MLB Making Inroads to Attract African American Players

Mookie Betts could be a candidate to AL rookie of the year. (Photo: Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports)

Mookie Betts could be a candidate to AL rookie of the year. (Photo: Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports)

Maybe, at long last, there is hope.

Major League Baseball, a $9 billion industry, finally is making inroads into solving one of its greatest concerns.

Major League Baseball, which will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day throughout every ballpark Wednesday, is represented by only 7.8% of African-Americans among the 868 players on the opening-day rosters and disabled lists, according to a study by USA TODAY Sports.

Yet that percentage remains flat from a year ago, and the total number of players has gone up, with 68 African-Americans on opening-day rosters.

The numbers sound modest, but after nearly three decades of decline, they represent promise.

Actually, big-time promise.

It’s a far cry from 1986, when 19% of major leaguers were African American. Yet, within these numbers and others, there’s signs of an influx of young African-Americans entering the game.

Examining the rosters, 65% of the African-American players are 30 years old or younger this season.

Most encouraging, 18 African-Americans have been selected in the first round of the June amateur draft since 2012. When seven African-Americans were drafted two years ago in the first round, it represented the highest percentage since 1992.

Some of them may soon become impact players: 14 African-Americans, including three of the top seven, are among the best 100 prospects as ranked by ESPN’s Keith Law.

Recent events could spark further gains. A concussion epidemic may push top athletes away from football. And a gaggle of charismatic young players – from 22-year-old Mookie Betts stealing the opening-day show at Fenway Park, to towering Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker – may aid the perception it’s cool to be a baseball player again.

This is progress.

“It is encouraging,” said Tony Reagins, the former Los Angeles Angels GM hired last month as MLB’s senior vice president for youth programs. “It obviously is not where it once was, but I think there is movement.

“There are more younger African-American players engaged in the game, and a lot of the younger players are coming through the academies. There are a lot of programs out there that are producing good young talent.

“The numbers are still what they are. They’re not where we’d like them to be, but hopefully that trend can change.”

Major League Baseball has been trying to address this delinquent issue for years.

They have 2 million kids participating in their Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program, which has grown by nearly 80% since 2009. They have four urban academies, with five players from the Compton academy on 40-man rosters, and 32 others drafted in the last three years.

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SOURCE: USA Today – Bob Nightengale