Commissioner Bud Selig announced today the launch of an on-field diversity task force to seek out ways to reverse the downward trend of African-Americans playing in the major leagues.
According to a Major League Baseball release, the percentage of African-American players on Opening Day rosters this season was approximately 8.5 percent, which it termed as consistent with the past few years. A USA Today study reports that the percentage of African-Americans on big league rosters has nosedived from 8.05 percent last year to a new low of 7.7 percent this season.
The task force has been charged by Selig “to address the talent pipeline that impacts the representation and development of diverse players and on-field personnel in Major League Baseball, particularly African-Americans.”
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski will serve as chairmen of the 18-member committee of owners, executives and coaches. The diverse group also includes MLB executive vice president of baseball development Frank Robinson, White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams, Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner, Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir and Southern coach Roger Cador.
This is hardly Selig's first attempt to address the issue of diversity in baseball. MLB is already working to promote the sport through the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and the establishment of Urban Youth Academy training centers in Compton, Calif; Houston; New Orleans; and Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Another three are in development in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Hialeah, Fla.
"As a social institution, Major League Baseball has an enormous social responsibility to provide equal opportunities for all people, both on and off the field," Selig said in the release. "I am proud of the work we have done thus far with the RBI program and the MLB Urban Youth Academies, but there is more that we must accomplish. We have seen a number of successful efforts with existing MLB task forces, and I believe we have selected the right people to effectively address the many factors associated with diversity in baseball."
The USA Today study found that the number of African-Americans in the majors is the lowest since the Red Sox became the final team to integrate their roster in 1959. Four teams opened the season without an African-American player on their roster—Cardinals, Giants, Mariners and Rangers.
How the committee plans to address the issue remains uncertain. Scouts have often said that the biggest drawback for minority players is the lack of full college scholarship opportunities for baseball compared to basketball and football. In an interview with Baseball America last year, Selig said that he had not considered helping create more scholarship opportunities for minority amateur baseball players.
"It's something we can look into," Selig said at the time.
The other members of the task force include:
MLB vice president of community affairs Tom Brasuell, MLB Players Association director of player services Tony Clark, Indians owner Larry Dolan, White Sox special assistant Dennis Gilbert, Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall, MLB Senior VP of diversity and strategic alliances Wendy Lewis, MLB Network analyst and former major league manager Jerry Manuel, MLB Scouting Bureau senior director Frank Marcos, MLB executive VP and CFO Jonathan Mariner, MLB VP of youth and facility development Darrell Miller and MLB senior VP of baseball operations Kim Ng.