Pro baseball appeals less than NFL, NBA to aspiring athletes

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It’s a big reason for the continuing decline in Black players

Major League Baseball earned a B-plus in racial hiring in this year’s Racial and Gender Report Card by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES).

MLB “is making strides in the right direction, but as always there needs to be added urgency in order to make Jackie’s vision a reality,” wrote study author Richard Lapchick in his August 28 executive summary. He referred to the late Hall of Famer’s dream of diversity at all levels. “He played for a future of baseball where all people can participate on and off the field.”

Blacks make up 10.5 percent and people of color 37.5 percent of the MLB Central Office, including a Black woman (Michele Meyer-Shipp) who was recently hired as MLB chief people and culture officer to oversee the league’s human resources activities and off-field office operations.

At the team front offices, Derek Jeter is the only person of color as an MLB majority owner (Miami) with two Black baseball operations presidents and 28 Black vice-presidents. Of the team senior administration positions, 5.2 percent are Black, and 6.1 percent of team professional positions are Black.

The Minnesota Twins, as earlier reported in the MSR, has two Black baseball operations special assistants, a Black senior scouting advisor, and a Black amateur scouting director. 

Lapchick last week told the MSR that he had mixed feelings regarding the 2020 MLB report card. “I was encouraged that the managers went up but discouraged that the general managers remained where they were [in 2019]. I think baseball’s central office is doing a real good job at hiring women and people of color and leading that path for clubs to follow.”

Charles Hallman/MSR News Dr. Richard Lapchick

The on-field diversity is as follows: There is one Black manager. Blacks hold 6.3 percent of coaching positions (the Minnesota Twins has one, First Base Coach Tommy Watkins). The percentage of Black players on opening day rosters was 7.5 percent, the lowest ever recorded by TIDES. Byron Buxton was the only U.S.-born Black player on the Twins roster, later joined by LaMonte Wade, Jr.

Over the last nine years (2012-20) the MLB Draft has featured 51 Blacks drafted. This included two Blacks selected within the top six picks (2019); the first two picks in 2017 were Blacks (Royce Lewis was selected first by the Twins followed by Hunter Greene); 10 of the top 41 selections were Black (2016); there were nine Black first-round selections (2015); and 20 Blacks were selected in the first round of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Drafts.

In the five-round 2020 Draft, 16 of the first 73 selections were people of color.

Asked why the numbers of Black major leaguers remain low, Lapchick said, “I think everybody is frustrated by the continuing decline of African American players in baseball. I think MLB has tried, but I think it’s particularly a problem that if you are a young Black aspiring athlete and you look around at pro sports—70 percent of the NFL players are Black, and nearly 80 percent of NBA players are Black.

“You see your opportunity… You have a better opportunity [in those sports] and concentrate on helping your skills in these other sports. I think that’s a huge part of the problem.”

MLB’s overall B grade shows progress, but the league “needs to continue to improve…to create an opportunity for change and develop the pipeline to higher management positons,” said Lapchick.