A Lesser Stage for Black Players at the All-Star Game


Dave Parker has placed himself in the pantheon of All-Star Players with his stick, glove and talent. He won his first Home Run Derby in Minnesota in 1985, six years after his throwing arm won him the All-Star most valuable player award in Seattle. In 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates Won the World Series.

“We took on the role of being a black team,” Parker, 70, said over the phone this week. We had 12 different jersey combinations, we had flashy players. If we hit a ball and it goes past the first baseman, you better be on the defensive because someone will take the second base.”

1979 Pirates 10 black players Even more so on their World Series roster than the National League All-Star team that season. This was close to the height of African American participation in majors, which reached 19 percent in 1986. That figure dropped to 7.6 percent on the opening day of 2021, according to Major League Baseball.

Highlighting the past period in his memoir “Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood” published by the University of Nebraska Press this year, Parker said, “This makes me sad.”

“They’re running out of speed. They have the 24th or 25th guy who is not a brother, who used to be a brother. You have Black players who can do multiple things, who can not just take a pinch but can go out and steal a base, put out a phenomenal game. I think they’re ignoring the Black player. ”

The black American player’s absence will be evident at Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Denver. Of the 32 All-Stars selected to the original NL roster – before the Mets’ Taijuan Walker was selected as a backup late Friday night – only one was Black: Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Betts was also the only Black player among 55 players to enter the World Series between the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays last fall.

“It’s incredible,” said Al Oliver, 74, a seven-time All-Star in the 1970s and 80s. “I don’t understand that. one

Having played most of his career on The Pirates, Oliver was born six months before Jackie Robinson crossed baseball’s color line in 1947. Growing up in Ohio, Oliver said he turned to baseball because “you’ve seen someone who looks like you.” At the first All-Star Game in 1972, Oliver’s NL roster included 11 Black teammates, including Nate Colbert, Lee May, Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, and Billy Williams and a few others who went to Cooperstown.

“McCovey, Morgan, Stargell, Brock, Mays, Aaron, Gibson,” Oliver said. “It was almost a Hall of Fame team.”

The disappearance of large numbers of Black players from the modern game is one of the most critical problems for a sport looking for ways to get action on the field and increase its appeal through crossed stars.

The game is full of dynamic abilities, including the ones shown on its banner. MLB’s Twitter account: Ronald Acuna Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jacob deGrom and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. While none of them are African-American, they are all charms. to be missing.

“Diversity in our game is important – it has been and will continue to be – and athleticism in our sport is important,” said Tony Reagins, MLB’s head of baseball development. as well as the coolness, youthfulness and social impact that play can have on culture itself in terms of diversity. All of this adds to the importance of African Americans being a particularly important part of the game.”

Reagins, who is black, is the former general manager of the Los Angeles Angels. He joined MLB in 2015 and was tasked with overseeing youth baseball and softball development with an emphasis on promoting black participation. Until now, Reagins had hoped to see more progress at the major league level.

“When I first arrived on the scene in New York and set up this department, I thought five years was a legitimate goal,” Reagins said. “And once you start pulling back the layers of the onion, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

The pipeline is promising enough: From 2012 to 2020, 17.6 percent of first-round draft picks (51 out of 289) were Black or African-American. The league has several diversity initiatives on the ground, including a summer invite, urban youth academies, a partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and a $10 million donation from the players association. Representation of black Americans on the field and in the front office.

Over time, it seems logical that these efforts will produce more major league players. But Reagins outlined some of the main reasons for the decline that were largely beyond baseball’s control.

“Economy is also a big part of that in terms of the cost of attending some travel or promotional tournaments and some of the higher priced gear out there,” Reagins said.

“I think the decline of the black church is part of that. And one of the other real issues is the lack of college scholarships compared to other sports, football and basketball.”

Essentially, baseball presents three major financial barriers: the cost of equipment (bats, gloves, helmets, spikes); the cost of the youth travel and promotion circuit now required; and Division I baseball programs and the cost of college only allowed 11.7 scholarships, most of them partial. Men’s basketball teams get 13 and football teams get 85.

“I think a lot of kids love baseball, but they don’t even get a chance to try it at a young age because it’s so expensive,” said Ke’Bryan Hayes, rookie third baseman for the Pirates. He is the son of longtime major league player Charlie Hayes.

“It all boils down to getting the game to kids at a very young age,” continued Hayes, 24. “By the time you get to middle school or high school, it’s too late to try to learn baseball because it’s one of the hardest sports. Growing up, I played with a bunch of kids who were really good, but they couldn’t afford to go to that D-1 college. Even if you get 40 percent or 50 percent scholarships at some of these schools, your parents will still have to try to pay $20,000 or $30,000 a year to go.”

Hayes said she hopes to help create opportunities for underprivileged children to play the game as her career continues. Citing the Players’ Alliance and the Breakthrough Series, a potential camp for players of color, funded by MLB and USA Baseball, he said baseball has been emboldened by some of his efforts.

But for now, it’s impossible to say how much Black talent the sport has lost in on-court excitement and off-court appeal.

“It made it more competitive,” Parker said. “When we played against other Black players, we never let them go. We went out, we didn’t compromise. If I could catch him, I’d take Ozzie Smith on the slide to left court. We just enjoyed competing and we loved each other.”


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