Possible solutions to the drop in number of Black MLB players

Truist Park before regular season gameTruist Park before start of regular-season Braves game (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

Since the start of the season, I’ve read a number of articles written about the decline in the number of African-American baseball players. The goal of this column is to figure out solutions that would encourage a greater level of participation by all in the sport.

In the mid-1970s, when I started playing as a kid, nearly a quarter of all players in Major League Baseball were African-American. By the time I was finishing up college (long after realizing I wouldn’t even make the MiLB), that number was still a relatively robust 18%. Now that number of players who are African-American has dropped to seven percent; people want to know why.

Some blame the game itself, for being too boring or slow or lacking interest among all communities. Several years ago, I was told that if my son wanted to play, I would have to coach all of the kids who weren’t picked, who were on the waitlist. In my small Georgia city, that meant a very diverse team. I can’t tell you how much fun the whole team was to coach. The kids clearly loved the game, were very coachable, and had as much talent as anyone else.


MLB contracts certainly provide guaranteed money (and a lot of it), which should provide a lure, as well as a farm system unmatched by basketball, football or any other sport.

Could publicity be the solution? In 1975, the baseball world reveled in Hank Aaron, a true ambassador of the game, a larger-than-life figure whose exploits attracted players to the game. Reggie Jackson, Jim Rice, Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson and Ozzie Smith picked up the baton. But the hype diminished over time. There were certainly the Fred McGriffs, Andre Dawsons, Kirby Pucketts and Lee Smiths, but perhaps they were overlooked in favor of attacks on some polarizing players like Barry Bonds. Some of these players had a huge fight to get in the Hall-of-Fame, and incorrectly, but sadly frequently, make the list of “undeserving HoF players.”

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t exciting players out there. Numerous columns bemoaned the lack of African-American players in the World Series in 2022, which happened for the first time since 1950. But many, if not all of these columns, ignored Atlanta Braves’ Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II (the way analysts did in preseason prospect rankings last year), one of the young dynamic players in the game. I wish they would have hyped Tim Anderson or Mookie Betts and his postseason exploits. There seemed to be more coverage of Aaron Judge’s home runs and whether he would break the record than really very much about who he is.

Coaching is a similar matter. Congratulations to Dusty Baker and Dave Roberts, but coaches like Ron Washington of the Atlanta Braves are so overdue for another shot at being a manager. I mean, the guy had the Texas Rangers of all teams on the cusp of a World Series win!

Hollywood has certainly made the much hyped “42” movie about Jackie Robinson’s story. Imagine how exciting a film about Willie Mays would be, or Hank Aaron’s story, or even one about the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1960s, with Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. Such stories are long overdue on the silver screen, as inspirations for today’s generation.

Certainly baseball is very diverse with a number of players from Latin American countries, but one might wonder why that is. There are plenty of Major League Baseball camps and scouts in countries from the Dominican Republic, and other in Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, etc., as well as countries in East Asia. There are even whole schools and sites in some countries. I think MLB would do well to make a similar effort in America to track down these talented players, multi-sport athletes who are more heavily wooed by basketball and football. Designing parks to permit more sandlot games in cities would help as well.

Jackie Robinson was more than just a great player. He became a symbol in America where talent and character would replace racial discrimination, communicating that such values mattered everywhere, not just in sports. And we’re in an era where such key symbols are badly in need of returning, not just in baseball, but in society as well, as old sentiments creep back.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.