There are no black players born in the United States on the expected World Series roster
Looking out at Memorial Stadium before Game 1 of the 1983 World Series, Philadelphia Phillies star Gary Matthews saw plenty of black talent.
Joe Morgan. Eddie Murray. Garry Maddox. Ken Singleton. At the Bumbry. Disco Dan Ford. And much more that night in Baltimore.
“There were quite a few of us,” Matthews recalled.
As fans watch the Astros and Houston Phillies line up this week to start the autumn classic, it will be a very different picture.
Of course, Houston’s Jose Altuve and Philadelphia’s Jean Segura are among the many Latino players who help keep big league rosters diverse.
But for the first time since 1950, shortly after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, there is no American-born black player in this World Series.
“This is an opening,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. “It’s kind of surprising that two cities with a high African-American population, there’s not a single black player.”
“It lets us know that there’s obviously a lot of work to be done to create opportunities for black kids to pursue their dream at the highest level,” he said.
Robinson debuted in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and played in the World Series that year. Since then, the 1950 game between the New York Yankees and the Phillies has been the only World Series without a black player.
Houston and Philadelphia will announce their 26 players several hours before Game 1 on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, where Dusty Baker, a black outfielder for the 1981 champion Los Angeles Dodgers, manages the Astros.
Beginning in 1954, when Willie Mays and the New York Giants played Larry Doby and Cleveland, every team that reached the World Series had at least one American-born black player until the 2005 Astros .
During that half-century, black greats like Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Rickey Henderson and Frank Robinson dominated the October stage. In 1979 alone, Willie Stargell and Dave Parker were among the 10 black players on the “We Are Family” champion Pittsburgh Pirates.
For much of that time, baseball was clearly the dominant game in America, the national pastime. Over the years, as basketball and football increased in popularity, baseball became more expensive with an emphasis on travel teams and elite showcases.
“Kids started switching to other sports,” Matthews said.
One of Matthews’ sons, Gary Jr., was an All-Star outfielder. Another son works at the police station with diversity programs.
In 2020, when the Dodgers beat Tampa Bay, Los Angeles star Mookie Betts was the only black player in the World Series.
At this summer’s All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, Betts wore a T-shirt with the message: “We need more black people in the ballpark.”
But on the field this weekend, despite encouraging indicators and MLB’s multi-layered efforts, it will be a World Series playoff for the first time in more than seven decades.
“It’s the exclamation point,” said Richard Lapchick, director of the Central Florida Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.
“It’s been a story that’s been going on since the late 1980s, the decline of black baseball players,” he said.
Lapchick, lead author of his group’s annual reports on diversity hiring practices in sports, said black players made up 7.2 percent of this year’s Opening Day rosters. That was down from 7.6 percent last year and marked the lowest since the study’s data was first collected in 1991, when 18 percent of MLB players were black.
The Phillies had no black players in their starting lineup this year for the first time since 1959. Roman Quinn, a black backup outfielder, played 23 games before being released.
Philadelphia rookie Darick Hall debuted in late June and played in 41 games — his mother is white and his father is black and white, and he identifies as multiracial. Hall was not on the Phillies’ roster for any of the first three rounds of this postseason and is not expected to be on the World Series roster.
Houston lost in the World Series last year with Michael Brantley, a black outfielder, on the roster. Brantley is out for the season this year with a shoulder injury. Relief pitcher Josh James is also black and is on the team’s 40-man roster, but he had arm surgery in early October.
MLB had 38 percent players of color on Opening Day rosters, including Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Jeremy Peña, Yuli Gurriel, Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez of the Astros and Segura, Ranger Suarez and Seranthony Domínguez of the Phillies .
Many Afro-Latino players adopt a black identity, but perhaps not for the same reasons as black players in the United States. Race and skin color have a different currency in places like the Dominican Republic, Panama, Cuba, and Belize.
Betts, San Diego’s Josh Bell, Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie, Atlanta’s Michael Harris II and the New York Yankees’ Aaron Hicks were among the black players whose teams were eliminated earlier this month in the playoffs.
Kendrick and others see signs of more on the way.
“I am optimistic. I am,” he said.
Last summer, for the first time in MLB draft history, four of the first five players selected were black.
All four, along with more than 300 major leaguers, including Harris, Cincinnati’s Hunter Greene, Pittsburgh’s Ke’Bryan Hayes and Milwaukee’s Devin Williams, participated in MLB’s diversity-based initiatives, such as MLB Youth Academy, DREAM Series and Reviving Baseball in Inner. Cities Program (RBI).
MLB has also pledged $150 million over the next decade to the Players Alliance, an organization of current and former players that works to increase black participation at all levels of sports.
Chicago White Sox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams is the only black leader of baseball operations for a major league team.
“I think surely but slowly, we’re going to see a pendulum swing,” Kendrick said.
“The problem is that we are not patients. I don’t like instant grills. I’m from Georgia, I like my slow cooker,” she said.
AP staff writer Aaron Morrison contributed.
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