On-Field Diversity Task Force announces preliminary initiatives

Major League Baseball's On-Field Diversity Task Force, launched by Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, has set three preliminary priority initiatives that will guide the start of the Committee's comprehensive long-term action plan, MLB announced today.

In the months and years ahead, MLB will strive to address the talent pipeline that impacts the representation and development of the sport's diverse players and on-field personnel, particularly focusing on African-Americans. The three broad initiatives now underway include:

  • (1) Expanding MLB's reach and involvement with existing urban baseball initiatives, such as Jr. RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), the MLB Urban Youth Academies and various grassroots programs around the country;
  • (2) Implementing programs focused on improving the quality of coaching as a way to make the game more engaging, including the use of new initiatives and mobile coaching tools being developed; and
  • (3) Focusing MLB's marketing reach on urban communities by using a variety of resources, including raising the profile of current and former Major Leaguers. These players would not only engage youth, families and their communities, but could also serve as coaches, program leaders or inspiring figures for youth in urban communities.

MLB also announced today that Jerry Manuel, the former manager of the Chicago White Sox and the New York Mets, will take on an expanded role on the On-Field Diversity Task Force. Manuel will now serve as the day-to-day leader of the initiative under the direction of Task Force Chairman David Dombrowski, the President, CEO & General Manager of the Detroit Tigers.

"The recommendations made by the On-Field Diversity Task Force result from extensive research, meetings and conversations with people of various disciplines and unique perspectives," Commissioner Selig said. "I commend Dave Dombrowski and all members of the Task Force for their thoughtfulness regarding this complex situation, which will require strategic steps in order to reach a long-term solution. I believe that these recommendations mark the start of addressing our challenges and making the sport of Jackie Robinson more accessible to young players of all races."

Since the launch of the Task Force one year ago, the members have sought to better understand the challenges that have led to the declining number in recent decades. Some of their initial findings have included that:

  • In many areas, youth baseball can be an expensive and unavailable sport in urban areas due to:
    • the high cost of equipment;
    • insufficient exposure to leagues that teach game fundamentals;
    • a lack of urban training facilities; and
    • the proliferation of for-profit camps and showcases, which limit exposure for African-American players.
  • There is a shortage of active scouts and experienced coaches in dense African-American population centers.
  • Talented, young African-American athletes have chosen to pursue other sports over baseball, in part stemming from fewer collegiate scholarships that are available to baseball players.

The Jr. RBI expansion will consist of a five-year outreach plan to markets where there are not currently Jr. RBI playing divisions, which are offered to young people ages 5 to 12. In addition to increasing participation numbers, this expansion will offer additional opportunities to existing RBI leagues with a new competitive element of Jr. RBI. The Jr. RBI playing divisions were created in 2009 as a friendly, non-competitive component of the RBI program in order to expand RBI participation ages from 13-18 to 5-18. The RBI program is Major League Baseball's youth initiative designed to provide young people from urban and underserved communities with the opportunity to play baseball and softball, while also encouraging academic achievement and success and teaching the value of teamwork and other important life lessons. Since the creation of Jr. RBI playing divisions, participation in RBI has risen from 125,000 in 2009 to more than 220,000 in 2014. More than one million young people have participated in the RBI program since 1989.

MLB Urban Youth Academies provide free, year-round baseball and softball instruction, as well as education opportunities in several other baseball-related concentrations, including umpiring, groundskeeping, broadcasting, journalism and public relations. Additionally, Academies offer educational support in the form of after-school tutoring, SAT prep and a book club for the youngest members. Each Academy features several fields of various regulations sizes as well as batting cages, pitching tunnels and an indoor facility where classrooms and administration offices are located. There are three Academies in operation in Compton (California), Houston (Texas) and New Orleans (Louisiana). Three more are in development in Cincinnati (Ohio), Hialeah (Florida) and Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). MLB Urban Youth Academies have served more than 10,000 young people since 2006.

Part of Manuel's expanded role will be to oversee the day-to-day activation of the Task Force's new initiatives. He played parts of five seasons in the Major Leagues as an infielder with the Detroit Tigers (1975-76), the Montreal Expos (1980-81) and the San Diego Padres (1982). After a long coaching career, Manuel led the Chicago White Sox from 1998-2003 and the New York Mets from 2008-2010. He was the BBWAA's American League Manager of the Year in 2000, when he led the White Sox to an A.L.-best 95-67 record and the A.L. Central title. In parts of nine seasons, Manuel's Clubs posted a mark of 704-684 (.507).

Dombrowski said: "Jerry's experience and energy will be tremendous daily assets to our Committee as we continue to examine the factors associated with diversity in our game. We have made progress over the last 12 months, and I am pleased that Jerry will now help us pursue a mission that is vital to our future.

"These initial steps represent the beginning of a long-term process that we embrace. We also need to study additional educational opportunities, which would create stronger bonds with our game. Ultimately, we hope that our efforts will impact participation for youth of all backgrounds and communities where the economics of playing baseball and softball is beyond the means of their families."

Membership on the Task Force, which convenes regularly and presented to all Major League Clubs at MLB's Industry Meetings in November 2013, includes representation from Club ownership, front offices, MLB's Central Office, Minor League Baseball, former players, the Major League Baseball Players Association, the MLB Urban Youth Academies, the MLB Scouting Bureau, college baseball and academia.

"All Major Leaguers, both past and present, are passionate about the game they play, and they are eager to share that passion with future generations of players, especially those residing in urban areas," said MLBPA Executive Director, Tony Clark. "We look forward to working closely with the Diversity Task Force to help develop initiatives that make the game more accessible and affordable to minority populations. Unfortunately, and I think we can all agree, this is a very complex issue with a number of moving targets. However, bringing urban youth closer to the game and to those players they can relate to, is a natural first step toward re-engaging the next generation of young ballplayers."

Thirteen African-American players were selected in the first rounds of the 2012 and 2013 First-Year Player Drafts, and the selection of seven in 2012 was the most by total and percentage (7-of-31, 22.6%) since 1992. Approximately 60 alumni of both the RBI program and MLB Urban Youth Academies have been drafted the last two years.