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

Opinion

PHILADELPHIA — The World Series finally moved to a city it hasn’t seen in 13 years on Tuesday night, and there’s an exciting newness to the sport around the Philadelphia Phillies. The Houston Astros are staffed there (anyway). The Phillies boast an all-star lineup — Bryce Harper, Rhys Hopkins, JT Rilmuto, Zach Wheeler, Aaron Nola — who weren’t here. What a treat.

See list of known fillies. The new team here underscores an old issue: baseball might be too American. In addition, white is increasing. That’s not breaking news, and we’ll dive into the reasons and — more importantly — possible solutions. But having two World Series teams with not one American-born black player is remarkable.

“It’s an understatement to say we’re challenged by attracting so many great athletes to our game,” said Tony Clark, head of the MLB Players Association and himself a 15-year big leaguer. Season.

Clark knows because he didn’t pick baseball. Baseball chose him. He played basketball at the University of Arizona, but his career on the hardwood slowed when he suffered a back injury as a freshman. After the Detroit Tigers took him with the second pick in the 1990 MLB draft, “I actually looked at him, and I joked that I was a basketball player in a baseball uniform,” Clark told me several years ago.

This isn’t just for Clark. Growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Tim Anderson had a choice of what to watch and who to idolize.

“I like Ken Griffin Jr.,” the Chicago White Sox shortstop said at this summer’s All-Star Game. “Other than that, I didn’t really look. I had some guys I looked up to, but I was more of a basketball guy. I’m not really sold on baseball.”

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There is something to that. Black kids born in the United States can’t flip this World Series and see a single face contribute on the field. That’s the first time since 1950, and that’s why the issue is getting new attention this fall.

But, say, even if the New York Yankees beat the Astros and the San Diego Padres beat the Phillies in the league championship series, the difference will be in name only. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton had given some black star power to the World Series; Both Yankees sluggers are of mixed race. Josh Bell is a prominent black face in the Padres lineup.

But that’s it. The playoffs included some black players born in the United States – Mookie House of the Dodgers, Michael Harris II of Atlanta, Tristan McKenzie of Cleveland. They were spots on the plaster, not a painted brush. There are no identical players filling the bench or bullpen, rotation or infield. NBA and NFL teams have an up and down list of US-born black players. MLB teams don’t.

What’s missing is an opportunity for kids to see people who look like them and who grew up like them working together for the betterment of a big league team. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports has been tracking racial participation in baseball and other sports since 1991. The annual report found that 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 problem. It’s a problem that’s been entrenched and getting worse over the decades. It is traditional. It is economic. It’s logistics.

Major League Baseball has explored various ways to make the rosters look like the population of the cities they represent. In the year In 1989, the league established the Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities program, which included in its mission statement the goal of “bringing youth of diverse backgrounds into the mainstream of the game.”

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That’s big on purpose. In fact, it didn’t work. So why continue to stick with a well-thought-out strategy that doesn’t seem to work? It’s time for MLB to have a comprehensive plan, not just in its major league markets, but in minor league cities big and small.

In Washington, DC, there is a living, breathing, still growing attempt to do something different. It might be working. If so, it must be repeated. The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy launched the YBA Play program in 2016. It’s been two years since the facility, east of the Anacostia River, opened for 6-year-old baseball players.

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“By giving kids the opportunity to play baseball in a fun, engaging, fast-paced environment, we’ve found that prior exposure to the game is not necessary for kids to enjoy playing the game. said Tal Alter, CEO of the Washington Nationals Philanthropy. “When you get kids who enjoy the experience — no matter where they’re from — they stick together.”

The YBA Play program didn’t produce big leaguers – that’s not the point, anyway. But there’s growing evidence that it’s building a love of the game by teaching skills through drills that don’t even feel like the game of baseball — quick bursts instead of slow slogs. The academy’s more competitive, next-level program — Hustle — includes more than 100 players a year. Facilities, equipment and coaching are provided, all free of charge – eliminating the financial and logistical challenges that prevent many children from underserved communities from participating in travel baseball.

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The first batch of kids in Hustle’s programs are at the end of their high school years — many playing varsity baseball, some on track to play in college.

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

There are people working in all MLB offices on these issues — and commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that clubs are failing to plant diverse faces in front offices and managerial jobs. The league has a list of programs and events — the Hank Aaron Invitational, the Dream Series on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, diversity training camps, and more — that are meant to provide more opportunities and identify more potential big leaguers. Baseball was considered a victory when four of the top five picks in July’s draft were American-born black players, and all four participated in some league-sponsored development program.

Still, Astros manager Dusty Baker is the most popular black character – really Only A black character born in America – in this series. “I don’t think that’s something baseball should be proud of,” he said. It sounds bad.”

It’s not just about looking bad. It’s bad. What was once a national pastime no longer resembles a nation. The World Series back in Philadelphia has a new feel to it. The hope is that lists like the one here will be a thing of the past. Baseball must identify and develop ways to expose the sport to young athletes from all walks of life and communities. Choosing Baseball than the other way around. Without that, something is missing.

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