The Quest to Diversify Baseball

By Cyrus Sarfaty

Baseball is one of the most popular sports in North America and countless other
regions of the world. Its rich history and deeply-engaged statistical community are
among the many pulls. Despite this wide appeal, it’s still one of the least diverse sports,
in terms of both race and gender equality, and is swiftly losing popularity. Everyone
should be able to play and enjoy the sport.

Throughout history, there’ve been countless barriers hindering complete diversity, like
the sixty-year-long colour barrier and the sexism and harassment in front offices just to
name a few. Just 42.5% of players today are people of colour, compared to 70% in
football and 81% in basketball. And in the front office, racial diversity is even lower.
Throughout Major League Baseball, the general manager and team CEO positions,
which help determine which players will play for each team, are 87% and 100% white
and male, respectively. Obviously, this is unacceptable, but there’s no real change being
brought upon the league. This all prevents the sport from reaching a new, important
level of outreach and popularity.

Baseball could appeal to a much wider audience and provide a magical opportunity for
countless athletes and fans to find enjoyment. This has been proven in several
instances, like this past season when the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani blossomed into an
unheard-of superstar, posting ridiculous numbers as both a hitter and a pitcher. Besides
winning the AL MVP award, he blazed even fiercer trails, being named the AP Athlete of
the Year and even one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. His 2021 season was
named the best individual season in sports history by Sporting News. But his popularity
didn’t end in America. In his home country of Japan, he was given the People’s Honour
Award, the country’s national honour, to reflect the incredible fandom he cultivated
there. Every Angels game was broadcasted overseas in front of a very large audience,
helping to bring back the MLB appreciation and passion that was lost after the
retirement of Ichiro Suzuki, another Japanese great.

There are many ways the general lack of diversity can be improved. Although today’s
mark of 42.5% players of colour is an all-time high, with more and more players coming
from less-represented backgrounds, like Japan, Korea, and even Curaçao, the front
office situation lags far behind. Although in December 2020, the Miami Marlins hired
Kim Ng as their general manager, making her the first ever female GM in North American sports history, there are many other qualified women waiting in the wings for
their opportunity. And last season, after years of political apathy, MLB moved the
location of the all-star game from Atlanta to Denver to protest Georgia’s voter
suppression laws.

Still though, as diversity becomes more of a priority around the world, this mark is way
too low. This could be improved through several methods, many of which are
already being implemented, like starting clinics and mentorship programs in
underserved neighbourhoods, positioning scouts in lesser-served areas, and creating
hiring initiatives that can broaden the diversity of front offices and staff. Baseball has proved this is possible, starting from Jackie Robinson’s integration all the way back in 1947.

So in order for baseball to truly appeal to everyone and be able to finally restore its
historical fame, greater diversity, must be put into action.