Black MLB players, executives strive to diversify baseball

FILE - In this Friday, March 1, 2019 file photo, Miami Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson dives to catch a fly ball by Washington Nationals' Adam Eaton for an out during the third inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game in Jupiter, Fla. A five-person panel of Major League Baseball players, coaches and executives discussed ways to get more Black people involved at all levels of the sport. Lewis Brinson was on the panel.(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
FILE - In this Friday, March 1, 2019 file photo, Miami Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson dives to catch a fly ball by Washington Nationals' Adam Eaton for an out during the third inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game in Jupiter, Fla. A five-person panel of Major League Baseball players, coaches and executives discussed ways to get more Black people involved at all levels of the sport. Lewis Brinson was on the panel.(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Michele Meyer-Shipp doesn't have to travel far to realize the challenge of growing the sport of baseball in the Black community.

She just sits down at the dinner table.

Meyer-Shipp, who is Major League Baseball's chief people and culture officer, has three sons who love sports. They know all about some of baseball's Black legends like Hank Aaron, the sport's one-time home run king who recently died at age 86.

But today's Black baseball stars? Not so much.

“When I listen to my boys talk about sports, they're always talking about the Black football player. Always,” Meyer-Shipp said. "And I'm like, ‘You know, there are Black baseball players.’ They talk about Black basketball players as well. But those are the guys you always see on commercials, on TV.

“We need our guys from baseball out there building a brand for Black talent in the game. I think that would really make a difference."

Marketing the game's best Black players was one of many topics discussed by a five-person panel of current MLB players, executives and coaches. The conversation, which was streamed Tuesday on MLB.com, is part of MLB's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, former Astros manager Bo Porter and Red Sox coach Bianca Smith were also on the panel. The 26-year-old Brinson said he started playing baseball in south Florida when he was 4 years old and immediately grew to love it, but as he got older, he eventually realized not many Black kids were playing baseball.

He said he only had two Black teammates from tee ball through high school.

“I got made fun of for playing baseball — ‘Oh you’re playing that white sport. What are you doing playing that, man?” Brinson said. “But obviously I didn't really care because I loved it.”

The number of Black players in MLB has been dwindling for years, hovering around 8% of the league in recent seasons.

Brinson said that's one reason he's proud to be in the The Players Alliance, which is a group of more than 100 Black current and former professional baseball players. The goal is for their platform to lead to “increased opportunities for the Black community in every aspect of our game and beyond.”

Brinson said going into poor areas of cities, providing baseball equipment and giving back was important. He added that it's also good for the sport when children see players who look like them.

“Having those Black kids see us, touch us and talk to us, knowing that ‘Man, they look like me. I could be in their shoes,'" Brinson said. “I think more than anything, us actually going ourselves into the community and showing these kids, ‘Listen, you could be where I’m at.'"

The panel also discussed how to diversify the upper levels of the game, especially among managers and front office staff. Porter was the manager of the Astros in 2013 and '14 and is now a consultant for MLB.

Porter said he remains optimistic about baseball's progress in diversity, but said it's important that executives work to find ways to broaden their hiring pool so they have a more diverse group of candidates.

“We have to open up the access gate because they don't know what they don't know,” Porter said. “A lot of these general managers, presidents of baseball operations, if they were to open the access gate and have conversations when these jobs come available, I guarantee you the hiring process will get better and it will change.

“As Black people, we're not looking for a handout. What we want is an opportunity.”

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