MLB Insider: '42' reminds us diversity is still a major(s) issue

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2013 - 5:15 PM

Money, patience and reasonable expectations needed for more African-Americans to reach majors.


The Braves’ B.J. Upton, wearing No. 42 as major league baseball honored Jackie Robinson last week, hit against Kansas City. He is one of the few African-Americans in the major leagues.

Photo: JOHN AMIS • Associated Press ,

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Earlier this month, baseball fans were treated to the release of “42,” a well-done film that included gripping scenes of the challenges Jackie Robinson faced as he broke the color barrier.

But the movie was released a few days after it was learned that African-Americans made up only 8.5 percent of Opening Day rosters. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig recently announced the formation of a 17-member task force to study diversity in the game.

It’s time to point out that last summer Selig was asked about progress in this area during an appearance at the RBI (Revitalizing Baseball in the Inner Cities) World Series, which was hosted by the Twins at Target Field.

“We have spent a lot of money on academies,” Selig said then. “We have programs like this. I am satisfied [from watching] the minor leagues, watching the draft. I like what I’m seeing. I do think we are getting there.”

Last week, he wasn’t as optimistic.

“I really think our history is so brilliant when it comes to African-Americans,” Selig said. “You think about the late 1940s, the 1950s — wow. And you look at that and you say to yourself, ‘Why did it not continue, and what could we do to make sure it does continue?’ ”

In order for it to continue, it’s going to take money. It’s going to take patience. And it’s going to take managing expectations.

It’s a tall task to expect African-Americans to make up over 20 percent of rosters again like they did in the 1970’s. Since 2001, the percentage has fluctuated between 8.2 and 10.2 percent. The game still has many African-American stars — Matt Kemp, CC Sabathia, Jimmy Rollins, Andrew McCutchen, David Price, Prince Fielder, for example — that any young fan can follow.

MLB has done well with its national RBI program as well as its Urban Youth Academies. Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks played many games at the first academy, which opened in Compton, Calif., in 2006. He is the fourth player from the academy to reach the majors. Since then, academies have opened in Houston, Philadelphia and New Orleans.

If MLB wants to take the initiative to the next level, building more academies, supporting local leagues and investing in facilities can be part of the solution. Kids should have access to the game. But it will take several years before the work MLB does today will grow the game in the direction officials want it to grow. Can the league be that patient? Can sponsors be that patient?

And it’s really up to the kids. As much as MLB — and some of us — might want to see more African-American players, you can’t force them to fall in love with baseball. Any effort, however, should be commended.

Central Intelligence

Cleveland made some nice offensive additions during the offseason, in Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds. The Indians offense hasn’t done much yet, but it will.
The key to their relevance in the division will be what their pitching staff will do (sound familiar?). But Ubaldo Jimenez has a 21.00 ERA over his last two starts. On Wednesday, seven of the nine batters he faced scored.
“You can be frustrated by it or you can try to make it better,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “We choose to try to make it better.”
Going back to last season, Jimenez has won just four of his Past 25 starts.

• • •

The Royals have given up 18 homers in their first 14 games, putting them on pace for 208. Yet 15 of those have been solo shots. What the Royals should be more concerned about is that they have hit just five home runs of their own.

• • •

Torii Hunter hit .343 last season when he batted second in the lineup, between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. He signed with the Tigers, and he’s hitting between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera. Hunter entered Friday batting .413. What’s crazy is that he didn’t draw a walk until Tuesday.
Three observations ...

• The snapshot of the early season has to be Rockies owner Dick Monfort helping shovel snow at Coors Field on Tuesday. They could have given him a tractor, right?
• I was wrong about the Yankees struggling offensively while waiting for injured players to get healthy. Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis, Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells have kept things afloat.
• Who thought the A’s offense could be so productive? Hitting coach Chili Davis is having an impact.

... and two predictions

• The Twins will summon Kyle Gibson from the minors in late May.
• The Tigers will lead the AL Central by at least five games by the end of May.

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