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


PHILADELPHIA — The World Series moves Tuesday night to a city that hasn’t hosted in 13 years, and there’s a renewed excitement around the Philadelphia Phillies that inspires sports. The Houston Astros are (anyway) the team. The Phillies boast a collection of stars who have never been here, including Bryce Harper, Rhys Hopkins, JT Realmuto, Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola. What a treat.

Take a look at our list of Philly notables. The new team here highlights an old problem: Baseball may be quintessentially American. It’s also getting whiter and whiter. This is not breaking news, and we will look at the causes and, more importantly, possible solutions. But it’s amazing to have two World Series teams that don’t boast a single black player born in the United States.

“We bring in a lot of top athletes and to say our game is challenging is an understatement,” MLB Players Association president Tony Clark, himself a 15-year major league player, previously said. season.

Clark knows, because he didn’t choose baseball. Baseball chose him. He played basketball at the University of Arizona, but a back injury during his freshman year slowed his path to the hardwood. Even after the Detroit Tigers took him with the second overall pick in the 1990 MLB draft, Clarke said a few years ago, “I actually looked and even joked that I was a basketball player in a baseball uniform.”

And it’s not just Clark’s. Growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Tim Anderson had a choice of what to watch and who to worship.

“I liked Ken Griffey Jr.,” the Chicago White Sox shortstop said during this summer’s All-Star Game. “That’s why I didn’t really watch it. I had guys I looked up to, but I was more of a basketball player. “I’m not really sold on baseball.”

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Rude club leader Rhys Hoskins is “Philly successful.”

There is something to it. Black kids born in the US can’t see a single face on the field turning this World Series around. It’s the first time since 1950 that the issue is getting renewed attention this fall.

The New York Yankees beat the Astros and the San Diego Padres beat the Phillies in the league title series, but the difference would be nominal. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would give the Black Stars power in the World Series; Both Yankee sluggers are of mixed race. Josh Bell is the iconic black face of the Padres.

That’s it. The playoffs included the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts, Atlanta’s Michael Harris II, and Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie, all black players born in the United States. They were dots on the carpet, not brushes that painted it. There are no bench players, no bullpen, no rotation, no similar players filling out the infield. There are ups and downs of US-born black players on NBA and NFL teams. MLB teams don’t.

What’s lost is an opportunity for kids to see people who look like them and who grew up like them working together to make a big league team better. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports has been measuring racial inclusion in baseball and other sports since 1991. In its annual report, 7.2 percent of players on this year’s Opening Day roster were black, the lowest percentage in the report’s history.

So this is not a 2022 issue. It’s a problem that has deepened and escalated over decades. It is culture. It is economic. It’s logistics.

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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 stated in its mission to “bring youth from diverse backgrounds into the mainstream of the game.”

This is a great idea. In reality, it didn’t work. Why avoid a well-intentioned strategy that doesn’t work? It’s time for MLB to come up with a comprehensive plan, not just for major league markets, but for minor league cities big and small.

In Washington, DC, there is a living, breathing, evolving attempt to do something different. It might work. If so, copy it. Washington’s National Youth Baseball Academy launched its 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 baseball in a fun, engaging and fast-paced environment, we’ve learned that playing the game doesn’t require previous access or experience. said Tal Alter, executive director of the Washington Nationals Philanthropies. “When you have kids who love that experience, no matter who they are or where they are, they stick with it.”

The YBA Play program hasn’t produced any major leaguers, and that doesn’t matter. But there’s growing evidence that it’s making the game more appealing by teaching skills in quick bursts rather than slow slogs — drills that don’t feel like baseball. The Academy’s more competitive, next-level program, Hustle, features over 100 players each year. They are provided free housing, equipment and coaching, removing the financial and logistical barriers that prevent many children from underserved communities from participating in baseball.

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The first group of kids in the Hustle program are nearing the end of their high school careers, with most playing varsity baseball and some planning to play in college.

“I think it’s fair to say that representation is important and our kids are very particular about who is on the big league roster,” Alter said. “We hear them talk about it all the time.”

There are people working on these issues at all levels of the MLB front office, and Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that clubs are not putting diverse faces in front offices and managerial jobs. The league has a laundry list of programs and events, including the Hank Aaron Invitational, the Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend Dream Series, and diversity camps designed to provide more opportunities and identify more potential big leaguers. Indeed, four of the top five players in July’s draft were African-American, and four went to league-sponsored development programs, a victory for baseball.

However, Astros manager Dusty Baker is the most famous black character — really only A Black character born in the United States — in this series. And he internalized the notion of a lack of black players, saying, “I don’t think it’s something baseball can be proud of. It looks ugly.”

It doesn’t just look bad. It is bad. What was once a national pastime no longer looks national. The World Series back in Philadelphia feels fresh. Here’s hoping rosters like those competing here become a thing of the past. Baseball needs to identify and develop ways to promote its sport to young athletes in every medium and community. choose baseball rather than the other way around. Without it, something is lost.


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