What is the Black experience like in professional baseball? Several members of the Black community in the sport had a lot to say about their experiences in the program, “Unfiltered: A Discussion on Black Voices in Baseball.” It’s part of Major League Baseball’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program. The entire conversation can be seen on MLB.com.
Recently, Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson; Dodgers manager Dave Roberts; former manager Bo Porter (who is now a consultant at Major League Baseball); Michele Meyer-Shipp, who is MLB’s chief people & culture officer and Red Sox coach Bianca Smith, the first Black woman to coach in professional baseball, had a virtual conversation about the Black experience in baseball. The conversation was moderated by MLB Network’s Fran Charles.
While members of the panel expressed satisfaction in what they did for a living, the group would like to see more Black players participate in the game of baseball, whether it’s on the field, in the dugout or front office. It’s not a secret there has been a decline in African Americans playing the game of baseball. The Players Alliance, a group of current and former professional baseball players, is trying to reverse that trend. These players stepped up all winter and created increased opportunities for the Black community in every aspect of the game and beyond.
Brinson, who is a member of the Alliance, believes the interest in baseball has to start at an early age, as does having access to the equipment needed to play the sport.
Meyer-Shipp believes the expense of youth baseball has not afforded a certain sect of youngsters the opportunity to play the game. She also believes that current Black players should be building a brand in the Black community.
“When I listen to [my three sons] talk about sports, they are always talking about the Black football player. Always. They talk about Black basketball players as well. Those are the guys we see on the commercials, on TV,” Meyer-Shipp said. “We need our guys from baseball out there building a brand for Black talent in the game. I think that would really make a difference. … It’s rare that my boys are able to name [baseball players] except the Hank Aarons of the world. … But current names, they are hard to come by. They just don’t know.”
Smith is proof that women can play a big role on the field. She recently was an assistant coach and hitting coordinator at Carroll University in Wisconsin. Before that, Smith worked at Case Western Reserve University as director of baseball operations and had a stint as assistant coach at University of Dallas. In her first year in the Red Sox organization, she knowns how to approach the players when it comes to hitting.
Then there is the lack of minorities in the dugout and the front office. Charles talked about how tough it was for Dusty Baker to land a job even though he has won everywhere he has managed. Charles also talked about how Roberts' job was in jeopardy at some point over the years if the Dodgers didn’t go all the way. The panel also believes Porter, who managed the Astros in 2013 and part of '14, deserves a second chance to be a manager. Although he didn’t say anything about getting another chance, Porter would like to see the access gate open up.
“If the general managers and presidents of baseball operations were to open up the access gate and have conversations when these jobs become available, I guarantee you the hiring process will get better and it will change," said Porter. "As Black people, we are not looking for a handout. What we want is an opportunity. I think if given the opportunity, we will rise to the occasion.”
Roberts and Brinson talked about how the players had to persevere on and off the field in 2020, through the coronavirus pandemic and the unrest around the country. The Dodgers ended up winning the World Series last year under Roberts, who became the second Black manager (after Cito Gaston) to bring home a title.
Brinson was one of 19 Marlins players who missed time due to COVID-19 after the season began, but the team managed to make the postseason and advanced to the National League Division Series before losing to the Braves in three games.