MLB successfully completed an abbreviated 60-game season amidst a COVID pandemic and racial unrest in the country. The League was not only able to get most of the players through the season safely but also showed solidarity with its players of color on social justice issues and ending systemic racism in this country.
There were 80 overall black/African-American players in 2020 comprising 7.8% of the 1,026 players on Opening Day rosters, Alternate site rosters (as part of the larger 40-man roster) and IL/Restricted/Bereavement lists.
The percentage of Black players remains consistent with 2019 active Opening Day rosters
- 10% of the 40-man roster players at Club Alternate Sites (appx. 250 players) were Black.
- Every team had at least one Black player either on their overall Opening Day roster or Alternate Site roster.
- The Mariners had 9 active Black players on their rosters, the highest number in recent memory. They also had an additional player (Art Warren) at their Alternate Site.
The final list of the Top 5 African-American players in Major League Baseball for 2020 features some of the game’s superstars and four out of the five top players will be live in action for the playoffs which kicks off September 29th with Wild Card play.
People often ask me why I make this list. Some would prefer I keep “race out of baseball,” despite the fact that the game exploded when it diversified and currently Black ballers comprise less than 8 percent of the league for myriad reasons that have nothing to do with ability.
Just 35 years ago, baseball was 18.4 % Black, so preserving the rich, plentiful history of Black Knights throughout baseball history and highlighting the players of the present and future is a mandatory cultural responsibility.
The players on this list are an inspiration to the youth. Documenting their successes is imperative to sustaining and promoting an African-American presence on the baseball fields and in the front office.
Because of COVID, we weren’t able to see these pros perform over the 162-game season. The ebbs and flows, high and lows and unpredictable nature of baseball makes it almost impossible to project what might have occurred had we played the last 102 games, so we cut our list down to 5 Black Knights and added a Future Stars list, because there were some young brothers who made their presence felt during this COVID campaign and we can’t wait to see how impactful they will be over a full season.
TOP 5 MLB BLACK KNIGHTS OF 2020
- Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox, SS)
Anderson broke out in 2019, was in the MVP race most of the season and finally started getting the national attention a player of his caliber deserves. In 2019, the 27-year-old finished second on the final “Top MLB Black Knights” list and won his first MLB batting title hitting .335.
This abbreviated 2020 season was no different. Anderson should be in the MVP conversation again as he hit .322, good for seventh in all of baseball and slugged a career-high .529.
Most importantly, the swagalicious one set the table for a rejuvenated Chicago White Sox squad that clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. It will be just the 10th postseason appearance in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1903. For those reasons, Anderson grabs the top spot as the No. 1 Black Knight in the game for 2020.
2. Mookie Betts (LA Dodgers, OF)
Mookie Betts was really just warming up with the Dodgers and was on his way to a huge season. He finished with the highest WAR in the sport (3.4), was seventh in the league in homers with 16 and he had some wicked hot streaks. The 2018 MVP batting champ, World Series champ, Gold Glover and Silver Slugger became a Boston salary dump in February of 2020. The move to LA was a fruitful one and Betts shined in a lethal Dodgers lineup, finishing fourth in MLB in runs scored, Top 20 in slugging (.562) and OPS (.928)
The World series favorite Dodgers won their 8th NL West title in a row and have failed to win a World Series since 1988. Betts was brought in to be the final piece to a championship team and so far, he’s done his part.
3. Aaron Judge (NY Yankees, OF)
It seems like we are saying this every year, but if Aaron Judge didn’t miss parts of the season on the DL, then he would probably place at the top of this list. The first rookie to eclipse the 50-homer mark, started off the 2020 season like a rocket launcher and then hit his usual patch of injuries that sidelined him and limited him to just 28 of the 60 games.
At the time that Judge was placed on the injured list for the second time in August with a low-grade calf strain, he was stroking the ball ( .292/.343/.738 with nine homers through 18 games and 71 plate appearances). But once again, the same injuries that have continually hampered Judge since his incredible rookie season in 2017, did him dirty again.
It’s still clear however that he is a Top 5 player in the game when healthy.
4. George Springer (Houston Astros, OF)
The 31-year-old, Springer also just seemed to be warming up this season. was 18th in homers (14) and Top 25 in slugging percentage for an Astros team that has taken some time to shake off the effects of the cheating scandal and adapt to new skipper Dusty Baker. Springer is a former World Series MVP, so he knows what’s at stake this season.
5. Dominic Smith (NY Mets, DH)
Smith makes this list simply because of the bravery and honesty he exhibited by taking a knee before a Mets game in late August to show his unhappiness with a lack of change regarding racial inequality. His emotional plea to his teammates and all of MLB galvanized baseball as white players, regardless of political affiliation, supported MLB’s African-American contingent in unifying against social injustice.
The fact that Smith was finally on his way to that breakout season is just icing on the cake. He first showed flashes that he could be a consistent offensive force for the Mets back in 2019. In 2020, he was one of the bright spots on a team that fell short of the playoffs again and changed ownership. Smith capitalized on the NL’s temporary DH rule and was able to get his bat in the lineup more.
Smith finished seventh in all of baseball in OPS (.993) and was Top 10 in RBI and batting average (.316).
Regardless of how the rules play out for next season, Smith has proved his worth as a formidable MLB hitter and exploded into the Top 5 of Black Knights in this unusual MLB season. Can’t wait to see what he does with a full body of work.
Top Black Ace
Devin Williams (Milwaukee Brewers, Relief Pitcher)
Williams, 26, was dominant as the setup closer for Josh Hader. He shined with his high 90s heat and a ridiculous changeup that stifled the game’s best hitters to the tune of an unhittable 0.33 earned run average in 22 appearances to go along with a 4-1 record.
His K rate was off the charts, finishing with 53 in 27 innings for a historic ratio of 17.6 per nine innings. In addition, Williams led all major-league relievers with a 0.63 WHIP and .090 opponents batting average.
Many considered Williams’ changeup, which was given the nickname “Airbender,” the most untouchable pitch in the majors. Hitters went 2 for 62 (.032) against it with 41 strikeouts.
Michael Brantley was having a typical season. Lots of hits, a .300 batting average, timely power and a driving force in what is still a lethal Houston Astros lineup. He finished Top 40 in OPS and OBP and will be heavily relied on to come through offensively for the maligned Astros, a sixth seed who will open the playoffs against the No. 3 seeded Twins.
Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado get the ink, but 23-year-old Trent Grisham’s development has been a huge reason why the San Diego Padres challenged the Dodgers for NL West supremacy.
Other Honorable Mention: Kyle Lewis (AL ROY), JP Crawford, Andrew McCutchen, Marcus Semien, Josh Bell, Jason Heyward.