It has been at least three-quarters of a century since Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947. But Opening Day 2023 found only six percent of major leaguers are American-born Black players, one percent lower than 2022, and the lowest since 1991, when it was 18 percent.
This decline in African Americans in the league is despite the continued efforts by MLB to attract more Black players through some of its many initiatives. These include the HBCU Swingman Classic, which is played during the All-Star break features 50 Black college baseball players, as well as the summertime RBI youth baseball programs in MLB cities among others.
“There is a problem,” admitted Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick while visiting the Twin Cities last week. “We just have to be patient, and patience is not something that is who we are.”
“As we started to see the minor leagues become more populated with Black players, I think you can start to predict when the pendulum will shift [in the majors].”
For the first time in draft history, four of last year’s first five MLB draft picks were Black. Nine first-rounders also were Black, the most since 1992. The 2023 MLB draft was still in progress at press time.
“I hope that is a trend and not an aberration,” noted Kendrick.
The “2023 MLB Racial and Gender Report Card” released in June by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport also noted not only the low numbers of Black players but also Blacks in other baseball roles: one Black manager, two Black general managers, four Black umpires; 62 out of 625 coaches are Black, and there are 21 Black vice presidents.
The Minnesota Twins have one Black person in a leadership position among five chief executives (Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer Meka White Morris). The Twins have four African American players on their 2023 roster: veterans Byron Buxton, Michael A. Taylor, Nick Gordon, and recent call-up Royce Lewis. Both Gordon and Lewis are currently injured.
In his first year in Minnesota, Taylor has played for two other MLB clubs since his debut for Washington in 2014. He was traded to the Twins last January from Kansas City for two minor leaguers. He leads the team this year in games played and is second in stolen bases.
“Baseball is a sport where it can be difficult [to learn]… It’s not like you can just grab a basketball and go to the local park and put up shots,” explained Taylor.
“I started when I was very young, around four years old. I think it was my dad who first put me in baseball. And I just fell in love with it. I played basketball, soccer, football, a lot of other sports. But for some reason I just kept coming back to baseball.”
Lewis, MLB’s No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017 by Minnesota, has had two torn ACLs in the same right knee. Before his latest injury, an oblique strain that he suffered during his swing on a groundout on July 1, at Baltimore, Lewis was hitting .326 with four homers in his first 26 games back with the Twins. We spoke with him prior to his latest setback.
“That was the toughest part for an athlete…,” he said, about not being able to play. “It felt like it was my identity. I’m still in the middle of my prime athletically,” stressed Lewis.
In 2019, San Francisco’s LaMonte Wade, Jr. debuted with the Twins, who later traded him to the Giants in 2021. “You look around and you don’t really see too many,” he told us about the low number of American-born Black MLB players. “It’s got to change.”
“I do think the programs that have been implemented by the Major League Baseball Players Association will start to pay tremendous dividends down the road,” predicted Kendrick.