Black History Month In Focus: MLB Has Ken Griffey Jr. & All the Bases Covered

Earlier this week, MLB landed a diversity gem when legendary Black Knight Ken Griffey Jr. was hired as a senior adviser to baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The Hall of Fame outfielder will work in baseball operations and on youth baseball development. Specifically, “The Kid” will consult with #MLB in a number of areas, with a special emphasis on baseball operations and youth baseball development, particularly on improving diversity at amateur levels.

READ MORE: An Oral History of Ken Griffey Jr.’s MLB Home Run Derby Dopeness

He will work with Senior Director of Baseball Development Del Matthews and Chief Baseball Development Officer Tony Reagins who have successfully helped revive and boost diversity in the game from the grassroots level on up to the increased African-American presence in the #MLBDraft

He’ll also serve as an MLB ambassador at youth baseball initiatives and at special events, such as the All-Star Game and during the postseason.

READ MORE: Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza Crack Cooperstown 

“We welcome the perspective and insights that Ken gained as a historic player, as a parent, and as someone who has spent his life in and around our great game,” Manfred said in a statement.

MLB DIVES INTO BLACK HISTORY MONTH

With that monumental announcement as the kicker, Major League Baseball, its Clubs, and media entities (MLB Network and MLB.com) are planning to observe Black History Month in a variety of ways, across a number of functions throughout the sport, with the following goals in mind:  

  • To meaningfully engage and support communities – people, institutions and geographic locations – that are connected to the game in some way. 

  • Connect with the culture and highlight the history of African-Americans in baseball.

 

  • Raise up voices of youth, professional players & coaches, historians, and others connected to the sport. 

MLB’s commitment to diversity extends way beyond the field.

READ MORE: MLB, MLBPA Commit $10 Million To Players Alliance To Diversify Game From Grass Roots To Front Office

DIVERSE BUSINESS

MLB.com Visibility for Black-owned Businesses – MLB will provide complimentary banner-ad space on MLB.com for black-owned businesses who are part of the MLB Diverse Business Partners program – an initiative providing a pathway for MLB and Clubs to invest in diverse-owned businesses. Since 1998, MLB and Clubs have invested and spent nearly $2 billion. 

READ MORE: The 20th Anniversary Of MLB’s Diverse Business Partners Program

PSAs & Ad Placement on MLB Network – MLB Network will air public service announcements for community-based nonprofits focused on social justice and/or are committed to issues for the Black community. Additionally, billboards supporting Black-owned businesses will appear on-air. 

Google Coaches Workshop Series – MLB’s office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) will provide Black-owned businesses access to a Google Coaches workshop series throughout the month, with topics specified to amplifying, building and improving business practices amid the pandemic. 

RECRUITMENT

Virtual Recruitment Workshops & Panels with HBCUs – MLB’s DEI team will link with several Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) to offer students a variety of growth and networking opportunities through the League’s “Step Up To The Plate” virtual program, with topics ranging from “Personal Branding” (Resume & LinkedIn building), technology and sales. 

SABR Conference Scholarships – For the fifth consecutive year, MLB will sponsor a diverse group of qualifying students who are interested in a baseball operations career to receive a scholarship to attend the annual SABR Analytics Conference, which will be virtually held March 11-14.

The Conference is a four-day event on the impact of analytics on the game of baseball. Students also will have an opportunity to participate in skill development sessions and networking opportunities with current MLB and Club employees.

Throughout February, students can apply with their resumes and personal essays at https://boards.greenhouse.io/mlbevents/jobs/2595206.

MLB has provided 75 scholarships through 2020, with 25 of the attendees receiving career opportunities with MLB Clubs and the Commissioner’s Office, including present and alumni participants of the Diversity Fellowship Program.  

YOUTH OUTREACH & BASEBALL DEVELOPMENT

Youth Voices – MLB will launch a campaign to invite aspiring writers who are participants of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and MLB Youth Academy programs to share perspectives for MLB.com on a wide range of potential topics including individuals and moments from throughout the history of baseball as well as more contemporary topics of today’s game.

Drive-Thru Events at Black Churches – The Baseball & Softball Development team at the Commissioner’s Office will host two special drive-thru PLAY BALL events at Black Churches in Charleston (SC), Oklahoma City (OK) and Richmond (VA), during which families and children will receive bat & ball sets that they can safely enjoy at home and various parts of their neighborhoods, such as parks and playgrounds.

The socially-distanced occasions at Black Churches are part of an ongoing effort of a community event series throughout the country to further bridge tangible connections between baseball and the Black community.

Andre Dawson Classic – The annual collegiate baseball tournament launched by MLB in 2008 to highlight HBCUs and their baseball programs again will be hosted in New Orleans, February 19th-21st.

READ MORE: Black History Month In Focus: Andre Dawson Classic Showcases HBCU Talent

Seven HBCUs – including the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Alabama A&M University, Alcorn State University, Prairie View A&M University, Alabama State University, Jackson State University and Grambling State University – will play in the round-robin tournament with the University of New Orleans at the NOLA MLB Youth Academy and UNO Maestri Field. 

RBI Institute – The biennial RBI Institute will be hosted virtually from February 23rd through 27th. The Institute is a training conference for coaches and league administrators within RBI affiliations from throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Curaçao, Nicaragua, United Kingdom, Panama, Mexico and Belize. 

EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT & VIRTUAL DISCUSSIONS

Unfiltered Series Continues – DEI will continue its cultural conversation forum, “The Unfiltered Series,” with a poignant conversation related to Black Representation on the Field, which has confirmed participation from Michele Meyer-Shipp (MLB Chief People & Culture Officer), Bianca Smith (Boston Red Sox Player Development Coach), Dave Roberts (Los Angeles Dodgers Manager), Bo Porter and a representative from The Players Alliance.

READ MORE: Black Knights Kyle Lewis, Dominic Smith & Justin Dunn Discuss “The Culture & Journey of the Black Baseball Player”

Virtual Tour of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum – In partnership with The Paley Center, all employees throughout MLB (including the Commissioner’s Office, MLB Network, and all 30 Clubs), will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual tour of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum led by Ray Doswell, Vice President of the Curatorial Services at the Museum. 

EDUCATION

Black History Month Challenge, Powered by EVERFI – To be made available to middle and high school students across MLB and Club-related youth programs, this new EVERFI program will be a nationwide digital learning initiative for high school students featuring topics that are curated to highlight the exceptional spirit of the Black community embodied in the continued fight for equity and to spark critical conversations around social justice. The challenge will be a four-part course with an optional essay component where teens can compete to win $20,000 in scholarships. 

DONATIONS

Henry Louis Aaron Fund – Major League Baseball joined the MLBPA in making a joint $1 million donation to match that of the Atlanta Braves in establishing “The Henry Louis Aaron Fund,” which will live inside the Atlanta Braves Foundation. The goal of the fund will be to provide resources to drive equity by creating access and opportunities in the areas of sports, business, education and social & racial equality. 

READ MORE: The Hank Aaron Invitational Is MLB’s Next Level Diversity Initiative

MLB.COM, MLB NETWORK & SOCIAL MEDIA

MLB.com – MLB.com will showcase Black stars of today and yesterday, with a  special effort to highlight Negro Leagues era players on mlb.com/negroleagues

MLB Network – MLB Network will pay tribute to a different Black Hall of Famer each week in February, including Hank Aaron (February 1-5), Bob Gibson (February 8-12), Lou Brock (February 15-19) and Joe Morgan (February 22-26).

MLB player vignettes, eloquent historical perspective from Bob Costas and Brian Kenny, as well as analyst breakdowns, will be featured throughout MLB Network’s studio programming.

Conversations with playing contemporaries of the four Hall of Famers will be included as well as vignettes on current MLB stars who play a similar game, including Aaron Judge (Aaron), Jack Flaherty (Gibson), Kyle Lewis (Brock) and Mookie Betts (Morgan).

Remembrances of special moments made by other notable Black players like Ken Griffey Jr., Ozzie Smith and Dwight Gooden will be featured throughout February. 

Social Media – MLB Social will publish content daily that aims to celebrate and educate on the profound impact Black players, coaches, executives and personnel have had on the evolution and growth of the game.

MLB will highlight Negro Leagues and Major League stars of the past, while also looking forward, elevating the voice of current Black leaders throughout the sport. 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.