Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, having watched the levels of Black (i.e., African American) players across MLB drop drastically over the last 30 years, made a unique move recently to address the cause and effect and root reasons why top Black athletes were turning away from the American pastime.
MLB on July 13 at the All-Star game in Cincinnati, with new Commissioner Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB Players Association, agreed on a $30 million initiative and collaboration to turn the issue around. I was reading Hall-of-Famer David Winfield’s website recently where he wrote about the many changes.
Winfield, after 12 years as VP of Baseball with the San Diego Padres and stops at FOX and ESPN as game and studio analyst, is now with the MLB Players Association. Winfield’s vast experience and passion for young people and the game of baseball shines through. His column, “Athletes Wanted,” detailed the momentum that has started already and has gotten as many as 250 young players in MLB’s new pipeline.
The nationwide youth baseball search for athletes ages 13-16 years who desire to continue to play baseball at the highest level is gathering steam as well as the required financial help. The dominant Black athletes have not been participating in years past. There has been a lack of inclusion in the process of former Black players who played the game at a high level.
That is changing. Active players David Price, Chris Archer and Lorenzo Cain have committed, and the initiative has gathered steam.
MLB was number one in popularity through the 1950s and ‘60s and ‘70s with Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, and many others. Then America changed and the NFL, with 80 percent Black athletes on 32 teams in football, is now number one by a large margin.
Winfield said, as a guest on Gamedaygold.com, that MLB identified Black families starting to turn away from the game some 30 years ago, but MLB did not act. This summer, 150 Black players ages 13-16 were selected and participated in the 10-day camp. Players like Dmitri Young, Tom Gordon, Marquis Grissom, Lee Smith and Kenny Hill are teaching the game to the raw talent of athletes to get the fundamentals down.
The elite development camp at Vero Beach from July18-30 at Dodger town was special. Another large group of athletes in Branton, Florida hosted about 50 Black athletes, turning them from raw to refined with intensive instruction and training. That is part of what it takes, and because of it many young African American players are on the radar screen now for high levels to play college and, potentially, pro baseball.
The next initiative is set for September 1-3 with 20 MLB scouts on hand to watch and select.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.