The confidence remains strong, the optimism remains pervasive, but those appalling numbers never seem to change.
It’s Jackie Robinson Day on Thursday, with Major League Baseball celebrating the day Robinson broke the sport’s color barrier, but 74 years later, the number of Black players in the game tell an ugly story.
There are only 64 Black players on opening-day rosters and injured lists this year, comprising just 7.1% of all rosters, according to a study by USA TODAY Sports.
The progression needle remains stuck for nearly the past decade.
Three teams – the Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants – don’t have a single Black player on their opening day roster.
There are 18 teams that have two or fewer Black players.
This is a sport in which there were eight GM and president of baseball operations filled during the winter, and not a single job went to a Black executive. Kim Ng of the Miami Marlins was the only minority hired when she became the first woman and first person of East Asian descent to become the general manager of an MLB franchise.
“I played this game for 33 years,’’ said Curtis Granderson, president of The Players Alliance, “and the first female coach I ever had was in T-ball. It was the only one. I never played for a Black manager. I had one Black GM (Mike Hill). And that was it.’’
There are only two Black managers in Major League Baseball with Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros and Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox is the only head of baseball operations that is Black. And there are no Black general managers.
This is 2021, right?
To fix this mess, Major League Baseball has called upon Michele Meyer-Shipp. She is the highest-ranking woman in baseball history as the league’s Chief People & Culture Officer, heading MLB’s human resources in diversity, inclusion and culture.
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The mission is to modernize MLB’s hiring practices, believing that diversity in the front offices and on the field will also help escalate the number of Black players in the game.
“When you have diversity around the table,’’ Meyer-Shipp said, “you’re going to get diverse perspective. People are going to be sharing more ideas, and a more diverse perspective where to look, so you’re not just having this homogenous team that’s saying, “Let’s look where we always look because that’s the only place we know to look.’ If you have diversity at the table, you’re getting more ideas, new ideas, on where to go and where to seek talent.
“You can’t have diversity without inclusion. You can’t have inclusion without diversity. You need both.’’
Meyer-Shipp, an employment attorney hired last October, working as the chief diversity officer for the firm KPMG, realizes the awfully steep challenges. She can’t force owners to hire minorities. She can’t tell GMs who to manage or be on their coaching staff. She can’t influence scouting directors what players to draft.
Yet, what she can do is have dialogue with all of the owners, form committees, engage with The Players Alliance, and try to make a difference.
The Selig Rule, named after former commissioner Bud Selig, was designed to assure the hiring process for GM and managerial candidates included minorities, requiring teams to identify the minority candidates in their interview process. Yet, as the numbers painfully reveal, it simply hasn’t worked.
“I’ve been saying this for years, it’s one thing to have a rule,’’ Meyer-Shipp said, “but the bottom line is that you need people who are ready to act. You need action. The rule is just words on a paper, but you need to have the commitment and engagement of the folks to act.
“What I’m seeing so far is a huge readiness of the leaders to say, ‘Ok, tell us what we should be thinking about? Tell us what is the best practice? What should we be doing different?’
“The key, just like any large organization, you can’t necessarily expect everybody to get on the bus exactly at the same time, right? You have some people who are like, ‘Let’s do it, I’m ready right now.’ You have some people that are, “I’m going to see how it shakes out.’
“What I’ve found is that the owners are open to the discussion, “How do we do this differently, and smarter?’’’
Meyer-Shipp, who grew up a New York Giants football fan, and saw her first baseball game in about a decade last Saturday at Citi Field with the New York Mets and Marlins, has captured the attention of the owners, bringing in a fresh perspective. She has reached out to players. And she has constant dialogue with The Players Alliance.
“She’s definitely proactive and I believe she’s going to make an impact,’’ Granderson said. “She’s talking to as many people as possible, bringing things to the table instead of having things brought to the table, which I really admire.
“Any time you get someone thinking differently, especially in baseball, is great for the game. Coming into our realm, from business entities and corporate America, and being African-American and a female, is a big step for baseball.
“Bringing someone Black into that position doesn’t necessarily mean this person is going to be bringing in all Black people, but it definitely broadens things just because you haven’t had those people in those positions. They bring in experience, and knowledge and potentially look in places no one has looked before.’’
It will take time, and certainly patience, but there are encouraging signs, ever so gradually, on the playing field.
If the front offices become more diverse, perhaps the playing field will follow, and who knows, maybe baseball can be a guiding light for the rest of America, just as it was in 1947 with Robinson.
“Success to me is when you have the diversity, and also have people that are fully included and engaged,’’ Meyer-Shipp said, “so that everybody is thriving on all cylinders. They can be their best in their roles for the betterment of the organization, for our fans, and for the communities.
“I’m committed to get us to a place where we got it right on all cylinders: recruiting, developing, retaining, advancing.
“That, to me, is my North Star.’’
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