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Numbers don’t lie: Where are all the Black baseball players?

The MLB, for a while now, has struggled with an issue that doesn’t seem to be improving. There’s a lack of Black ballplayers in the MLB.

It wasn’t always this way. Some of the best and most famous MLB players have been Black. This list includes Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. who was the face of the league at one point. 

The percentage of African-American players in the MLB peaked in 1981 at 18.7%. That number has not reached above 10% since 2004. 

On opening day this season, MLB rosters were bigger than they ever were at the beginning of a season due to COVID-19. That meant each MLB team had rosters with 30 players on them.

Here is how many players on those rosters were Black:

The total number of Black ballplayers comes out to 65, or just 7.2% of the entire league. This number does not include players who started the season on taxi squads or the injured and restricted lists.

The Diamondbacks, Royals, and Rays did not have a single Black player on their Opening Day active roster. The Mariners had the most in the league with 10, the same as their entire division combined. 

So why are the numbers so drastically low? 

The lack of Black baseball players is deeply rooted in our country’s systemic problems. The cost of baseball equipment can be huge.

Players need gloves, bats, cleats, batting gloves, helmets etc. This can come out to hundreds of dollars and does not include travel expenses or league fees. 

As of 2010, African-American families had the highest poverty rate in America among all ethnic groups at 27.4%.

A family struggling to make ends meet simply cannot afford to cough up hundreds of dollars for a kid to play baseball when there are cheaper alternatives like basketball and football. 

The sport is really expensive to play

This prices out lower-income families and leads to kids never taking an interest in baseball. Still, the issue is even more complex than just that. 

In comparison to the NFL and NBA, making the MLB is a huge grind with very little pay. Players have to go through years in the minor leagues.

According to The Athletic, the average salary of a player in Triple-A in 2018 was just $15,000. Some even have to take on extra jobs to support themselves and their families. Minor leaguers also deal with heavy amounts of travel on buses, awful food, and bad living conditions. 

By the time these players make it to the MLB they are under 6-year contracts which often pay the league minimum. Very few ever make it to this point and those that do, are already in their late 20’s at this point.

The NBA and NFL have much simpler and profitable paths for potential athletes 

An example is Kyler Murray, who was drafted ninth overall in the 2018 MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics had agreed to a $4 million dollar signing bonus but ended up returning it when he was drafted first overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL draft.

He signed a four-year $35 million dollar contract with a $23 million signing bonus. It’s safe to say he made the right decision. 

Until the MLB puts forth more of an effort to welcome Black ballplayers, these numbers will continue to stay drastically low.

The MLB needs to provide more funding to the inner cities

If the MLB invested more money into inner-city baseball foundations, ran more baseball clinics, and simply made the game more appealing financially and racially, they would undoubtedly see better results.

Black MLB players like David Price, Tim Anderson, and Mookie Betts have all spoken out to how unwelcoming baseball can be to minorities. Numerous other current and former Black MLB players share that same sentiment.

The MLB needs to do more and until they do, we can continue to expect to see them struggle with the African-American community.