Every year, on April 15, Major League Baseball (MLB) honors Jackie Robinson by having every player in the league wear a No. 42 jersey.
For the ballclub known as “the team of Jackie Robinson,” the spotlight shines brighter on the Los Angeles Dodgers during this day. On April 15, 2019, though, the team took the field without a single African-American player on the roster. In fact, the Dodgers spent the entire 2019 season without a black American player on the team.
As opening day approaches to inaugurate the 2020 MLB season though, the Dodgers will enter the new season without facing the same disparity issue from last year.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox officially agreed to a deal on Monday night that sent outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher David Price to the City of Angels.
The deal, which originally involved a third team, the Minnesota Twins, was amended throughout the week after the Red Sox discovered medical information about a player involved in the deal. In the final look at the transaction, the Dodgers received Betts, Price and cash from the Red Sox in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo and two minor league prospects, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.
On the field, the deal puts the Dodgers, the National League champions from 2017 and 2018, back in position to return to the World Series. Betts, a 27-year-old four-time all-star, won American League MVP honors in 2018 and is considered one of the top players in the league. Price, a 34-year-old five-time all-star, earned the American League Cy Young Award in 2012.
On top of their productive resumes, this trade adds social significance to the Dodgers.
2019 marked the first full season since Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, that the ballclub did not employ a single African American on its active roster. The additions of Betts and Price bring two black players to the team for the 2020 season.
Andrew Toles, the most recent African-American Dodgers’ player to serve on the team’s active roster, was expected to play with the team in 2019, but due to personal matters has not returned to baseball.
For “America’s pastime,” this issue of a lack of African-American representation goes beyond just the Dodgers.
The number of black American players in the Major Leagues has been on the decline over the past several decades. In 1986, African-American players made up 18.4 percent of the league’s population. In every season since 2005 though, they have failed to make up more than 10 percent of MLB players. According to the Los Angeles Times, more than one-third of the league’s teams had no more than one African-American player last season.
At the managerial level, this disparity is even more glaring. Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts was the lone African-American manager in the league before the Houston Astros hired Dusty Baker in January.
Higher up in management, there are only two general managers of color, Al Avila of the Detroit Tigers and Farhan Zaidi of the San Francisco Giants, neither of whom are African American. Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox and Michael Hill of the Miami Marlins remain the only African-American presidents of baseball operations in the league.
Despite a lack of representation both on the field and in the front office for MLB as a whole, the league has worked to combat this issue. It has invested money into programs such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) to make the sport more accessible and affordable in communities of color. While progress has been a process, baseball is slowly becoming a sport of appeal for African-American players as shown in the pipeline of young talent.
Black players have been represented fairly well in recent MLB drafts. The first two picks of the 2017 draft, Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene are both African American. In 2019, 12 of the first 78 draft picks on the first day of the draft were black. In the minor leagues, three of the top six prospects are players of color, including Jo Adell, who is African American.
While the number of African-American athletes in the Major Leagues is far lower than it should be, the percentage could rise in the coming years. So for “the team of Jackie Robinson,” there should be no excuse for the Dodgers, or any other Major League team, to spend another season without fielding an African-American player.
Arthur Cribbs, a junior journalism major from Los Angeles, is editor-in-chief of 101Magazine.net. He is a Rhoden Fellow at ESPN for TheUndefeated.com. He also works with the Department of Athletics at Howard University and was a production manager for WHUT’s Spotlight Network.