There are no U.S.-born Black players in the World Series. Why that matters.

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PHILADELPHIA — The World Series finally moved Tuesday night to a town that hasn’t played in 13 years, and there’s a freshness around the Philadelphia Phillies that’s exciting for the sport. The Houston Astros (anyway) staff is done there. Bryce Harper, Rhys Hopkins, JT Realmuto, Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola — the Phillies boast a collection of stars who haven’t visited here. What a treat.

See a list of those top fillies. A new team here highlights an old problem: baseball may be quintessentially American. It is more white. That’s not breaking news, and we’ll get to the reasons and — more importantly — potential solutions. But having two World Series teams without a single US-born black player is remarkable.

“To say we are challenged in our game by attracting so many top athletes to play our greatest game is an understatement,” Tony Clark, head of the MLB Players Association and a 15-year big leaguer himself, said earlier. the season

Clark knows, because he didn’t choose baseball. Baseball chose him. He played basketball at the University of Arizona, but his career on the hardwood slowed when he suffered a back injury as a freshman. Even after being taken by the Detroit Tigers with the second pick in the 1990 MLB draft, “I actually looked at it and joked that I was a basketball player in a baseball uniform,” Clark told me several years ago.

This is not typical of Clarke. Growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Tim Anderson had a choice of what to watch and who to worship.

“I liked Ken Griffey Jr.,” the Chicago White Sox shortstop said at this summer’s All-Star Game. “Other than that, I didn’t really watch. I had a few guys that I watched, but I was more of a basketball guy. I wasn’t really sold on baseball.

Rhys Hoskins, the leader in the rowdy clubhouse, is ‘Philly through and through’.

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There is something in it. Black kids born in the United States can’t flip through this World Series and see a single face that looks like them on the field. It’s the first since the 1950s, and this fall the issue is getting new attention.

But even if the New York Yankees beat the Astros and the San Diego Padres beat the Phillies in the league championship series, the difference is nominal. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were giving the World Series some Black star power; Both Yankees sluggers are of mixed race. Josh Bell is a prominent black face on the Padres team.

That’s all though. The playoffs featured some US-born black players – Mookie Betts of the Dodgers, Michael Harris II of Atlanta, Tristan McKenzie of Cleveland. They were dots on the fabric, not brushstrokes that painted it. There are no identical players filling out the bench or the bullpen, the rotation or the infield. NBA and NFL teams have had US-born black players up and down the roster. MLB teams are not.

Kids are missing out on the opportunity to see people who look like them and who grew up like them working together for the betterment of a big league team. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport has been charting racial participation in baseball and other sports since 1991. Its annual report found 7.2 percent of players on opening day rosters this year were black — the lowest percentage in the report’s history.

So this is not a 2022 issue. This is a problem that has been entrenched and exacerbated for decades. It is cultural. It is economical. It is logistical.

Major League Baseball has explored various ways to make its rosters look more like the populations of the cities they represent. In 1989, the league established the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities Program, which included in its mission statement the goal of “encouraging the greater inclusion of youth from diverse backgrounds into the mainstream of the game.”

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That’s great on purpose. In reality, it didn’t work. So why continue plugging away with a well-intentioned strategy that yields no results? It’s time for MLB to have a comprehensive plan, not only in its major league markets, but also in minor league towns big and small.

In Washington, DC, there is a living, breathing, still-evolving effort to do something different. It might work. And if it is, it should be repeated. The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy launched its YBA Play program for 6-year-old baseball players in 2016, two years after the facility opened east of the Anacostia River.

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“By giving kids the opportunity to play baseball in a fun, engaging, fast-paced environment, we’ve found that prior access to the game, prior exposure to the game, is not necessary for kids to enjoy the game. ,” said Tal Alter, CEO of Washington Nationals Philanthropies. “When you get kids who enjoy an experience — no matter who they are or where they’re from — they stick with it.”

The YBA Play program didn’t make the big leagues — not that it mattered, anyway. But there’s more evidence that it’s building a love of the game by teaching skills with drills that don’t feel like a baseball game — quick bursts rather than slow slogs. The academy’s highly competitive, next-level program — Hustle — features more than 100 players annually. They are provided facilities, equipment and training free of charge – eliminating the financial and logistical challenges that prevent many children from underserved communities from participating in travel baseball.

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The first cohort of kids in Hustle programs are nearing the end of their high school careers — many playing varsity baseball, some on track to play in college.

“I think it’s fair to say that representation matters and our kids are totally focused on who’s on the big league rosters,” Alter said. “We hear them talk about it all the time.”

There are people working on these issues at all levels of MLB offices — and commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday addressed the clubs’ failure to install diverse faces in front offices and managerial jobs. The league has a list of programs and events – the Hank Aaron Invitational, the Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend Dream Series, diversity development camps, and more – aimed at providing opportunities and identifying more potential big leaguers. Indeed, baseball considered it a victory when four of the top five picks in the July draft were American-born black players, and all four participated in some league-sponsored development program.

Still, Astros manager Dusty Baker is the most prominent black character — really, the only US-born black character – in this series. And he absorbed the idea that there were no black players by saying: “I don’t think baseball is really something to be proud of. It looks bad. “

It doesn’t just look bad. This is bad. What was once a national pastime no longer looks like a nation. The World Series in Philadelphia has a fresh feel. Hopefully rosters like the ones competing here will be a thing of the past. Baseball needs to identify and develop ways to expose its sport to young athletes of all means and communities, and to reach out to them choice Rather than baseball. Without it, something is lost.


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