In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American player to play in a Major League Baseball game. He endured unspeakable hardships in the forms of intentional spiking, racist remarks, and exclusion from his own teammates. Robinson, though, rose above it all. He finished the 1947 season with a slash line of .297/.383/.427 with 12 home runs, 48 RBI, and 29 stolen bases. For his efforts, he was awarded the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award, an award which now bears his name.
African Americans in Baseball Today
Fast forward to 2020. Dozens of African American men have played in the Majors. Many have set records, become managers, or had solid careers. However, in a year that has spotlighted the need for social reform and the presence of systemic racism in our society, the absence of African American players on Big League rosters is glaring.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, African Americans made up 13% of all Major League rosters. In 2020, that number is down to 7.7%. These numbers, and current events, are why the Rookie of the Year wins of Devin Williams in the NL and Kyle Lewis in the AL are so important:
Two African-American young men win MLB Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards from the BBWAA: the Mariners Kyle Lewis in the AL and Milwaukee’s Devin Williams in the NL. Given the happenings of 2020 concerning Black men, this is a BIG DEAL. Feels good to smile for a change.
— Dave Sims (@TheDaveSimsShow) November 10, 2020
2020 marks the first year since 1984 that the two leagues’ Rookie of the Year Awards were swept by African American players. It is the hope of both Williams and Lewis that their success is an inspiration to other young Black players:
Devin Williams and Kyle Lewis are the first Black players to sweep the Rookie of the Year awards since 1984. pic.twitter.com/KYJlEsBu1b
— MLB (@MLB) November 10, 2020
Let us hope that these two individuals will be starting a trend for the inclusion and participation of more African Americans in professional baseball.