HOUSTON – Players' union head Tony Clark said years of inattention by Major League Baseball had contributed to the World Series being played without any U.S.-born Black players for the first time since 1950.
“It is truly unfortunate that any young Black player may be watching these games tonight is not going to see someone that looks like them and as a result may make a decision against continuing to play our great game and move on to something else," Clark said before Friday night’s opener between Houston and Philadelphia. "That is disappointing and disheartening.”
The 50-year-old Clark was a major league first baseman from 1995-2009, making the AL All-Star team in 2001.
“When I first started playing, players made sure, Black players on your team and other teams made sure that you were encouraged and supported, recognizing that even even at that time, the numbers weren’t as high, so you were less likely in a lot of ways to to see someone that looked like you or came from the same place that you did,” he said. “Toward the end, less and less of those conversations were being had because there were less of those players to have them with.”
Clark became executive director of the players’ association in 2013, the first player to hold the job.
“How we got here did not happen overnight. There have been conversations about this topic for a long period of time," he said. "As a result of us not getting to this place overnight, getting back out of it is not going to happen overnight either. But as long as there are people who are committed to providing opportunities, providing opportunities both on the field and off the field, there’s going to be an opportunity for our game to be better tomorrow than it was today."
Houston's Dusty Baker is one of only two Black managers and Chicago White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams is the only Black leader of baseball operations for a major league team.
Clark said the responsibility to increase the percentage of Black executives in decision-making positions is up to management.
“To the extent that that we’ve got only a couple Black coaches, to the extent that we only have a few Black front office staff," he said, "it’s a conversation that I think you should have with those in those positions as to why that continues to be the case when they 100% have the ability to control who they hire and who they don’t.”
Clark said about 30 players met with MLB officials in 2006 to express what they were seeing and what areas needed to be addressed.
“It’s 2022 and we’re still having the same conversations that we had back in 2006,” he said. “Now we’re sitting here 16 years later having the same conversation.”
Houston and Philadelphia announced their 26-man rosters several hours before Game 1 on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, and neither had a U.S.-born Black player on it. Both rosters have players of color from the Caribbean, Central and South America.
Michael Brantley, a Black outfielder for Houston, is out for the season because of a shoulder injury.
On other topics:
— Clark said the union was pleased with the expanded 12-team playoffs and remained opposed to 14 teams, which MLB proposed during bargaining last offseason.
“I think it was good that we crawled before we walked,” he said.
Philadelphia is the first third-place team to reach the World Series.
“Over the course of the playoffs, over the course of a month, you can get your foot in the door and lock it in, all kinds of things can happen,” Clark said. "Which makes our game great."
— The union and MLB began talks Thursday on a collective bargaining agreement for players with minor league contracts.
“There is indeed an opportunity to find common ground before the start of the 2023 season,” Clark said.
— The union will discuss with players whether they favor continuing the rule to have a runner start on second base in extra innings of regular season games, which was adopted as a pandemic change in 2020 and continued through 2022.
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