Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker says the first World Series since 1950 without a US-born Black player “looks bad” but is counting upon a new generation to restore baseball diversity.
Astros outfielder Michael Brantley underwent season-ending right shoulder surgery in August to repair a torn labrum and as a result, neither Houston nor Philadelphia Phillies will have any US-born Black player in the lineup when the 118th World Series begins Friday.
It was left for 73-year-old Baker, a Black star who spent 19 seasons playing in Major League Baseball and is in his 25th year as a manager, to put the situation in perspective.
“Well, I don’t think that that’s something that baseball should really be proud of,” Baker said Thursday. “It looks bad. It let’s people know that it didn’t take a year or even a decade to get to this point.
“But there is help on the way. You can tell by the number of African-American number one draft choices. The academies are producing players.
“So, hopefully, in the near future we won’t have to talk about this any more or even be in this situation.”
What provides hope to Baker for the future is this year’s MLB Draft, where four of the first five players chosen were Black for the first time in its history.
Druw Jones, an outfielder and the son of former MLB star Andruw Jones, was selected second overall by Arizona and underwent left labrum surgery in August.
Kumar Rocker, a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher taken third overall by Texas, is the son of a former NFL defensive tackle who is playing in a fall development league.
Temarr Johnson, 18, is a shortstop taken fourth overall by Pittsburgh who batted .222 with a home run and six stolen bases at the starting level of developmental play.
Outfielder Elijah Green, 18, was taken fifth overall by Washington.
Baseball’s role as America’s national pastime has eroded in the past half-century with the rise of interest in basketball and American football, but there are opportunities for minority players across the United States to begin the sport at a youth level.
The Astros have 14 Latin American players on their roster and the Phillies have five and talent from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Central America has bolstered big-league rosters.
But a sport that saw Black players battle for MLB opportunities until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then had those players endure bigotry and death threats for years, is staggered not to see any Black players in its championship spectacle.
Legendary Black slugger Hank Aaron was subjected death threats in 1973 and 1974 as he approached what was then MLB’s career home run record, the 714 hit by Babe Ruth, who was white.
Aaron died last year at age 86 and his former club, the Atlanta Braves, won the 2021 World Series.
Baker, who counted Aaron among his friends, lost last year’s World Series to Aaron’s former club but hopes this year, “Hammerin’ Hank” might be backing Baker’s bid for a first World Series crown as manager.
“Much as I like Hank and as much as he loves me and each other, he was probably rooting for the Braves last year,” Baker said. “And I figure now he’s rooting for me.”
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