New York Mets: Weighing the Possibility of a Six-Man Rotation

New York Mets, Luis Rojas

Depth was the top priority during the New York Mets offseason, and it shows the most with their rotation options. With the new depth, they consider using six starting pitchers with Taijuan Walker joining the rotation.

We know the top three starters are Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, and Marcus Stroman, with Walker as the fourth. David Peterson has the upper hand on Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto going into camp, but all three are fighting for the last rotation spot.

The Mets might look to conserve Peterson’s innings because he only has two seasons over 100 in the minors with a career-high of 128. Around baseball, teams are considering the extra starter because of the shortened 2020 season. Pitchers will get extra rest without making shorter starts, and it lessens the innings jump from last season.

All five Mets starters were healthy in 2020 and are amongst the fittest in the sport. Despite the great physiques, the Mets expect to play deep into October. A long playoff run requires pitchers to log 20-40 high-leverage innings. Pitchers like Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and Max Scherzer saw these innings’ taxing effect the following year. If Lucchesi or Yamamoto pitches well in spring training, the Mets should not be afraid to tack on another starter.

Syndergaard’s Return 

If the Mets have a six-man rotation to being the season, Syndergaard would slide right in and conserve innings for the rest of the rotation. With a five-man rotation, he would tack on and potentially save the Mets from holding Peterson back in September. The one drawback is the one less arm in the bullpen, but a strong rotation solves any bullpen issues.

In October, the Mets would love a rotation of deGrom, Carrasco, Stroman, and Syndergaard. Allowing Syndergaard to save his innings early in the season will allow him to avoid injury and stay fresh for a playoff run.

Despite missing out on an expensive free agent, the Mets finally have starting pitching depth with respectable MLB track records. This accolade alone deserves an A grade for the offseason.

 

MLB Analysis: Will this be the season of few home runs? MLB deadens the ball

In the last few years, MLB has been doing a lot of fiddling with America’s summer pastime. Whether it be new rules, healthy protocols, and yes, the baseball itself. Some of these changes have been caused by the coronavirus, but some seem to be changed for no explainable reason. Of course, we can’t hang all of this on the MLB; the MLBPA (players union) has also had their say, often being confrontational with team’s owners.

Last year during the short season, there was not much talk about the baseball itself. Last season the New York Yankee’s Luke Voit won the home run championship hitting 22 long balls in just 60 games. During 2019 Pete Alonso of the New York Mets was the home run king with 53 homers. That was the year that all the talk was about the “juiced” ball. One of the reasons the discussion gained traction was that no one, including the hitters, was aware of the ball’s change but noticed the increase in home runs.

Now the MLB is changing the ball again, ever so slightly. But if history is any indication ever so slightly can make a significant change in the game. During the last two decades, Major League Baseball has fallen off in popularity quite a bit. Regardless of the team, fans like to see home runs and come to the park to see their favorite player slam that ball over the fence or high up in the bleachers. So why would MLB want to cut down on the number of home runs? Neither MLB nor MLBPA gives fans a voice in changes in baseball.

Multiple sources confirm the ball’s construction will change slightly, and five more teams are adding humidors for ball storage — all parts of MLB’s attempt to reduce the wild recent year-to-year swings in home run rates league-wide. I don’t know about you, but to deaden the ball from 2019 and 2020 to a ball that doesn’t carry as far in 2021 sure seems like a year-to-year swing. Why not just leave it alone?

The Athletic obtained an internal memo Major League Baseball sent Friday to general managers, assistant general managers, and equipment managers outlining minor changes that might combine to reduce offense slightly in the 2021 season. The combined effects might seem imperceptible to fans and perhaps even those on the field, but history suggests minimal changes to the ball’s construction can be a big deal.

“In an effort to center the ball with the specification range for COR and CCOR, Rawlings produced a number of baseballs from late 2019 through early 2020 that loosened the tension of the first wool winding,” the memo from the office of the commissioner reads, explaining that this change had two effects — reducing the weight of the ball by less than one-tenth of an ounce, and also a slight decrease in the bounciness of the ball as measured by the COR and CCOR.

I’m not going to get into the scientific composition of a baseball and how it can be changed and still look the same but responds differently. All you really have to know is that this year’s baseball will be less bouncy. Less bouncy means when a hitter hits a ball that should go over the wall, now it will challenge outfielders to catch that same ball three feet short of that wall.

The new balls’ weight will be reduced by less than 2.8 grams. That might seem like no big deal until you compare this situation to what happened in Korea when the Korean Baseball Organization deadened the ball there. On the field, Korean baseball was drastically different from one year to the next. The KBO actually increased the ball’s weight by one ounce in 2018 and its size by 1 millimeter. The result was dramatically fewer home runs.

Dr. Meredith Wills, who has published pieces about recent changes in the ball’s construction, had this to say:

“Unless a decrease in weight can be offset so as not to make the ball smaller, you might expect drag to go down here, leading to the odd situation of a ball that is deader coming off the bat but carries farther. Without greater precision than 1/10 of an ounce (about 2.8 grams, or almost three times the KBO change), any evidence of an aggregate size change could be difficult to detect without a Statcast-sized sample.”

“It’ll be like adding five feet of outfield walls to every wall in the big leagues,” the analyst said. But it’s hard to know the specifics without knowing what the drag difference will be. The memo mentions nothing about the drag, which has been a a major factor in differences in how the ball has performed in the last few years. Drag is more difficult to control than bounciness, one source said. Others felt the drag difference would be negligible.

Owners and players haven’t said much about the change to deaden the ball, but one general manager said:

“It sounds to me as it will result in more ball consistency and a very, very slight deadening of the ball,” said one general manager, referencing the memo’s language about placing the ball in the middle of the ‘specification range.’ When asked if it seemed baseball was deadening the ball on purpose, one general manager agreed: “That’s the desired result.”

One thing that is for sure is that all teams will be eager to get a hold of these new balls when spring training starts in just a few days. They will want to see how the ball responds to both pitchers and players and figure what adjustments will have to be made, if any.

 

 

New York Mets: Full Non-Roster Invites Announced For Spring Training

New York Mets spring training finally begins on February 17th, and the team has announced their full group of players that will join them in Port St. Lucie. The non-roster invites feature an interesting group of veterans signed this offseason and prospects trying to make a name for themselves.

Starting Pitchers: Matt Allan, Jerad Eickhoff, Harol Gonzalez

The Mets opted for three non-roster starting pitcher invites, and all three are in different stages of their careers. Allan is the Mets top pitching prospect and is coming off an impressive 2020 summer camp. He threw just 6.1 professional innings after the 2019 MLB Draft and will get an opportunity to showcase his stuff in big league camp.

Eickhoff has a 5.07 ERA since 2017 after putting up a 3.44 ERA in his first two seasons. If the Mets need starting pitching help, he will be at the top of their list. Gonzalez is coming off a 3.01 ERA in 2019 between AA and AAA. He has been in the minors since the 2014 season.

Relief Pitchers: Jerry Blevins, Oscar De La Cruz, Ryley Gilliam, Trevor Hildenberger, Tylor Megill, Marcel Renteria, Jared Robinson, Arodys Vizcaino, Tom Windle

Blevins is a former Met who has a good opportunity to take Seth Lugo‘s spot in the bullpen if Justin Wilson does not return. De La Cruz spent his first seven professional seasons with the Cubs, has starting experience but found more success in the bullpen during 2019. Gilliam has a great mid-90s fastball and sharp curveball but struggles with walks (5.0 BB/9). He is ranked 21st in the Mets farm system.

During his 2017 rookie season, Hildenberger pitched 37 games with a 3.21 ERA. The next two years combined resulted in a 6.35 ERA; he does bring a unique look with his sidearm delivers. Megill is another reliever with starting experience in the minors; he had a 3.52 ERA in his first full pro season in 2019. Renteria’s highest level is one game in AA and has a 4.76 ERA over 62 minor league games.

Robinson spent six years with the Cleveland Indians and recorded his highest K/9 (12.5) during 2019. Vizcaino has a 3.01 career ERA, but his health is a major liability to any team willing to take a chance on him. Windle is a left-handed reliever with a 4.13 ERA in seven minor league seasons.

Catchers: Francisco Alvarez, Bruce Maxwell, Nick Meyer, David Rodriguez

Alvarez is just 19-years old but is already the second-best prospect the Mets have. It will be exciting to watch him get his first taste of a big-league spring training at such a young age. Maxwell has only a .347 slugging percentage in 127 career games, but his .524 slugging with 25 homers in Mexico intrigued the Mets to sign him last season.

Meyer is getting his opportunity after spending 2020 with an independent league. He has never played above high-A during his career. Rodriguez did not hit much during his seven minor league seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays but had a terrific winter league season. In 44 games, he slashed .376/.473/.567 with five home runs and 28 runs batted in.

Infielders: Brett Baty, Brandon Drury, Jake Hager, Ronny Mauricio, Jose Peraza, Wilfredo Tovar, Mark Vientos

Baty is the third-ranked prospect with tremendous line to line power but needs to improve his defense at third base. Drury is a veteran utility man with a .248 career average over 456 career games. Hager is an infielder who has shown flashes of power with 23 homers during the 2018-19 seasons.

Mauricio is the top prospect in the Mets farm system and should have less pressure with Andres Gimenez on the Indians. Peraza is another utility infielder but only hit .225 in 34 games with the Boston Red Sox during 2020.

Tovar is a former Met with a solid glove but has never hit at the big league level. Vientos is a third baseman and the seventh-ranked prospect for the Mets. He has great power but needs to become a complete hitter before moving on to the next level.

Outfielders: Pete Crow-Armstrong, Johneshwy Fargas, Drew Ferguson, Mallex Smith, Tim Tebow

Crow-Armstrong is the most promising outfield Mets prospect since…Jarred Kelenic. This will be his first professional baseball experience and will be a tall task for a player coming straight out of high school. Fargas is full of speed and pure athletic ability but has never figured it out with the bat. During his minor league career, he has 235 stolen bases but slashes at .255/.331/.342.

Ferguson never hit much as a minor leaguer with the Houston Astros but made great strides in 2019. During 115 games in triple-A, he batted .281 with 65 walks, 11 homers, and 27 stolen bases. Smith is another speedster with two 40-steal seasons under his belt but does not hit for any power. Tebow is going to give it another try after hitting .163 during the 2019 triple-A season. This might be the last chance for his baseball career.

New York Mets: Ali Sanchez Traded to the St. Louis Cardinals

Ali Sanchez quickly found a new home after the New York Mets designated him for assignment on Thursday. The Mets shipped Sanchez to the St. Louis Cardinals for cash considerations. Yadier Molina is on top of the depth chart, but Sanchez will battle Ivan Herrera and Andrew Knizner for the backup role.

Sanchez joined the organization as a 16-year old international free agent in 2013. He is known for his defensive presence but does not provide any offensive production. Injuries to Rene Rivera and Tomas Nido forced Sanchez to the big leagues in 2020 after six years in the minors.

Sanchez struggled on both sides of the ball in his five big league games. He recorded one hit in nine at-bats and was part of numerous defensive lapses. One of them resulted in Jon Berti stealing three bases in one inning. Sanchez has thrown out 46% of stolen base attempts in the minors but was 0-for-3 with two wild pitches and a passed ball last season.

James McCann, Tomas Nido, and Patrick Mazeika are the only catchers on the Mets 40-man roster. Bruce Maxwell and David Rodriguez are non-roster invites who will also join them in spring training.

New York Mets: FOCO’s New Tom Seaver Framed Showcase Bobblehead

FOCO is releasing a new limited edition Tom Seaver New York Mets Framed Showcase Bobblehead as another way for fans to immortalize a legend. The bobblehead features Seaver’s trademark leg lift and his retired jersey behind him.

Last August, Seaver passed away due to complications of COVID-19 and Lewy body dementia. He was a Hall of Famer who won three Cy Young awards, was selected to 12 All-Star games, and helped lead the Mets to a 1969 World Series Championship. The greatest Met of all-time also won 311 games with a 2.86 ERA in 20 magnificent seasons.

The “Tom Terrific” bobblehead is a limited edition with only 241 available. Be sure to get your unique bobblehead of a Mets legend before they run out!

 

New York Yankees: Yankees will adjust to new MLB health protocols

New York Yankees

The New York Yankees and the other 29 teams will be subject to new stricter rules for 2021. MLB has released new health protocols (operation manual) for spring training just a week away. These measures have been agreed upon by both the teams and the players. By players, I mean the MLBPA (players union). Last year you saw manager Aaron Boone wear a gaiter last season along with other managers and staff. A gaiter is a scarf-like cloth worn around the neck and can be pulled up over the mouth and nose. That type of mask is outlawed under the new protocol. Boone this season will wear a regular mask as outlined in the protocol.

“Neither gaiters nor masks with exhalation valves meet the definition of a face covering for purposes of the requirements in this Operations Manual,” the document reads. “Gaiters may continue to be worn on the field by players.”

The team will also play differently in spring training. The units located on the west coast of Florida will only play teams located there, and the west coast teams will play only teams on that coast. That means teams will be playing more games with fewer teams. For the Yankees, it means they will only be playing exhibition games between them and the Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are all located from St. Petersburg south to Fort Myers, as noted by MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch.

If it remains in place, the plan is to promote more safety by eliminating overnight stays and long bus rides where players and staff are jammed into buses. As it is, many veteran players use their own cars anyway.

Major League Baseball’s 2021 Operations Manual, collectively bargained with the MLB Players Association, will have many of the same rules as in the 60 game shortened season in 2020. However, there will be no universal DH in baseball. The rules adopted by both sides will be the seven-inning doubleheaders, the runner on the second base after nine innings, a 26th roster spot, and no spitting. Anyone watching baseball knows that the no spitting rule wasn’t really followed or enforces. This year the agreement will feature several new regulations, including the exclusion of gaiters as an acceptable face covering for non-players in uniform. Below are some of the latest wrinkles in the agreement. Each team will have an enforcement officer who will have their hands full enforcing these rules.

  • After hitters complained last year about the lack of in-game video, they will receive access to that through MLB-issued iPads “in a format that cannot be used to steal the catcher’s signs” via selective editing and/or pixelating. Don’t even think about it, Astros or Red Sox.
  • Players, managers, and staff (designated as “Covered Individuals”) who test positive for the coronavirus must isolate for at least 10 days. A Covered Individual identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID must quarantine for seven days and must test negative on the fifth day or later to be cleared. Last year’s agreement didn’t feature a specific amount of days, instead of relying on two negative tests to be allowed back. To enhance contact tracing, all Covered Individuals will wear Kinexon devices while on team property or traveling with the team.
  • Stricter rules are in place, as per a league-wide “Code of Conduct,” to govern the movement of players, managers, and coaches (qualified as “Covered Individuals”) outside the ballpark. They can’t attend indoor gatherings of 10 or more people; eat at indoor restaurants, bars, lounges, or go to fitness or wellness centers, entertainment venues, or casinos. During spring training, Covered Individuals and their households must quarantine at their homes with the exceptions of outdoor dining, individual outdoor physical activities, and a doctor’s visit as well as going to work. Those who violate the Code of Conduct will be subject to pay forfeiture for the days they are in quarantine due to their forbidden actions.
  • Each club must appoint at least one “Facemask Enforcement Officer” whose job will be to ensure everyone is wearing a mask when required (all times at the ballpark besides playing in the game). A third violation and every subsequent one of this rule will result in a $150 fine, sent to a charity mutually agreed upon by MLB and the MLBPA.
  • For exhibition games held between Feb. 27 and March 13, the defensive manager may call an inning “complete” before the third out if his pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches. Also, in this time frame, games can be shortened to as few as five innings if both managers consent. Starting on March 14, games can be downsized to as little as seven innings.
  • There will be no overnight trips for teams during spring training. Most Florida-based clubs typically do at least one of these a spring. For road games, players will be encouraged to drive their own cars (a choice most veterans typically make anyway) to avoid crowding on a bus.
  • On March 17 (15 days before Opening Day, as the schedule currently stands), commissioner Rob Manfred will determine whether the Triple-A level of minor league ball will begin in concert with the major leagues. If Manfred declares that Triple-A ball won’t start on time, then the “Alternate Site” model from last year will resume. Either way, each team will designate an alternate site to be ready for usage.
  • Mental health resources will be provided to players and staff.

New York Mets: No Universal DH in Agreed Health and Safety Protocols

The New York Mets desperately needed the universal designated hitter for the 2021 season but will not get their wish. Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed on health and safety protocols for 2021, including 7-inning doubleheaders and a runner starting on second during extra innings.

MLB did not want the universal DH and felt it was not important towards COVID-19 safety like the other rule changes. For the Union to get the DH, they have to agree on an expanded postseason. Ironically, playing extra innings is a health risk but asking players to add more games to the postseason is perfectly fine. This ongoing chess match between Rob Manfred and Tony Clark is a competition between two people in well over their heads.

Will The Rules Stay?

Anyone against the extra-inning or doubleheader changes can hope they do not remain past 2021. It will not be easy to agree upon a new collective bargaining agreement before 2022. The future Zoom meeting will feature arguments on these topics, along with much more. There is good reason to assume the two controversial rules are just for the pandemic. The universal DH is a higher priority to the Union than playing fewer doubleheader innings or shortening extra-inning games.

The Mets suffer the most without the universal DH as they are stuck with Brandon Nimmo’s defense in center field. Unless Nimmo is traded before spring training, Jackie Bradley Jr. is off their radar. In a perfect world, Bradley plays center, Nimmo in left, Dominic Smith plays first, and Pete Alonso becomes the DH.

Signing Albert Almora Jr. meant the Mets saw this as the likely outcome. Bradley would be an expensive fourth outfielder with a multi-year deal. Almora gives the Mets flexibility, a bat for left-handed pitching, and a defensive replacement.

Since each position is at least two players deep, the Mets seem finished with adding position players through free agency. They may add a free agent pitcher (Jake Arrieta/Rich Hill), but their next position player move is likely through trade.

MLB reportedly finalizing revised Grapefruit League schedule, placing teams in separate “pods”

There are only nine days left until pitchers and catchers report to start warming up those arms in preparation for the 2021 MLB spring training. After the delayed start last season due to COVID-19 and an ugly spat between the league and the players’ union, the expectation this time is that spring training goes as planned, with enhanced safety protocols.

As it turns out, and as several reporters explained on Monday morning, MLB is in the process of finalizing a revised Grapefruit League schedule. The intention of this is to minimize the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak as much as possible.

Teams will be placed in separate pods on East and West coasts of Florida, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

The West coast teams in Florida will play 28 games, while the East coast teams in the state will play 24 games and four additional intrasquad matchups to make up for the missing four games.

MLB is trying to start with the right foot

If the MLB revised spring training schedule ends up happening, the New York Yankees would play lots of games against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Detroit Tigers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and other East coast teams, as Bryan Hoch explains.

MLB owners recently approached the MLB players association with a plan to play 154 games and a delayed start of the season (in late April) but the union turned it down, even though it included pay for the whole 162 games.

After the players rejected the proposal, MLB released a statement that confirmed the season is going to start as originally planned.

“We are moving forward and instructing our Clubs to report for an on-time start to Spring Training and the Championship Season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols,” the statement read.

Will MLB achieve its objective of completing the 2021 season without any complications due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

New York Mets: Jackie Bradley Jr. Still Remains as an Option

When the New York Mets signed Albert Almora Jr., many thought they were done adding outfielders to their roster this offseason. Jackie Bradley Jr. is still a viable option despite the designated hitter looming as baseball’s million-dollar question.

If Bradley is still on the market when/if the DH comes to the NL, the Mets should focus on signing him immediately. Bradley becomes an impossible signing without a DH because there will be too many players for three outfield spots.

MLB says the 2021 season will not have a universal DH, but the players union wants it. Pitchers are getting paid unprecedented amounts of money, and front offices need them protected at all costs. The union and MLB are at an impasse because the players do not want to trade an expanded postseason to get the universal DH.

Get The DH

The Mets would benefit from a universal DH more than any other team in the NL. It automatically improves their offense, but it makes their defense a strength for the first time in years. Bradley is not an offensive star, but his center field defense is stronger than anything else he could provide for the Mets.

The Mets signed Almora to be their fourth outfielder and play against left-handed pitching. Signing Almora to his deal leaves the Mets with more options to upgrade either third base or get another starter. Their next big move seems like a trade more than a free agent signing. With Kris Bryant consistently rumored to be traded at any point, he looks like a strong candidate for the Mets to bring in.

MLB: Celebrating black history month and the Negro Leagues, black players then and now

All around MLB, as in the rest of America, Black History Month is being celebrated if you are a baseball fan. You can’t think about black history without thinking about The Negro Leagues and the great players who played during those days. I remember discovering when I was much younger that there was a Negro league and there were famous players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and Gus Greenlee.  During the Golden Age of black ball 1920-1950), the Negro leagues had as many as seven leagues that primarily hired black players and, to a lesser degree, Latins.

Those leagues deteriorated little by little for three reasons.  First, World War II took a disproportionate number of young blacks out of baseball, leaving mostly older players.  Lack of fans in the stands and the eventual integration of black players like Jackie Robinson into the major leagues. Black owners also found out that selling their best players to the majors was financially lucrative, so for these and other reasons, the Negro Leagues disappeared into oblivion.

But in celebration of Black History Month, let’s take a look at the records of some of these baseball greats:

Satchel Paige:

Leroy Robert Paige pitched in the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues in a baseball career that spanned 50 years. He passed away in 1982 at the age of 76. From 1924 to 1926, he played semi-pro ball for the Mobile Tigers. He began his professional career in 1926 with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts of the Southern League. He made a name for himself, being a right-hand pitcher that was like no other. Paige would sometimes have his infielders sit down behind him and then routinely strike out the side.

His big day came in 1948 when at the age of 42, he made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians. He was the very first black pitcher in the American League. He played for the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, and the Kansas City Athletics during his career. In his six years in the majors, he had a record of 28-31 and a very respectable ERA of 3.29. His record may have been better if he was just a starter, but he started games for all his teams, came in in relief, and closed games. He pitched right up to the age of 48, something that is unheard of today. In 1971 Satchel Paige was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Josh Gibson:

Unlike Satchel Paige, Gibson never played in the Major Leagues, but in the Negro Leagues, he was as famous as any player during his time. He was an excellent catcher, but he was mostly known for his ability to hit home runs, lots of them. He is said to have hit 800 home runs in his career. He never could enter the Majors because there was a gentleman’s agreement that would not allow blacks in the major leagues during the time he played.

During his playing career, he played for the Azules de Veracruz of the Mexican League, but 13 of his 15 years was with the National Negro League playing for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. With his play, he was often referred to as the “Black Babe Ruth,” some referred to Babe Ruth as the “White Josh Gibson.” Gibson died early in life at just 35 from a Brain tumor and stroke. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. His plaque reads: “Considered the greatest slugger in the National Negro Leagues.”

Oscar Charleston:

An intense focused, and intelligent man, Charleston was among the most renowned players of his time, tremendous power and contact hitter, and one of the finest defensive center fielders of all-time. His career batting average was .348, and he regularly finished among league leaders in both home runs and stolen bases. He was also known for his combative nature, getting into many brawls, including at least one memorable fight with an array of Cuban soldiers.

In 1932, Charleston became player-manager of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and presided over what some baseball historians consider the best Negro League team ever. His roster included Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Judy Johnson. The team went 99-36, and Charleston himself batted .363. A powerful hitter, Oscar won at least four batting titles and several home-run crowns. He is among the top five Negro Leaguers in batting average (.339) and home runs and the all-time leader in stolen bases. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.

Presently there are 35 players from the Negro Leagues that are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When integration in  MLB started, it was slow as teams like the New York Yankees looked for black talent acceptable to fans, players like Elston Howard, who was nice, quiet, and a gentleman. It gained him complete acceptance from every Yankee.  That’s because he was black, yes, but white-like.  Many black players had to stay in different hotels than the white players, but the Yankees, upon hiring Howard, would only use hotels that allowed blacks.

Because Howard was fully accepted, he would go on to play twelve seasons with the Yankees. He was an All-Star 12 times, a Gold Glove Award winner twice, an MVP nominee five times, winning the MVP award. On August 3rd, 1967, Elston was traded to the Red Sox. He played a year and a half with the Sox before retiring. But before retiring, he would get to play his last World Series in his home town St. Louis. However, the Cards would beat the Sox. Howard retired quite wealthy for a black player as he had loads of endorsements later in his career.

With the acceptance of MLB black players, their numbers grew steadily from the 50s to the 80s. Still, something happened, and their numbers declined to the point that there are practically no black players in the Major Leagues (62), while the Latinos took their place to the point there are as many Latinos as whites in the game.  There are two significant reasons for this.  South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean area have cultures that foster sports.

Why so few Blacks in American baseball? One of the factors appears to be the overall decline in youth playing baseball. In 2002, nine million kids between the ages of 7 and 17 played baseball, as reported in a 2015 Wall Street Journal article citing National Sporting Goods Association figures. That figure had declined by 41% by 2013. With participation in decline, youth leagues and teams have been forced to shut down or merge, restricting access for poorer youths, making the sport whiter and more affluent.  Another reason is that inner-city kids, mostly black, have no place to nurture their talents.

When you look at different MLB teams, the lack of black players is alarming.  The Oakland Athletics have the most with four.  With the retirement of CC Sabathia and the exit of Cameron Maybin, the New York Yankees now only have one, Aaron Hicks, and the multi-cultural Aaron Judge.  The Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres have no black players, while the remaining teams have one or two.  CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, and some other black players are working to change this by enhancing the ability for inner-city kids to play ball by providing fields and equipment.

Baseball as a whole does not encourage players to take political stands or deal with controversial subjects that are more accepted in other sports.  For example, many football players took a knee to show solidarity with those reacting to social injustice.  Only one MLB player took a knee (Oakland’s Bruce Maxwell), and he is no longer in baseball.  Baseball is only focused on winning, and discourse is generally not accepted, making it difficult for black players to speak out on the present national protests over injustices blacks suffer at the hands of police.  You would expect outrage by black players over the recent deaths of unarmed black men, but it just doesn’t happen for the most part.

Ken Rosenthal and Doug Glanville of the Athletic recently have had conversations with retired players. The latter are freer to express their feelings without the fear of rejection or retaliation for their families. Even the most prominent African American baseball stars rarely speak out on sensitive matters during their playing careers. The sport’s culture discourages individuality in any form, and a player who publicly addresses racism often faces a backlash.

Adam Jones was the Orioles’ 2016 Roberto Clemente Award nominee, a five-time All-Star, and four-time Gold Glove, winner. The award recognizes a player “who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy, and positive contributions, both on and off the field,” according to Major League Baseball. Regardless when Jones spoke out against racial injustice in 2017, he was subjected to having peanuts thrown at him and being called the “N” word throughout a game at Fenway Park in Boston.

“I just go out and play baseball,” Jones said. “It’s unfortunate that people need to resort to those type of epithets to degrade another human being. I’m trying to make a living for myself and for my family.”

Once out of the spotlight, former MLB players are more inclined to speak out against injustice, as the Athletic reporters found out.  The Zoom conversations included:

Glanville, a nine-year major-league veteran who works for various media outlets in addition to The Athletic and serves both on the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) and Connecticut State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Jimmy Rollins, a three-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, and former National League MVP who now works as a studio analyst for TBS and broadcaster for the Phillies.

Ryan Howard, a three-time All-Star and former NL MVP and Rookie of the Year who spent last season as a studio analyst for ESPN before leaving to focus on his business endeavors, including his sports investment firm, SeventySix Capital.

Dontrelle Willis, a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year, works as a studio analyst for Fox Sports.

Torii Hunter, a five-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner who works as a special assistant to baseball operations for the Twins.

LaTroy Hawkins, a 21-year major leaguer who works as a special assistant to baseball operations for the Twins.

This is dramatically edited and with only summaries of some of the comments here.  If you want the whole discussion, go here.

Jimmy Rollins started by saying:

“Obviously, we’ve all been there. It’s just the culture of baseball. It’s not a clubhouse or a home where you’re actually very comfortable walking in saying those things or bringing up those things outside of your little group, three or four guys you can talk about it within the clubhouse or on the field during stretching. It really doesn’t leave that group.”

“As a player, you’re always trying to keep that clubhouse even-keeled and focused on the game. But there are plenty of times you’re going out there with something else on your mind. And having a couple of guys on the team is always good so that you can bounce that off them, so you don’t have to let it explode throughout the clubhouse if somebody does something that rubs you the wrong way.”

Dontrelle Willis added: I agree with you, J-Roll. For me, Jackie Robinson definitely set the tone as far as how to behave through racial adversity. One, because you don’t want to ruin the situation for the next person, for your kids. You don’t want to ruin the chance for someone to play at the highest level.

We’re always taught as a culture to be the bigger person. Have class. Understand the situation, not just for yourself. I always tried to be the bigger person, be a captain, be a leader. But now as I have children growing up and have seen all these things, I have more of a responsibility to myself and to my family to really teach them what’s going on in the real world, so they can have the tools and strength to live the best life they can.

As I said, this is just a smidge of the comments, but all the MLB players interviewed in the Zoom conversation echoed the same feelings.  White players don’t have to deal with this, whereas blacks deal with fear to some degree on the field and in their everyday life, just walking down the street. Until our culture changes and realizes we are all humans, maybe of different colors and from various societies, but all the same, with the same needs of acceptance, little will change.

I have seen a great change in my lifetime, but for those that have their air cut off by a kneeling knee, that change is not fast enough.  We need leaders that will tackle the big problems and stop injustice due to differences in skin color.  We can no longer turn a blind eye to racism in America.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.  Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.