At a time in which it appears that Major League Baseball is seemingly doing all it can to keep African-Americans from being on Big League rosters, a group in Salt Lake, Utah is throwing its hat in the ring to land a franchise in the coming years. Remember this the next time MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred mentions anything about diversity.
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“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” — James Baldwin.
According to recent reports, Gail Miller and the Larry H. Miller Company — the former owners of the Utah Jazz, who also own the Los Angeles Angels’ Triple-A team, the Salt Lake Bees — have joined Nashville and Portland in launching campaigns for an MLB expansion team. While no one knows when the expansion might take place, Manfred told ESPN last year that he “would love to get to 32 teams.”
A Nashville expansion team makes sense, with the city already hosting the Titans and Predators. An MLB franchise in Portland also makes sense, as it would give the Pacific Northwest two franchises, as the Seattle Mariners are currently pro baseball’s lone representatives in the region.
But a team in Utah would just be another example of Major League Baseball’s willful race problem.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune — where I used to work as an intern — census data indicates that only 1.5 percent of the state’s population identifies as Black. Utah joins New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Wyoming as the only states with a Black population of 2 percent or less.
On Opening Day, I wrote about how the start of the MLB season is an annual reminder of how little Major League Baseball thinks of African-Americans, and the examples are right in front of us. Of the 81 players selected for last season’s All-Star Game, only five were African-American-born players. Only 7.2 percent of African-American-born players were on Opening Day rosters last season, which was lower than the 7.6 percent from 2021. Last season was also the first time in 63 years the Philadelphia Phillies didn’t have a single African-American player on their Opening Day roster. The World Series between the Phillies and the Houston Astros was the first time since 1950 that the Fall Classic didn’t feature a single U.S.-born Black player. Astros manager Dusty Baker was the only Black face on the field, as he became the third Black manager to ever win it all.
“It is frustrating,’’ CC Sabathia, vice president of The Players Alliance and special assistant to commissioner Rob Manfred, recently told USA Today Sports. “I’m not seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but I am starting to see it dig, and there’s some headway. It’s right there under the surface.’’
The numbers for this season are already in and they’re even worse, as only 6.1 percent of players on Opening-day rosters were Black, according to USA Today Sports — which is the smallest percentage since 1955 when the league was 89.8 percent white. The report goes on to say that five MLB teams don’t have any Black players on their rosters, and nine others only have one.
And if that wasn’t enough evidence for why Utah would be a terrible destination for expansion, let’s not forget what’s taken place at BYU recently, or the fact that former Jazz star Donovan Mitchell publicly spoke about the state’s racist fans and how hard it was to be Black in that state — even as the face of a franchise.
“If I’m being honest with you, I never really said this, but it was draining. It was just draining on my energy just because you can’t sit in your room and cheer for me and then do all these different things,” Mitchell told Marc J. Spears of ESPN’s Andscape. “I’m not saying specifically every fan, but I just feel like it was a lot of things. A [Utah] state senator [Stuart Adams] saying I need to get educated on my own Black history. Seeing Black kids getting bullied because of their skin color. Seeing a little girl [Isabella Tichenor] hang herself because she’s being bullied.”
Over the years, there have been multiple reasons why levels of African-American participation in baseball have fallen off, and MLB has played a big part in that. The sport has become a tough sell to young African-American athletes. Now imagine how much tougher it would be trying to lure Black players to a place like Utah. There’s a reason why the Jazz never make huge splashes during NBA free agency.