There is a trend in sports that “black” is a lesser color in baseball. This is a trend that is a misconception, to say the very least. In the current cultural landscape of major sports, baseball takes a big backseat to basketball and football. From the sports played growing up, to what is the dominant viewed ones, Major League Baseball is far behind the NBA and NFL is cultural relevance. In comparison to LeBron James, Adrian Peterson, Kobe Bryant and Randy Moss, the preeminent African-American baseball players are far behind them in the eye of the black community.

However, there is a much wider span of participation of Blacks in Baseball currently. There are 56 African-American

Since Bonds and Griffey stepped down, many others have filled their roles.

players on active MLB rosters currently and 27 of the 30 teams have representation, with the Los Angeles Dodgers being tops with four African-American players currently. This is leads to many of the exceptional baseball players of color having a far lesser impact on the youth, and currently the participation of African-Americans in the MLB is at an all-time low, however there are a number of great examples of the legacy of African-Americans in baseball currently.

Historically, since the ground breaking movement of Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the first African-American in Major League Baseball, every generation’s greats have consisted of multiple players of color in among the greats of the period. Before this leap was made possible, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston, among many others, dominated the Negro Leagues and baseball was the top sport amongst African-Americans in the U.S. Unfortunately, many of these players never got to showcase their talents on a completely level professional playing field. From Robinson in the 40’s to Willie Mays and Ernie Banks in the 50’s, the color barrier was shattered. Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson were dominant in the 1960’s and 70’s. Reggie Jackson and Joe Morgan were fixtures throughout the 1970’s as well. In the 80’s and 90’s Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr were the greatest players of the era. Historically, blacks have In the current incarnation of the game that is no exception to that.

Hank Aaron (left) and Willie Mays created great legacies of blacks in the Major League

With the 81st MLB All-Star game taking place tonight, it is a fine time to observe the current leg of African-American greats in the sport. Here are the Top 15 African-American players in the game now and many reasons to tune into the game to support the history and legacy of the game as it is continued in African-American culture.

15. Andrew McCutchen-Center fielder-Pittsburgh Pirates: McCutchen is a fast rising young outfielder for Pittsburgh Pirates. In his first season he had one game of three home runs and his first two Major League seasons has accumulated 20 stolen bases in each season. Named Baseball America National League Rookie of the Year in 2009. Widely considered the best player on the Pirates, despite having not played 200 games yet and being only 23 years old.

14. Vernon Wells-Center fielder-Toronto Blue Jays: When he has been healthy, which has been a year to year battle, Wells is one of the most productive players in all of baseball. He has been a mainstay with the Blue Jays and has become a 3-time Gold Glove Award winner for his defensive excellence, as well as a 3-time All-Star selection. He has totals of over 300 doubles and 200 home runs in his 12 year career.

13. Curtis Granderson-Center fielder-New York Yankees: One of the most well-rounded players in the game, “CJ” Granderson was traded from the Detroit Tigers in the winter of 2009 to the Yankees for Austin Jackson, another young rising African-American center fielder. Granderson led the American League in triples in 2007 with 23 and became the first player since 1949 to achieve that many in one season. He also became only the third player ever to accumulate 20 home runs, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in one season in 2007.

Black players such as CC Sabathia and Granderson join in with Alex Rodriguez and anchor the Yankees, baseball best team.

12. Matt Kemp-Center fielder-Los Angeles Dodgers: One of the most gifted overall players in baseball, there’s nowhere that Kemp doesn’t make an impact. While he may be more famous in public circles as Rihanna’s boyfriend, in baseball Kemp is known as the most well-rounded player on a Dodgers team full of them. In 2009, he won a Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence in the outfield, and a Silver Slugger Award as one of the premier hitters at his position. A legit threat to be a yearly member of the 30 home run/30 stolen base club, one of the most exclusive groups in baseball.

11. Derrek Lee-First baseman-Chicago Cubs: One of the most consistent players in baseball over the last 10 years, Lee has over 300 home runs and a World Series title in his 13 year career. He has always been a great defender at first base and moves very well for 6’5, 245 pound player. His 2005 season was one of the best of the decade, finishing with a .335 batting average and 45 home runs. His contributions don’t end on the field, as he has raised over $1 million thru “Project 3000″, which serves research towards Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a genetic vision disease.

10. Grady Sizemore-Center fielder-Cleveland Indians: Once noted for his incredible durability, playing in 382 consecutive games, Sizemore has been unable to showcase his tremendous talents in full over the last few years due to multiple elbow and knee injuries. However, when healthy, he is among the premier talents baseball has seen in many years. Although only 27 years old, he is a 3-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner. Finished with totals of at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases every year from 2005 to 2008.

When he's healthy, Sizemore is one of baseball's elite talents.

9. Jason Heyward-Right fielder-Atlanta Braves: The sky is the limit for this 20-year-old Brave. Although he has played only one half of his rookie season, he has been voted to start the 2010 All-Star game and may have the most power of any outfielder in the game already. He has been compared to Daryl Strawberry in his prime and even the great Hank Aaron has said he will be one of the greats of the game. He has huge potential and could be the best power hitter of the next 10 to 15 years.

8. Prince Fielder-First baseman-Milwaukee Brewers: Speaking of great power hitters, it’s in this guy’s genes. Son of former Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder, who once hit 51 home runs himself, Prince has made his own niche as one of the great power hitters of the game. At 26 years old, he has already had a 50 homer season himself and has led the National League in runs batted in as well. He has teamed with Ryan Braun to give the Brewers arguably the best duo of hitters in all of baseball over the last 4 years.

7. David Price-Pitcher-Tampa Bay Rays: Taken as the #1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, Price has given the Rays everything they could have asked for in his young career. After joining the Rays as an impact reliever in their push to the 2008 World Series, he has made the transition to All-Star starting pitcher in 2010 and currently leads the American League in wins and earned run average (ERA). The scary part is at 24 years old, he hasn’t touched his potential yet.

6. Jimmy Rollins-Shortstop-Philadelphia Phillies: A quick, disruptive base runner, Rollins is one of the most dangerous overall players in baseball. He has led the National League in triples four times and stolen 40 bases four times as well. In recent years he has become a power threat, hitting 30 home runs in 2007, on his way to the NL MVP. He has led the Phillies to a World Series title in 2008 and become a 3-time All-Star.

5. Torii Hunter-Center fielder-Los Angeles Angels: In center field there have been many great defenders, all the way from Mays to Griffey, but  Hunter doesn’t take a backseat to any of them. He has won 9 consecutive Gold Gloves in recognition of this. Since 2008, he has committed only 2 errors in over 350 games. No slouch at bat either, he has launched 250 home runs as well for the Angels and Minnesota Twins.

4. Carl Crawford-Left fielder-Tampa Bay Rays: Crawford is the most feared player on the bases in baseball. Considered the fastest player in baseball for many years, he has led the American League in stolen bases four times with 50 plus steals, and stole another 60 in 2009, yet didn’t lead the league with his career best total. In 2009, he was the All-Star Game MVP and tied a Major League record with six steals in one game. He was a tremendous overall amateur athlete as well, with offers to play guard for UCLA and quarterback for Nebraska, USC, Oklahoma and Florida in college.

3. Ryan Howard-First baseman-Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies recently inked Howard to a contract that lands him $25 million per year, and he’s earned every penny of it. He has done everything possible to be done in his career thus far, winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and following it a league leading 58 home run, 149 RBI 2006 season, that landed him the NL MVP award. Since then he has not slowed, leading the NL in home runs again in 2008 and RBI again in 08, 09 and currently in 2010. A 2008 World Series win sealed him as one of the biggest impact players in the game.

Ryan Howard (left) and Jimmy Rollins won back to back MVP's for the Phillies in '06 & '07

2. CC Sabathia-Pitcher-New York Yankees: Listed at 6’7 and a generous 290 pounds, he is one of the biggest figures in the game . The big lefty has dominated at every stop in his career. After winning the AL Cy Young Award as its top pitcher in 2007 as a Cleveland Indian, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 and was virtually untouchable in his short stop in the NL, leading the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Moving on too the Yankees for 2009, he lead the AL in wins and brought the Yankees their 27th World Series. He has also been on the front lines of expanding the MLB’s efforts into spreading Little League Baseball into urban areas to increase African-American participation in baseball again.

1. Derek Jeter-Shortstop-New York Yankees: Greatness is the easiest word used to define Derek Jeter’s career.

The Yankee captain is one of the greats of all time.

The all-time leader in hits for the sport’s greatest team, a 5-time World Champion, 11-time All-Star and the most recognizable face in the game, there is nothing that Jeter hasn’t done. As the undisputed captain of the defending World Champions, Jeter is starting yet another All-Star Game in 2010. Although he is one of the greatest shortstops ever, his leadership is what sets him apart from the pack. He has only missed the playoffs once in his 16 year career, sports a .309 batting average in the postseason and has a major league record 175 postseason hits. He simply is one of the best of any generation and has been the brightest star for years on a lineup that constantly looks like the solar system.

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Comments
  1. Terrell Whitener says:

    It is always interesting seeing your rankings of players. As a person that has been attending MLB games since 1965 (scary but true) I agree with your article. However we also have to take a step back and look at the “sifting” of African-American talent that has been prevalent for years. That is recruiting and scouting of African-America palyers by scouts and colleges. Since baseball is now a multi-million dollar opportunity, we have for years seen the bias factor be a part of opportuities for African-American youth. There are very few scouts that will give a youth with “potential” an opporutjity to develop. they have to dominate to participate. If you think I am off base, check to see if Robert Pereson, bernard Gilkey or Ryan Howard were Post Dispatch All-Metro picks. I think you may be surprised by what you find. But keep your heads up the revitalization of the RBI programs and former players like Delino Deshields may change this tide over time.

  2. Oates says:

    The overall thesis of this article is why I look forward to coaching baseball in the near future. I want to take an inner city team & train them up in the right way. In my experiences in coaching & umpiring, it seems to be that the inner city teams are not coached up the right way & they only try to imitate things they see on SportsCenter w/ no real idea about why those things happen (chiefly, getting hit by a pitch & charging the mound).

    I think if we had qualified adults in the inner city that know the game & coach em up the right way, that team could make a splash in any little league, RBI or USSSA.

    My observation is that these teams w/ their high athletic talent but poor coaching get beat pretty bad & end up losing any love for the game (as losing a lot @ that age could end any kids interest in a particular field)

    Growing up in GA, baseball was the sport to be played (see Jason Heyward). Sitting under that large shadow of Hank Aaron & @ that time Terry Pendleton, Ron Gant, David Justice…made it the thing to do. When you look @ it today, the greatest black player gets trashed (Bonds) & the other spent most of the 2000s on the DL (Griffey).

    I believe in my heart had Griffey not got injured so much in the 2000s, that baseball would have a ton more pull in the Black Community.

    Sorry for the rant but as you know baseball & black people are two passions of mine

  3. [...] For 2011’s “Black Diamonds” post click here, for 2010 click here. [...]

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