Six percent of MLB players are Black. How baseball got here isn’t hard to figure out.

As Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day the current percentage of its rosters that features Black players creeps closer to the same figure when Jackie broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947.

On MLB’s Opening Day in 2024, six percent of the players on its 30 rosters are Black; 57 men. One fewer than Venezuela.

That figure exists despite the best of intentions, programs and millions of dollars spent by MLB to lure young people to play the game in its attempt to find another Willie Stargell, Eric Davis, Tony Gwynn, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson or Mookie Betts.

Some of this figure is influenced by the influx of players coming over from Japan, and Latin countries. The top professional sports leagues in North America are awash in international players. Most of this figure, however, is influenced by the realities that potential Black players face in the U.S.

MLB feeling the impact of America’s youth baseball machine

Sitting in the coaches’ locker room at Fort Worth’s Wyatt high school, baseball coach Quinlin D. Germany will tell you how MLB got to “six percent.” He’s lived it, and he tries to coach “through” it.

“When I was a kid growing up here we had a little league baseball that played on Friday and Saturday nights, and it was packed. Games all the time, families everywhere,” he said. “Now, those fields are for 7-on-7 football. You can play football year-round now. They don’t play baseball on those fields any more.”

That’s not on MLB. Neither is the next part.

“Baseball has become a sport of affluence,” he said. “It’s $500 for a bat. It’s $200 for a uniform; $150 for a glove. On and on. That’s just at the grass roots level.”

Playing on a “select” or “travel” baseball team can cost $3,500 for player. That doesn’t include the costs for tournaments, and other fees that are standard all over youth sports. The “system” has priced out a sector of America’s population.

Years ago MLB introduced its Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program to bring the game back to lower-income areas. It has helped produce some top tier players.

“Once you get to a certain level, it’s not good enough,” Germany said. “I don’t want to say it’s a waste of time, but if you’re an RBI team playing against one of these select teams, it’s not close.”

It’s around this time the young player is vulnerable to quit baseball in favor of football, basketball. Or, worse, nothing. The young player doesn’t need to play on the undefeated team, but a great way to crush their interest is to play a game they know they have no chance of winning.

The myth that Black kids don’t want to play baseball

Wyatt’s roster has 15 players, five of whom are Black, including sophomore catcher Jorvorskie Lane Jr. His father played football at Texas A&M, but Jr. is not quite built like his dad.

Jr. plays basketball and football, and looks like he could figure skate, hurdle, cycle, surf, box, kick box, fence, or anything else. He wants to play baseball.

“Less injuries, one,” he said, standing in the dugout during a Wyatt practice. “Guaranteed money. I think everybody who wants to play football over baseball thinks there is more money in it. It’s not.”

He’s right. He is also one of the few whose chances of making money as a professional baseball player are that considering cash as the reason to play one over the other applies. Lane Jr. is regarded as one of the best players in his class, has committed to play at Texas A&M, and has an improving chance to be a first round MLB draft selection.

Lane Jr. is one of those players, and this is not specific to just youth baseball, who is good enough that the expensive travel and select teams will make room for him on a roster. If the player is elite in basketball, baseball, soccer, etc., the costs are covered.

Most young players aren’t Jorvorskie Lane Jr. The majority are like his teammates; nice, young kids who like baseball.

Wyatt senior Jaylon Cotton started playing baseball when he was 6, when his dad introduced him to the game by playing catch, or having him hit. It’s easy to forget just how much fun it is to try to hit a baseball.

The five Black players from Wyatt all said that they like playing baseball more than watching baseball. That statement has been common among young players for decades.

“To be honest with you, I love playing,” said Cotton, who has drawn interest from Hill College and Texas Wesleyan.

That’s what MLB needs.

MLB’s solution is to enter youth baseball

There is something fundamentally flawed when impoverished nations such as Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin countries can make baseball affordable for kids who want to play, and America blew it.

“This is a problem because you want to see young guys like this to be able to watch the game and see proper representation,” Germany said. “It’s important to see that.”

When asked to pick their favorite current MLB stars, all five of the Wyatt kids named a Black player among others.

The people at MLB know this. Other than RBI, MLB now offers other programs, and leagues, that make the game affordable; but you’ve got to look.

In an effort to find players in lower income neighborhoods, MLB sponsors a pro-style camp that stops at cities all over the U.S. The hope is to find the player a year or two before they enter high school.

In the last decade these initiatives to introduce the game to lower-income areas looks like it might be paying off. In the 2022 MLB entry draft, four of the first five players selected were Black. A first. In the ‘23 MLB Draft, 10 of the top 50 selections were Black.

These are all encouraging numbers for a league that was the first to break America’s pro sports color barrier when Jackie Robinson was called up by the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1947.

It’s 2024, and that six percent of all MLB players is Black seems a little low. Because it is.

There are talented Black American players who want to play baseball, and MLB must spend its own money to keep them there.