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Thursday, December 29, 2022

December 29, 2022: 2022 in Review: Baseball and Race

[2022 has been a lot. A lot a lot. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to focus mostly on somewhat lighter, pop culture kinds of topics, with just one much more serious exception. Here’s to a better year to come!]

On one inspiring and one frustrating side of baseball’s diversity in 2022.

As I did with the week’s first two posts, in lieu of an opening paragraph here I’m gonna ask you to check out a prior post, this one on Cuban and Japanese players in Major League Baseball. Then come on back for today’s thoughts if you would!

Welcome back! That diversification of the ranks of MLB players has been one of the most striking American sports stories of the last few decades, and has continued apace, with a particular emphasis in recent years on the prominence and to a significant degree the dominance of Latin American (and specifically Afro-Latin) players. No moment has ever exemplified (nor could more powerfully exemplify) that trend than one from this season’s Roberto Clemente Day (September 15th), when the Tampa Bay Rays fielded a lineup in which all nine hitters were born in Latin American countries (Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, y Mexico). Given how difficult and often painful it was for the early generations of Latin American stars like Roberto Clemente to make their way to and become part of the Major Leagues, that groundbreaking moment—apparently a truly accidental one, which reflects quite clearly this central presence of Latin American players—was a genuinely moving and important one, and makes this lifelong baseball fan and DiverseAmericaStudier very happy indeed.

On the other hand, a very different baseball story from less than two months later made that same dude a lot less happy. As the 2022 World Series got underway in early November, we learned that the two contending teams, the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies, had no American-born Black players on their respective rosters. Obviously every individual athlete has to make their own choices about their careers and futures, and of course it’s impossible to separate a baseball story like that one from (among other factors) the amazing breadth and depth of African American athletes in the NBA and NFL. But at the same time, there’s no way to tell the story of baseball (and thus, I would argue, the story of 20th century America as a whole) without including both individual, groundbreaking Black players and the overarching community of Black players, and so for both a baseball fan and an AmericanStudier this was a really sad thing to learn about the final two teams in this year’s season. I don’t know what the answers are necessarily, but I know that until and unless Major League Baseball can feature a lot more Black players again, it won’t be nearly as diverse nor as American as it could or should be.

Last 2022 reflection tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other parts of 2022 you’d reflect on?

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