Los Angeles Dodgers’ outfielder Mookie Betts may have made one of the most significant statements on race in baseball in years – simply by wearing a t-shirt.
“We need more Black people at the stadium,” read Betts’ air-brushed shirt, which he wore before the start of the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday night (July 19). The game, played in Dodgers Stadium for the first time since 1980, ended with the American League beating the National League 3-2 and with New York Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton taking home the MVP prize. It was Betts’ sixth straight appearance at the midseason classic.
Despite all the excitement surrounding the game itself, there were several references to African American contributions to the game including a tribute to both the late Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel, who celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday.
Betts’ shirt, which he wore as he took to the field for batting practice prior to the game, is produced by the high-quality streetwear apparel company, Bricks & Wood A South Central Company and rekindled a discussion on the dwindling popularity of pro baseball with African Americans.
In 2020, Sports Illustrated, citing a study from the Society for American Baseball Research, showed a decline in the number of Black baseball players, with MLB showing its highest number of players at 18.7 percent in 1981 and dropping in 2019 to 7.7 percent.
The drop also reflected a loss of overall Black interest in the sport from fans to youth players, with many favoring basketball, which requires less space in a community and only one piece of equipment – the ball. In addition, major professional sports leagues like the NFL and the NBA have for decades appealed to Black youth by selling a path from their schools, fields and courts straight to stardom. Something baseball has been criticized for not actively doing in generations.
Ironically, baseball had been the most popular sport among African Americans through the end of Negro League baseball in 1960.
The revelation – and Betts’ statement – comes as the league celebrates the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson integrating pro baseball in the modern era.
Betts' statement on race in baseball comes as part of a trend of activism with him, though. During the 2018 World Series, when he played for the Boston Red Sox,he served food to the homeless outside of the Boston Public Library. He also won AL MVP that year.
He also took a knee in the same fashion as former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Opening Day in 2020. In the 2021 season, in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., he refused to play a scheduled game against the San Francisco Giants and his teammates joined him. Several MLB games were postponed after that gesture.
But Betts apparently is a respecter of history. Before the All-Star game began, he took to the microphone to lead the crowd singing “Happy Birthday” to Robinson’s widow Rachael Robinson who turned 100.
“I’m just glad everybody joined in,” Betts said. “Everything she’s been through and is going through, it may be rough on her, but she’s handling it very well.”
After the game, in which he had one RBI for his single appearance at the plate, Betts said that he has grown into speaking up more for Black participation in baseball.
“It’s what I signed up for,” he told reporters. “I’ve got to embrace those types of things “I used to kind of shy away from it, but now I think it is my responsibility.”