MLB has made some progress in the last half decade. The league has expended resources to develop and identify African-American baseball talent that could potentially play in the Big Leagues, raise the popularity of the sport within the Black American community and increase the dwindling number of Black players in baseball, which hovers between 7 to 8 percent each season.
If you let the 2022 World Series tell it, MLB has no Black American players. Well, they do, but unfortunately the two teams who advanced to the game’s biggest stage — the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros — were both void of any African-American representation.
The awkwardness of a World Series where one of the managers is a Black and an HBCU marching band kicks off the activities in front of a majority white crowd, but the game doesn’t feature any Black talent at all, raises more suspicions about the sport for the casual Black baseball fan.
The one Black manager sure wasn’t happy about it when he was informed that there will not be a single U.S.-born Black player on the WS field for the first time since 1950.
“Nah, don’t tell me that,’’ Baker says. “That’s terrible for the state of the game. Wow! Terrible. I’m ashamed of the game.
“Quote me. I am ashamed of the game.’’
“Well, I don’t think that’s something that baseball should really be proud of,’’ Baker continued. “It looks bad. It lets 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 No. 1 draft choices (four of the first five picks in 2022). The academies are producing players. So hopefully in the near future we won’t have to talk about this anymore or even be in this situation.’’
Now, if you love baseball, you love it regardless of the complexion of the players on the field. However, you can’t deny that the popularity of MLB stars pales in comparison to that of NBA and NFL stars. Regardless of that disturbing fact, here are three transcending Black baseball players that should be household names for any sports fan.
This generation doesn’t have a Ken Griffey Jr., but we do have Los Angeles Dodgers all-world outfielder Markus Lynn “Mookie” Betts.
At 5 feet 9, Betts is shorter than the statuesque Griffey, but “The Kid” told you himself that baseball isn’t about the size of the player, it’s about heart and skills. Betts has a lion’s share of both. His combination of speed, power and agility remind you of a dual-threat NFL running back. Though he chose to play baseball, Mookie is talented in multiple sports, especially bowling, where he throws 300 games as easily as he sprays baseballs all over the park.
Baseball’s supreme Black Knight is a championship magnet, a five-tool baller and a Gold Glove soul patroller who has all of the boxes covered.
In 2018, Betts became the first African-American to win the American League MVP award since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997, breaking a 21-year drought. He also plays the outfield, and similar to Griffey in his heyday, has been carrying the torch for Black Knight ballplayers in MLB.
His standing as a top five player in the game leaves him as the general of a cultural struggle between today’s baseball and Black people. He’s the middleman in a negotiation to convince Black America that baseball is not only invited to the sports barbeque but is bringing the potato salad.
Mookie Betts sends a message and talks about his DJ skills and his favorite rapper. pic.twitter.com/nnTdS1Pal7
— MLBbro.com (@MLBbrodotcom) July 23, 2022
Since 1947, when baseball was the sport that started the slow integration of America, Black faces have dominated MLB’s record books, increased the value of the league, helped popularize it, and contributed a unique level of athleticism and intelligent energy to the game.
Players like Betts are vital to the survival of the sport here in America. He’s the continuation of that undeniable excellence; a most notable and marketable MLB face and authentic image of Black baseball excellence to sell to the younger generation.
When Boston traded Betts it sent shock waves through MLB. When we found out that the World Series champion joined the Dodgers, the odds of L.A.’s first World Series since 1988 skyrocketed. He immediately got the job done in a 60-game shortened CVOID season at that and was rewarded with a 12-year, $365 million deal in October 2020.
You’re going to see Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge as the top two Black players on any list of MLB’s top-selling jerseys. After hitting an American League record 62 homers, the statuesque Judge might be the most famous Black player in baseball. His reputation as a celebrity and the showcase attraction in a sport that definitely has more of a niche fan base despite the tremendous revenue it generates and its former stature as America’s Pastime, is growing.
His impending free agency is going to be the talk of the offseason once this 2022 World Series ends (hopefully with a World Series Ring for Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker).
The Yankees offered Judge a $213.5M deal during this past offseason, which he basically laughed at. Judge decided to play this season without a deal in place and either prove to the Yankees that they lowballed him or move on to another team if it didn’t work out. Judge produced the greatest contract season of any athlete in sports history. In addition to the home run record, he nearly became the first player to win the Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera in 2012.
Judge has been addressing his free agency all throughout the playoffs. Once his Yankees were eliminated in the American League Championship Series by the Astros, that’s all anyone wanted to know about. Judge has been professional in his approach and says he would like to return to New York, but the market is open and he’s going to take advantage of this historical season he had.
Judge’s price tag will probably be in the $350M-$400M range, so it will take a team with deep pockets to even be in contention for Judge’s services. The San Francisco Giants are expected to be a major player in the free-agent market. He’s from the Bay Area, so it would be a return home. Regardless of where Judge ends up, when you’re talking about big baseball brands, he is the future.
Michael Harris II
Michael Harris II is the 21-year-old phenom that burst onto the MLB scene with the Atlanta Braves trailing the New York Mets in the National League East. A shining product of MLB’s Breakthrough Series (diversity development program), Harris hit the ground running and swatted .297 with 19 homers, 20 steals and a 5.3 WAR in just 114 games.
Those games proved critical as the Braves rode the wave of skill and energy Harris brought to center field and overtook the Mets in the final weeks of the season to win the division and avoid a wild card matchup.
Not only is Harris young, but he’s Black and definitely represents the culture. He’s only had a part of a season to establish himself, but he’s already one of the more popular players around the league amongst teenagers.
Harris will be a part of a Braves young core that will be playing together until at least 2028. “Money Mike” could end up being the best out of the bunch, and his young fan base will grow with him. He’s an inspiration to hundreds of other Black players who are trying to distinguish themselves in a crowded baseball culture where the talents of Black ballplayers aren’t as valued as they were in the past.
Harris signed an eight-year extension in August worth $72 million, with a two-year club option that could push the deal to 10 years, $102 million. The 2022 National League Rookie of the Year favorite is the perfect player to bring the brothers back to the ballparks in Atlanta.
Harris grew up less than an hour from Truist Park, the current home of the Braves, watching the team win season after season with a fair share of Black stars contributing to the success.
When the Braves selected him in the third round at the 98th slot back in 2019, it really didn’t send shock waves throughout the franchise or Major League Baseball. Now it looks like it’s a dream come true not just for Michael Harris II, but for the Atlanta Braves. Harris could possibly be the biggest steal in the last 25 years.
While Harris is definitely a beast on the field, his potential impact and ability to be marketed to the youth will make him a recognized superstar.