When the first pitch is thrown in the 2022 World Series tomorrow, baseball’s championship will be missing some of its biggest draws. The New York Yankees, the team with Major League Baseball’s biggest fanbase in its largest media market, got embarrassingly swept out of the postseason last week. The Los Angeles Dodgers, which plays in baseball’s second largest market and had the sport’s highest payroll this season, didn’t do much better.
But what might be even more noticeable, even if it’s less talked about, is that when the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros play to crown baseball’s championship, there won’t be a single American-born Black players on either team’s 26-person roster. Unless a change is made before tomorrow night’s game, it will be the first time that’s happened since 1950, just three years after Jackie Robinson first appeared in the lineup for the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, integrating baseball, the Associated Press reported.
During that half-century, Black greats such as Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Rickey Henderson and Frank Robinson commanded the October stage. In 1979 alone, Willie Stargell and Dave Parker were among 10 Black players on the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates champions.
For much of that time, baseball was clearly the dominant game in the United States, the national pastime. Over the years, as basketball and football increased in popularity, baseball became more expensive with an emphasis on travel teams and elite showcases.
That marks a remarkable low point for a sport in which Robinson became noted not just as an athlete but also a civil rights hero onto whom generations of Black Americans projected their aspirations, athletic and otherwise. Major League Baseball still celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, a celebration in which every player in the league wears Robinson’s iconic number 42 jersey, which has otherwise been retired.
Rick Best, a baseball coach whose son, Justin, is ranked as one of top high school middle outfielders in the country by Baseball Factory and Prep Baseball Report, pointed to two factors in the decline of African-American players in the majors: the cost of travel youth baseball and the rise in popularity of other sports.
“Travel ball is so expensive, it prices many of our player out of the game,” Best said. “With the closing down of HBCU programs and high school programs being dissolved secondary to Covid, talented Black athletes never get the exposure they need to progress to the big leagues.”
He credited MLB and former players for instituting programs that develop younger players who want to stay in the sport. “There is a new wave of talented Black athletes coming very soon,” he said.
Baseball remains a popular sport among Afro-Hispanic athletes, who will be well-represented on both World Series Rosters. Also worth noting: Astros manager Dusty Baker, who is Black and was born in Riverside, Calif., won a World Series as a player with the Dodgers in 1981.