At the core of Jackie Robinson Day, which will be celebrated across Major League Baseball on Friday, is the belief in opportunity for all. That’s what Robinson fought for when he made his Brooklyn Dodgers debut 75 years ago, and that’s what MLB seeks to demonstrate on its rosters and in its work force.
The 2022 season is another example of how diverse the game has become since Jackie’s time. Of the 975 players on Opening Day rosters and inactive lists, 38% came from a diverse background (Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American) -- a slight increase from 37.6% in 2021.
The specific percentage of North American-born Black players at the MLB level on Opening Day rosters was 7.2%, a slight decline from 7.6% in 2021. This is an issue MLB has sought to address at a grassroots level, with the hope that future percentages will be much more reflective of the country and fanbase, at large.
First and foremost, the MLB Draft has featured 56 Black players out of 319 selections (17.5%) from 2012-21, including a large percentage of alumni from MLB-led youth and amateur baseball development programs.
The 2022 Draft will add to that tally, as the top three Draft prospects, as rated by MLB Pipeline and other outlets, are players of color with experience in MLB Diversity Development programs -- Druw Jones (DREAM Series), Termarr Johnson (RBI, DREAM Series, Breakthrough Series, Hank Aaron Invitational) and Elijah Green (DREAM Series, Breakthrough Series, Hank Aaron Invitational).
The PLAY BALL Initiative and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program continue to be important community efforts that steer children from underserved and diverse communities toward baseball and softball. And the MLB development programs further foster that relationship with the game at the high school level. The DREAM Series, Breakthrough Series and Hank Aaron Invitational are fairly recent creations under the MLB Develops umbrella that have had a major impact in advancing the sport’s diversity.
Just since 2018, 635 program alumni (90% of whom are Black) have gone on to play at the college level so far. Eleven alumni of the MLB Youth Academy (which opened its first location in Compton, Calif., in 2006) have reached the Majors, as have 20 alumni of the Breakthrough Series, which launched in 2008. This week, Reds pitcher Hunter Greene debuted as the first alumnus of the Hank Aaron Invitational, which was launched in 2015, to reach the bigs.
At the most recent Andre Dawson Classic -- MLB’s collegiate baseball tournament designed to highlight Historically Black Colleges and Universities -- 53 alumni of MLB Develops programs appeared on the eight team rosters. That was a 112% increase from the last Andre Dawson Classic, held in 2020.
MLB has also partnered with the Players Alliance to help increase participation in baseball among Black youth, with a commitment of up to $150 million over a 10-year period beginning in 2023.
Beyond the players on the field, MLB’s diversity is also clear in the increasing role of women in the sport. As of 2014, there were zero women coaches in affiliated professional baseball. At the start of the 2022 season, there were 11 women in on-field or player development positions in the Majors and Minors, including Single-A Tampa manager Rachel Balkovec (the first full-time woman manager in affiliated baseball history) and Giants assistant coach Alyssa Nakken (the first woman coach in MLB history), who broke another historic barrier when she became the first woman to coach on the field in a Major League game on Tuesday night.
At the front-office level, the Marlins’ Kim Ng is in her second season as general manager after breaking down that particular barrier, and Sara Goodrum (Astros director of player development) and Liz Benn (Mets director of Major League operations) hold particularly lofty roles.