THOMA COLUMN | Baseball's structural problems with race

Oct. 31—The World Series has more African American managers than African American players.

Dusty Baker on one hand, nobody on the other.

Now, to be fair, there are plenty of players on the field this week who would have been barred in the pre-Jackie Robinson era. But Black athletes from the United States ... they're not there.

And they aren't particularly common in the majors, period.

Consider the home nine. The 2022 Minnesota Twins cycled 61 players through their roster. (Wonder how many of them I could name without referring to Baseball Reference?) Their Black Americans were limited to Byron Buxton, Nick Gordon, Chris Archer, Tim Beckham, Royce Lewis and Billy Hamilton, and those latter three had minimal playing time.

Americans of African descent made up just 7.2% of opening day rosters this year, the lowest percentage since The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport started collecting such data in 1991, when 18% of MLB players were Black.

This didn't happen overnight. Baseball's slippery slope with Black athletes has been worsening for decades.

Robinson himself illustrates some of the issues. As great a player as Robinson was, baseball was probably his fourth best sport. But professional football and basketball weren't as lucrative in the 1940s as baseball. It was baseball or something non-athletic for Robinson.

That started changing in the 1960s and has accelerated since.

Reincarnate Robinson today, and he's probably taking the Kyler Murray route. Murray was a first-round pick for Oakland and played in the A's farm system, but wound up an NFL quarterback. He had options Robinson didn't.

Which feeds into the college baseball issue. Division I football and basketball scholarships are full rides; other sports can split their scholarships. Baseball at that level has a maximum of 11.7 scholarships, and almost nobody gets a full ride.

So ... imagine that you're a multisport athlete of marginal economic status. For most, college baseball is not a practical option. Basketball or football are.

If you're Buxton, Lewis or Gordon, signing out of high school works, but mid-round draft picks don't get seven-figure bonuses (especially under the current bonus pool system) and face years of sub-minimum-wage servitude in the minors.

It makes more sense to take the college scholarship, and with rare exceptions (such as Murray), baseball goes in the rear view mirror.

The tenure of Commissioner Rob Manfred has been marked by a consistent push to squeeze spending on player development with such moves as limiting bonuses and cutting minor league affiliates. In the process, MLB is erecting hurdles for athletes with other options.

And it shows on the field by who is not there.

Edward Thoma is at ethoma@mankatofreepress.com. Twitter: @bboutsider.