In 42, the sports biopic about the life of baseball great Jackie Robinson, the audience was left with admiration for the strength of character that it took to be the lone African-American player in Major League Baseball in the segregated world of 1947. Jackie Robinson’s beginning with the Brooklyn Dodgers seemed a harbinger of great things to come.
Now, 66 years later, it is chilling to see a world in baseball where the composition of players looks no different from that of 1947 Brooklyn.
As Major League Baseball undertakes its crowning moment, the World Series, there is but one player among the 50 on the rosters of the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox who is African-American: Boston’s Quintin Berry.
MLB records indicate that 8.5 percent of the players at the beginning of the season were Black. Now, at season’s end, there is only one player who identified himself as an African-American.
It's a far cry from the look of the Cardinals in their glory days of the late 1960s, when the team boasted the likes of such African-American players as Curt Flood, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Alex Johnson.
It's a vexing problem for Major League Baseball, which has seen the list of African-American players shrink steadily over the years. The League has stated that it's an issue it's working to address through a variety of programs. Still, it seems like a dramatic difference from the scenario of just a generation ago.
“It’s a complicated issue,” said Reggie Williams, an Black baseball player who once played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and now is vice president of community relations with the Memphis Redbirds.
“There are a number of variables affecting our urban centers, including a lack of resources, a lack of exposure and lack of investing,” said Williams, in an interview with BET.com.
“There are some programs that are geared to young people in the inner cities,” he said. “But we have to look at how well they are panning out and look at ways to address those issues. You’ll find that the investment abroad is well-documented, and teams overseas are filling their rosters with African-American players.”
At the end of the day, a huge issue confronting baseball’s diversity problem is the fact that the sport simply doesn’t produce the kind of revenue at the amateur level that basketball or football does. As a result, there is far less investment in inner city baseball programs.
Bud Selig, the current MLB commissioner, has convened a diversity task force to study the issue. It’s hoped that urban youth programs will be targeted for even greater investment. It would represent an important step for the sport and for the communities that would greatly benefit from them.
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(Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)