Dario Otero Jr., affectionately known as DJ, praises Jackie Robinson for making history as the first black American to play Major League Baseball.
DJ, 13, said Robinson proved that black players can excel in professional baseball. But 75 years after the league desegregated, DJ said he was the only black baseball player on his youth travel team.
And that fact is most evident during tryouts and games, said Dario Otero Sr., DJ’s father.
“He knows he’s the only one out there,” Otero said. “Everything he does, however he’s looked at, sticks out like a sore thumb … he’s known in our area as a player who is a black player.”
DJ, who lives in Rosemount, Minnesota, said he would like to see more young black men in his age group playing baseball. DJ said that being the only black player on his team made him feel “worried” about the future.
And he is not alone.
The recent news that a black American player will not play in the World Series for the first time since the 1950s underscores what advocates for racial equality in sports say is MLB’s decades-long struggle with diversity.
This comes after a May report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that there are fewer black MLB players now than in three decades. Black players currently make up about 7% of Major League Baseball teams, compared to 18% of the league’s black players in 1991.
Ahead of Game 1 at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, the Astros and Philadelphia Phillies announced their 26-man World Series rosters last week, and neither team’s rosters include a black American-born player. Astros outfielder Michael Brantley, a black player, will likely make the roster but suffered a shoulder injury early in the season. Meanwhile, the Phillies did not have a black player on their Opening Day roster this year for the first time since 1959. Roman Quinn, who is black, was a backup outfielder with the Phillies that season, but was released after playing 23 games.
Richard Lapchuk, director of the institute and author of the report titled The Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball, said MLB has made some progress in recruiting black players, but the data shows that there is still More work remains to be done.
“Baseball has actually tried very hard to increase the number of black players because, frankly, it’s an embarrassment to them,” Lapchuk said.
Lapchuk credited the league with making history this year. Four of MLB’s top five draft picks that year were black, and all participated in MLB’s Dream Series designed to increase black representation on the field.
Tony Regans, MLB’s chief diversity officer, told CNN that what’s important is getting players from the youth leagues to college where they can be seen by scouts and further develop their skills.
Regions said blacks make up about 5 percent of college baseball. He said that while he understands the importance of getting black players into professional baseball, he feels “it’s just as important to get black players into college.”
“It didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t change overnight,” Regans said.
Although none of the players will be American-born African-Americans, the Fall Classic will feature black players, including Afro-Cuban slugger Yordan Alvarez of the Astros. Eight different countries are represented in the World Series this year.
Still, observers say the lack of American-born players on this year’s roster is an indication that more needs to be done to expand the pipeline for African-American players. And despite MLB’s efforts, many fans and league observers are still frustrated that black American players are underrepresented, said Phil Dixon, a baseball historian and contributor to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. said the founder.
“If I had to give Major League Baseball a grade, I’d give them an F,” Dixon said.
His museum continues to receive millions of dollars in donations from MLB, but Dixon still believes there is too much investment in the past and not enough in the future.
“Since we started the museum, the number of black players has been decreasing,” Dixon said. “They’re investing their money in history, big time, but their commitment to today’s youth is sorely lacking.”
Otero, DJ’s father, said black youth need to get more guidance on how to learn and get involved in baseball history.
“I just want to … encourage minor league. [and] Major league baseball teams go into the history of their community and see how you bring in young players, Otero told CNN.
Otero said some black families also struggle to afford the costs of playing baseball and there is not enough investment to fix baseball fields in black neighborhoods.
“It’s expensive,” Otero said. “$300 gloves, $300 bats that you have to replace every year.”
Baseball fields are not common in urban areas, Lapchuk told CNN.
Otero, who previously coached baseball in urban areas, said fields in black and brown communities, as well as fields in white suburbs, are not maintained.
“It’s not as much fun,” Otero said, adding that a rock could fly up and hit a player in the face because of the poor condition of the field.
Experts say more needs to be done to break down racial barriers in baseball.
“I think there could be more investment in these programs, and I think municipalities across the country need to partner with Major League Baseball to make these programs as strong as they can be.” can and can really help our youth,” said Jesse Hagopian, an author. who writes about the representation of blacks in sports.
If MLB built more fields in black and brown communities, Hagopian said it would revive interest and recruiting in those communities.
Regans said MLB shares Hagopian’s concerns. Regans said the league is working with local leaders to improve field conditions in several cities and is offering financial aid to young players to cover the cost of participating in youth leagues.
“We provide equipment, we provide scholarships, we provide grants to balance the scale … more kids get the opportunities that are already resourced,” he said.
Lack of investment and high costs to play are not the only problems.
According to Dixon, Ebony magazine and other black media outlets used to advertise and list all black professional baseball players in the 1960s and 1970s, but no longer do so.
“Every level has to be blamed,” Dixon said.
Black kids are less likely to choose baseball when they don’t see themselves being celebrated in the game, Lapchuk said.
Barry Bonds was considered one of the most popular black baseball players in the early 2000s, but his reported steroid use and subsequent media criticism overshadowed his achievements. As a result, black players were pushed away from baseball and into basketball and football, Lapchuk said.
“So, if you’re a young black kid, and you see that the best black baseball player is criticized all the time, and you look at the NBA and you see great athletes who is being highlighted in the news and in the community. In the NFL — you probably wouldn’t choose baseball,” explained Lapchuk.
Despite the racial disparity in baseball, DJ said he hopes to someday make it to MLB as a starting pitcher.
“I have a big arm,” DJ said. “An arm that could someday be part of the next generation of major league superstars.”