Major League Baseball, Diversity, Black Players

Major League Baseball Is Relying On Diversity-Focused Programming To Increase The Number Of Black Players

The MLB is trying to bring in more Black American players.

A recent study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida revealed that in Major League Baseball (MLB), out of all of the players in the league in 2023, only 6.2% were Black. That’s the lowest percentage since the previous year when the rate of Black players on the opening day roster in 2022 was 7.2%

According to NBC News, both numbers were the lowest since they started the study in 1991 when 18% of the players in the league were Black. Out of the five major professional sports leagues (outside of the National Hockey League, where more than 90% of the players are white), including the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), and the Major League Soccer (MLS), MLB has the lowest percentage of Black athletes on its rosters.

In recent years, MLB has been trying to improve the recruitment of Black players and get them involved in the sport through its diversity-focused programming. Most of those programs are funded through USA Baseball, the sport’s governing body in the United States. Some of those programs include the DREAM Series, Breakthrough Series, the Hank Aaron Invitational, and girls’ baseball/softball events.

“We are doubling down on what we’ve done,” said Del Matthews, MLB’s vice president of baseball development, “because we are producing kids that are going to college and getting internships within the sport. We see more kids playing at the Division I college baseball ranks, and we see more kids being drafted into the minor leagues. And so we’re just flooding that through the various programs that we’ve had.”

USA Baseball pays for the amenities associated with playing baseball, such as the equipment, meals, and potential travel for showcases that would otherwise cost as much as $700 per event. Through the various programs, anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 children benefit from participating, particularly many kids from lower-income families. Because of the different programs, they get to play in several events per year.

An annual tour of pro-style camps across the states helps select kids with potential in the sport. The tour is growing annually. When it launched in 2018, there were 12 stops, and now, 18 cities are involved. The targeted age is around 13-14, just before they enter high school.

With programs like these in place, there are signs of progress at the pro level. About 17.4% of players picked in the first round of the baseball draft between 2012 and 2021 were Black players. In 2022, that number jumped to 30% when four of the first five selections were Black players. That was the first time that took place, and all four were alums of at least one MLB diversity initiative; 20% (10) of the first 50 first-draft picks last year were Black players.

There is still a way to go to bring those numbers up. When the league recently announced rosters for its Spring Breakout exhibitions, 9.5% of the players were Black. They include 31 alums of MLB’s diversity programs.

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