him drills and skills that don’t feel like baseball. The academy’s competitive, next-level program — Hustle — recruits more than 100 players each year. Facilities, equipment, and coaching are provided free of charge—eliminating the financial and logistical hurdles that prevent many kids from low-income communities from participating in travel baseball.

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The first cohort of kids in the Hustle programs have finished their high school careers — many will play varsity baseball, some on their way to college.

“I think representation is important and our guys need to focus on who’s on the big league roster,” Alter said. “We hear them talk about it all the time.”

There are people at all levels of the MLB front office working on these issues — and on Monday, Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about the clubs’ failure to install diverse faces in front offices and managerial jobs. The league has a list of programs and events — the Hank Aaron Invitational, the Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend Dream Series, diversity camps and more — that aim to provide more opportunities and identify more potential big leaguers. Indeed, baseball was considered a victory when four of the top five picks in July’s draft were black American players and all four participated in league-sponsored development programs.

Still, Astros manager Dusty Baker is the most notable dark character — really the only A black character born in the USA is in this series. And he internalized the notion that there were no black players: “I don’t think that’s something baseball can really 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 in Philadelphia has a new feel. Here’s hoping lists like Competitors become a thing of the past. Baseball must identify and develop ways to present its sport to young athletes from all backgrounds and communities. to choose Not baseball, but vice versa. Without it, something is lost.


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