The New York Yankees might not win the World Series this season, but outfielder Aaron Judge is certainly doing all he can to try and make it happen. As of Tuesday, Judge leads the AL in batting average, home runs and RBIs. The holy grail of hitting excellence, the Triple Crown.
While he has a sizable lead in home runs and likely won’t get caught for the RBI lead, he’s only one percentage point ahead of Boston Red Sox hitter Xander Bogaerts for the batting title. If he can hold off Bogaerts and win the Triple Crown he will become only the second Black player (Frank Robinson 1966) in MLB history to earn the prestigious honor.
What Judge is doing is incredible, and he will also likely win AL MVP, holding off the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani. It’s remarkable that Judge may accomplish this historic feat when the number of Black players in baseball are the lowest they have been in three decades.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) reports there is a smaller percentage of Black players now than it has had in any year since the early 1990s. Black players made up about 18 percent of all MLB rosters in 1991. Today Black players represent only 7 percent of all MLB players.
On Monday stolen base legend Maury Wills died at the age of 89. Wills is largely remembered as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1959 to 1966. He led the NL in stolen bases six times from 1960 to 1965. In 1962 he stole 104 bases, smashing Ty Cobb’s then record 96. Wills was also named MVP that season.
By the 1960s baseball had been integrated for almost two decades, and Wills was the sixth Black MVP in MLB history. But the numbers of Black players still lagged behind that of whites.
In 2022, while we are nearly 70 years post-integration, the remnants of America’s racist past still impact the sports numbers.
At the youth level baseball has become an expensive predominantly club and suburban sport. Add in private pitching and hitting lessons and the lack of funding in city sports programs and it’s easy to see why the number of Black players has decreased over the years.
Despite all that Black players have been among baseball’s best historically. Three of the 10 best career WAR belong to Black players. Barry Bonds (fourth), Willie Mays (fifth), and Henry Aaron (seventh).
The death of Wills amidst Judge’s chase for the Triple Crown and MVP in the same season highlight continued Black excellence in a sport almost 150 years old.
“As a kid, my greatest wish was to play in the big leagues,” Wills told MLB.com in 2004. “When I was 14, I heard about Jackie Robinson and I wanted to play for the Dodgers. I spent 8 1/2 years in the minors, and it appeared it would not happen. I wanted to play with Jackie Robinson and didn’t get to do that, but I did play for the Dodgers.”
Baseball more than any other sport is obsessed and so rooted in numbers. 73, 762, 2,632, etc. Judge is also chasing the Yankees and AL single season home run record of 61 by Roger Maris in addition to the awards.
Fifteen games remain in Judge’s 2022 campaign. He is one away from Maris. Ten away from McGwire. Thirteen away from Bonds. With the Triple Crown and MVP in sight.
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