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Major League Baseball has a diversity problem, experts say. This year’s World Series is proof of that.

Major League Baseball has a diversity problem, experts say. This year’s World Series is proof of that.
Major League Baseball has a diversity problem, experts say. This year’s World Series is proof of that.

CNN

Dario Otero Jr., affectionately known as DJ, admires Jackie Robinson for making history as the first black American to play in Major League Baseball.

DJ, 13, said Robinson proved black players can excel in professional baseball, too. But 75 years after the league was desegregated, DJ said he was the only black baseball player on his youth team.

And that reality hits hardest during tryouts and matches, said the DJ’s father, Dario Otero Sr.

“He knows he’s the only one out there,” Otero said. “Whatever he does, no matter how he’s looked at, he sticks out like a sore thumb… He’s known to be the only player in our region who is the black player.”

DJ, who lives in Rosemount, Minnesota, said he would like to see more young black people playing baseball in his age group. Being the only black player on his team makes him “worried” about the future, DJ said.

He is not the only one.

Recent news that no American-born black player is competing in the World Series for the first time since 1950 underscores what advocates for racial equity in sports say is MLB’s decades-long struggle with diversity .

It comes after a May report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that there are now a lower percentage of black players in MLB than there have been. in three decades. Black players currently make up about 7% of Major League Baseball teams, up from the 18% of black players the league had in 1991.

Ahead of Game 1 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, the Astros and Philadelphia Phillies announced their 26-man World Series rosters last week, and neither team’s rosters include any US-born black players. United. Astros outfielder Michael Brantley, a black player, likely would have been on the roster, but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury earlier in the season. Meanwhile, the Phillies had no black players on their opening roster this year for the first time since 1959. Roman Quinn, who is black, was a backup outfielder with the Phillies this season, but was released after played 23 games.

Richard Lapchick, director of the institute and author of The Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball, said MLB has made some progress in recruiting black players, but data shows more work remains. to do.

“Baseball has actually tried very hard to increase the number of black players because, frankly, it’s embarrassing for them,” Lapchick said.

Lapchick credited the league with making history this year. Four of MLB’s top five draft picks this year were black, and they all participated in MLB’s Dream Series designed to increase black representation on the field.

Tony Reagins, MLB’s director of diversity, told CNN the key is to get youth league players to college where they can be seen by scouts and further develop their skills.

Reagins said the number of black people participating in college baseball is about 5%. He said while he understands the importance of bringing black players into professional baseball, he feels that “getting black players into college is just as important.”

“It didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t change overnight,” Reagins said.

Although no players are American-born African Americans, there will be black players in the Fall Classic, including Afro-Cuban slugger Yordan Alvarez of the Astros. Players from eight different countries are represented in the World Series this year.

Still, observers say the lack of American-born players on this year’s roster indicates that more needs to be done to increase the pipeline of African-American players. And despite MLB’s efforts, many fans and league watchers are still disappointed that black American players are underrepresented, said Phil Dixon, baseball historian and co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

“If I had to give Major League Baseball a grade, I’d give them an F,” Dixon said.

His museum continues to receive millions of dollars in MLB donations, but Dixon still believes there is too much investment in the past and not enough in the future.

“Since we opened the museum, the number of black players has gone down,” Dixon said. “They’re putting their money into history, big time, but their commitment to today’s youth is sorely lacking.”

Otero, DJ’s father, said young black people need to learn baseball history and be given more guidance on how to get involved.

“I just want to encourage… the minor league [and] major league baseball teams to get into the history of their community and see how to bring in young athletes,” Otero told CNN.

Otero said some black families are also struggling to afford the costs of playing baseball, and there isn’t enough investment to fix baseball diamonds in black neighborhoods.

“It’s expensive,” Otero said. “$300 gloves, $300 bats that you have to change every year.”

Lapchick told CNN that baseball diamonds aren’t common in urban areas.

Otero, who previously coached baseball in urban areas, said pitches in black and brown communities are not maintained as well as pitches in white suburbs.

“It’s not as fun,” Otero said, adding that a rock could fly up and hit a player in the face because of the dire condition of the pitch.

Experts say more needs to be done to break down racial barriers in baseball.

“I think more could be invested in these programs, and I think municipalities across the country need to partner with Major League Baseball to make these programs as strong as possible and really support our youth,” said Jessie Hagopian. , an author. who writes about black representation in sports.

If MLB builds more fields in black and brown communities, Hagopian said it would revive interest and recruiting within those communities.

Reagins said MLB shares Hagopian’s concerns. The league is working with local leaders to improve pitch conditions in several cities and is offering financial assistance to young players to help defray the costs of participating in youth leagues, Reagins said.

“We provide materials, we provide scholarships, we provide grants in order to start balancing the scale … ​​giving more children the opportunity than those who already have resources,” he said. declared.

Lack of investment and high costs to play are not the only problems.

According to Dixon, Ebony Magazine and other black media used to promote and list all black professional baseball players in the 1960s and 1970s, but they no longer do so.

“There’s blame to be placed on all levels,” Dixon said.

Lapchick said black kids are less likely to choose baseball when they don’t see themselves being celebrated in the sport.

Barry Bonds was considered one of the most popular black baseball players in the early 2000s, but his reported steroid use and subsequent media criticism overshadowed his accomplishments. This had the effect of driving black athletes away from baseball and more into basketball and football, Lapchick said.

“So if you’re a young black guy and you see the best black baseball player being criticized all the time, and you watch the NBA and you see great athletes that are being hyped up in the news and in the community — same thing in the NFL — you’re probably not going to choose baseball,” Lapchick explained.

Despite the racial disparity in baseball, DJ said he hopes to one day make it to MLB as a starting pitcher.

“I have a big arm,” DJ said. “An arm that could one day be part of the next generation of major league superstars.”

. Major League Baseball problem diversity say the experts The World Series this year are proof

. Major League Baseball diversity problem experts years World Series proof

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