How Black MLB Players Are Bound by Conservative Baseball Culture

Programming note: Watch “Race in America: A Candid Conversation” on NBC Sports Bay Area on Friday, July 3 at 8 pm

Limited to 750 highly skilled men, it is one of the best jobs in the world. There is no 8 to 5 workout, no heavy lifting, and setup is primarily outdoors. The salary is luxurious, the lifestyle splendid.

However, a small percentage of those within the Major League Baseball workforce operate under a strict code of conduct, and therefore must be precise with every step, reflect on every word, and, perhaps most of all, hide joy.

The black ball player exists in a restricted box. And the man who dares to get out of that box risks being reprimanded, degraded and even lacerated.

“I have felt this way since I entered the game,” Giants outfielder Jaylin Davis said. “You look around you and don’t see anyone who looks like you. You automatically feel like this. I feel like we have to work harder. For sure.

“Yes, sometimes you can’t be yourself, you have to be this model they established, and you have to follow it.”


Davis was a panel member with four-time 20-game winner Dave Stewart and free-agent pitcher Edwin Jackson in the latest episode of NBC Sports Bay Area’s “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” scheduled for Friday at 8 a.m. p.m. African Americans, all three have experienced life in the box.

Davis realizes that his career is on a thin line. At 26, he hopes to one day achieve the status that gives him the right of expression. Meanwhile, he feels sidelined by the color of his skin.

Dr. Richard Lapchick, founder and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, first took on the task of being a breed and gender watchdog in MLB in 1991. In the three decades since his First annual newsletter, which revealed MLB lists were 19 percent black, the ranks have declined. In its latest Race and Gender Report Card, the percentage was 8.4, and that was an increase from the 7.7 percent published in the previous report.

For every 16 white players and seven Latino players, there are two black players, 40 percent of what ever was. Being a member of a missing race carries a psychological burden.

Every time someone in any profession realizes they represent a rare demographic, many of their emotions are internalized.

“It’s frustrating to sit down and not be able to speak your mind about being black and American,” Jackson said. “Because of how it might affect our work, when everyone else has the freedom of expression to go ahead and say what they want. Like when we say it, it comes from a bad place and is frowned upon. That’s the part of the game that makes you mad because you can’t say what you think when it comes from the heart. “

Rickey Henderson, the leading gold hitter and surely among the top 10 players in history, was criticized for a number of things, most of which fall into the vanity category. He entered the Hall of Fame on the first vote even though 28 voters deemed him unworthy. Chipper Jones, a great player but only at Rickey’s level, entered with a higher percentage of votes.

Henderson’s career paralleled the end of the golden age of black players, when most teams had four or five or more; The Pittsburgh Pirates became the first team to start nine players of color in 1971. Rickey played beyond the box. So did Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson, and Ken Griffey Jr., to name three.

Current lone black player crossing the line, Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson has already picked up a “reputation” for self-promotion that could be inhibiting were it not for the fact that he led both leagues in batting the last season.

Everyone else? Almost staying in that box, worried that not doing so could jeopardize your career. A catcher Bruce Maxwell walked away from the box in 2017 and fell to his knees during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. Now he is playing in Mexico. And he continues to receive threats from “fans”.

“I just think, on the condition that black players play today, we always have something in mind that if I do something, that’s outside the system.” If I say something, that’s out of the system, “said Stewart. “I will lose my job and I will lose the ability to play this game, and I will lose the ability to have the profits to take care of my family and the family of my family.

“Because now we are at a point in this game where, two or three good contracts and you make a legacy for your whole family. So I think that’s what happened to Bruce. This sport has not been tolerant of change. He has not been tolerant of militancy, freedom of expression or a black man who speaks his mind. “

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Could this change with the sudden racial awakening in corners of America that until then did not know or care about each other? Maybe.

But baseball is the most conservative of our top three sports. It’s hard to imagine dramatic progress when 100 percent of CEOs and 87 percent of general managers are white.

In other words, seven decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the black player does not feel completely emancipated. In fact, he goes to the stadium every day very aware of the decrease in numbers, believing that repression is a requirement to survive.