CHICAGO -- A few days before the MLB Draft last week, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke candidly on a conference call with reporters about the issue of systemic racism. Epstein challenged his own unconscious bias in hiring and pledged support and action as part of the Black
CHICAGO -- A few days before the MLB Draft last week, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke candidly on a conference call with reporters about the issue of systemic racism. Epstein challenged his own unconscious bias in hiring and pledged support and action as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
At the time, Ed Howard did not know he would be selected by the Cubs with the 16th overall pick in the first round of the Draft on Wednesday. What the Mount Carmel High School shortstop knew, however, is that no matter which team picked him, he planned on using his growing platform to serve as a role model.
"That's definitely something I'm big on," Howard said. "I'm big on not only being a great player on the field, but I'm also big on being a great person off the field. My parents are real into that. They push me to be my best self at all times. I'll definitely be a role model. I'll definitely do things the right way all the time. I'm excited to get over there to the North Side."
• Cubs get 'winner' with hometown pick Howard
Howard was famously part of the all-black Jackie Robinson West team that reached the Little League World Series championship in 2014. He also was a participant in the White Sox's ACE (Amateur City Elite) program, which gives resources to inner-city youth players. At Mount Carmel, Howard displayed a tenacious work ethic to go along with his talent, growing into a first-round prospect.
At a rally in Chicago following Jackie Robinson West's run in 2014, Epstein took the stage and encouraged the young players to keep working hard, then quipping that he would see them in the MLB Draft someday. In the video footage, the camera pans to the young Howard, who could not contain his smile.
Six years later, the Cubs made Howard their top priority in the Draft.
"The first thing, you start with the human being," Epstein said in an interview on 670 The Score on Friday. "Anytime you're taking a chance on a high school kid in the first round, you want somebody that you can trust. You want somebody with character and with work ethic and with maturity, because it's a long road from being a high school senior to being an impact player in the big leagues.
"Our scouts did a tremendous job getting to know Ed. He's one of the most mature high school seniors we've ever been around. He's got some of the highest character we've ever been around."
Howard has already drawn inspiration from White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, whom the younger shortstop views as a role model for himself. They have forged a bond over the past couple of years as well.
"It's special," Howard said. "I've gotten closer to him and I see how he does things on the South Side of Chicago, and I just want to imitate that and bring it to the North Side."
Given the extent of the protests not only around the United States but the world, Howard was asked for his thoughts on the issue of racial injustice in his introductory call with Chicago media. Specifically, the young shortstop was asked if he heard Epstein's comments about wanting to be a part of the solution.
"I agree with what he's saying," Howard said.
Epstein recently attended one of the peaceful protests in Chicago, and that helped inspire reaching out to other MLB executives ahead of the Draft.
"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said that institutionalized racism can be like dust particles in the air, where you don't even see it," Epstein said. "It's all around you, but you don't even see it. And then a little bit of light comes into the room and you realize it's everywhere. Well, I think that's what the early reaction to the George Floyd murder did for a lot of people, is it let a little bit of light into the room.
"So you do take a moment to look around you with a fresh perspective with the light in the room, and you realize that this is a time to do something, because it's everywhere. ... These protests are happening all over the country. Not just in big cities, but in rural areas and the Rust Belt, the Bible Belt -- all over, coast to coast.
Each front-office leader held up a Black Lives Matter sign during the Draft broadcast, and they also announced a collective donation (MLB and club owners matched donations of the team's leaders) of more than $1 million committed to Campaign Zero, Color of Change, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
"That was a really important step, but just the first step," Epstein said. "In recognizing that's the first step, we all felt and we all agreed, to listen, first of all, listen to our players, listen to our coworkers with different backgrounds and different perspectives than us, then look inward and examine if there's things we can do better."
Epstein said that includes looking inward to examine hiring processes and having front office groups also become more involved with community programs. Those are initial steps that can address a lack of diversity behind the scenes, while also helping grow the game among young black athletes.
"There's a lot of African-Americans that can play," Howard said. "There's not that many in the league right now, but I definitely think there's a lot more coming. I'm a guy. This is my Draft day, so in a few years I'll be there, but I hear what [Epstein is] saying.
"I feel like what's going on in the world is real crazy. We all have got to come together and realize that we're all the same, we're all humans. I feel like everybody should just get along. Everybody love everybody. So, I'm excited, man. I think creating diversity is good for baseball. It should be diverse."
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.