MLB Sees The Highest Diversity Of Major Sports Leagues; African-Americans At Historic Lows

Forbes April 6, 2024


MLB Sees The Highest Diversity Of Major Sports Leagues; African-Americans At Historic Lows

Major League Baseball cites its player rosters as the most diverse of the major sports leagues. But it may not be in the way you think.

As the season begins, the league reports on the high percentage of foreign-born players that are on Major League rosters. It’s a clear sign of diversity and one that MLB is proud to trumpet. This year there were 264 internationally-born players on MLB rosters representing 19 different countries and territories outside of the 50 United States on 2024 Opening Day rosters and inactive lists. The total pool of 949 players on Opening Day breaks down to 779 active 26-man roster players and 170 Major League players on inactive, injured or restricted lists. According to the league, that is the fourth-highest all-time and represents 27.8% of MLB’s rosters.

That diversity comes from a variety of different countries. As it has since 1995, the Dominican Republic leads the Major Leagues among countries and territories outside the United States with 108 players. Venezuela ranks second with 58 players, while Cuba places third with 18 players. Rounding out the totals are Puerto Rico (17); Canada (13, marking its highest total since 17 players on 2013 Opening Day rosters); Mexico (12); Japan (10, marking its highest total since having 11 players on 2013 Opening Day rosters); Colombia (5); Panama (5); Curaçao (4); South Korea (3); Australia (2); Aruba (1); the Bahamas (1); Brazil (1); Germany (1); Honduras (1); Nicaragua (1); and South Africa (1). Houston Astros pitcher Tayler Scott, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, became just the second South African-born player on Opening Day rosters in Major League history, joining Toronto’s Gift Ngoepe (2018).

Looking at totals, foreign-born players have hovered around 28% of all players in MLB.

While MLB is lauded for overall diversity, when it comes to African Americans, MLB is at historic lows.

While the 2024 data has not been published as yet, The Associated Press has published historic data on the number of African Americans in Major League Baseball for a considerable time. For 2023, just 6.2% of the Opening Day rosters were comprised of African Americans. Compare that to 1995 when African Americans comprised 19% of the total. According to The AP, that marked the lowest percentage of African American participation among four of the five major professional sports — NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS — outside of the National Hockey League, where more than 90% of its players are white.

Major League Baseball has worked hard to try and address the declines through league initiatives such as the Nike R.B.I. (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program that focuses on underserved kids and communities. As the AP report shows, there has been a slow increase in the number of African Americans who are being drafted, which theoretically means an increase that eventually land on MLB rosters in the future.

And while MLB has worked to bring equipment to more kids to lower costs, travel ball has become a key development path for many youth looking to continue with the sport. These regional games add significant costs for hotel and general travel expenses.

For high schoolers, the number of baseball scholarships for those looking to continue to play in college is vastly smaller than for basketball and football. And where college basketball and football get significant visibility on national and regional sports networks, baseball is largely confined the College World Series.

Finally, baseball’s general development path is different simply based on the game’s design. Where basketball and football see skill players that can quickly move from the college ranks straight to the pros where they can become impact players, in baseball the road now goes almost exclusively through Minor League Baseball where development takes longer for most players to become MLB-ready.

And as a general trend, where MLB was once truly the National Pastime, the ascension of the NFL and NBA has moved baseball largely off the top as the premier sport in North America for kids to focus around.

So, while MLB has its challenges luring African Americans into the league, it’s clear that it has morphed into a global platform as witnessed by many of its stars ranging from Shohei Ohtani (Japan) to Julio Rodriguez (Dominican Republic) to Jose Altuve (Venezuela) to Xander Bogaerts (Aruba) and beyond. Part of this is due to costs around international prospects, and some is about baseball’s continued allure outside of North America. How the league brings back more African Americans needs to remain a central focus.

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