65 years ago, Jackie Robinson made history by breaking the color barrier in major league baseball and played for the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first African American player in the major leagues.
Today however, the number of African American baseball players is at an all-time low since the early days of integration. The numbers come to light after USA Today released research conducted by their sports team.
This season, the percentage of African Americans around the league has dropped to 8.05 percent. This number represents a decline from last year’s percentage (8.5 percent) and a serious decline from 1959 (17.25 percent) when every team in the league finally integrated their rosters.
At its peak in 1975, African Americans made up 27 percent of all rosters across the league and in 1995, the number had dropped but was still pretty high at 19 percent.
"Baseball likes to say things are getting better,'' said former major league pitcher Dave Stewart, now an agent, to USA Today. “It's not getting better. It's only getting worse. We've been in a downward spiral for a long time, and the numbers just keep declining.''
The hope is for these numbers to obviously rise, but foreign born players are entering the league at such a high rate that it is hard to tell what the future will bring. Opening day rosters had 28.4 percent foreign born players while 10 teams opened the season with one or less African-American on the roster.
Commissioner Bud Selig is well aware of the declining numbers, and says the league is doing all they can to get young African-Americans involved in baseball.
"We (are) trying to get better. It won't happen overnight,'' Selig said. "And we're very comfortable saying it will be better. We are doing great work with our baseball academies and working in the inner-cities. It's getting better.''
Cubs centerfielder Marlon Byrd is the only African American big leaguer to play in the city of Chicago. On Sunday, he was the only African American player at Busch Stadium in St. Louis during the league wide celebration of Robinson where every player wore his number 42 which has since been retired by every team in the league.
I don't even know what to say,'' said Byrd. "I remember when I came up with the Phillies in 2002, we had six [African-American] players. I thought that was the norm. Now, you look around, and don't see anyone. Will it change? I don't know. I'm hoping it's a different story four or five years from now.'
Despite the dwindling number of players, Selig thinks that Robinson would be proud of the diversity of upper management around the league. Teams are now employing many more African Americans to positions such as general managers and managers, something that was hard to imagine when Robinson played.
"I remember Jackie saying 10 days before he passed [in 1972], he wouldn't be satisfied until we had a black manager and general manager,” Selig said. “If he went through all of our front offices today in baseball, he'd be proud.''