In honor of Black History Month, Cardinals front-office member Jared Odom recently reflected on his journey as an African-American working in Major League Baseball, and his interest in those who paved the way for him. Odom joined the organization eight years ago as an intern in the media relations department, and he now serves as a baseball operations coordinator in amateur scouting.
I was born and raised in St. Louis and grew up roughly 15 minutes from the ballpark. My love for the game started during the "Whiteyball" era. I had a photo growing up, swinging a bat in my backyard with a diaper on, and it actually said, 'Call Whitey Herzog, Jared's going to be a Cardinal.' I fell in love with Ozzie Smith. Of course, the backflip he did to start the season mesmerized me, but moreso the defensive performances he'd put in night-in and night-out. I was also able to see Joe Torre's diverse ballclubs of the '90s, which really had an impact on me.
I had a chance when I was young to meet Buck O'Neil at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum [in Kansas City], and he introduced me to the Satchel Paiges of the world. O'Neil was very humble, witty, knowledgeable and got me interested in those Negro League players. I started collecting more Negro League baseball cards and books, and I began learning about the sacrifices made to allow the players that I looked up to, to even have an opportunity to play.
And then there was Ken Griffey, Jr. He made the game cool -- from the backward cap to the Nike shoes with the signature ankle strap. He had that star power. What Deion Sanders was to football and Michael Jordan was to basketball, for my generation, that was Griffey.
As I began my journey in the front office, I would have days where I researched those who had the privilege to serve in this capacity as an executive before me. Some of those people being Bob Watson, Kenny Williams, De Jon Watson and, most recently, Tyrone Brooks, who has been named senior director of the new Front Office & Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program.
Just knowing my history, knowing people struggled, I'm very thankful for the opportunity the Cardinals have given me. I would personally like to see more young African-Americans break into the business and make an impact on this game. I think the Commissioner is taking the right steps to open the lines of communication with owners and general managers. But at the end of the day, I don't want anybody to just give us a handout, either. You need to be qualified. You need to be prepared for the grind that is being an executive in baseball. It sounds better than it is. Until you pay your dues, you're working for very little and have long hours.
That can make it tough to steer African-Americans toward a career in this field when many are already faced with economic inadequacies. It's tough to make such a tremendous sacrifice when the pressures of the world are looming over you constantly. I believe that's something that will have to continue to be addressed to get more qualified minorities interested in baseball.