As the New York Yankees celebrated Mariano Rivera´s retirement, they also retired Number 42, commemorating Jackie Robinson. Now, a recent ESPN report reveals how the Yankees can not only help bring more African-American players back to the game, but also get a leg up on signing them.
In ¨Going, Going Gone,¨ Howard Bryant implores Major League Baseball in ESPN The Magazine to ¨reverse the fading presence of the black baseball star, and radically rethink its pitch to young athletes.¨
And with a near empty minor league system, the Yankees could benefit as much as any club by leaping at the opportunity. Sure, there are wonderful prospects in Japan, the Dominican Republic and Cuba that have MLB clubs drooling, but that doesn´t mean clubs should overlook the talent that is right before their eyes.
Imagine if Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson had all been Yankees. Imagine the great loss the Yankees would have felt if they had not been blessed with the many great black players that they have had.
Well, the next generation of potentially great black athletes is out there. Popular belief is though, that they are more likely to aspire to reach the NBA or NFL.
Partly, the reason is economics. The starting salary for an NBA or NFL player far exceeds the amount of a typical entry level minor league baseball salary. But the fact that MLB teams are falling over themselves trying to find international talent can not make an African-American athlete feel particularly wanted.
So what can the Yankees do? First, show these athletes that they are wanted. Start a special African-American Baseball Academy, similar to the baseball academies set up in Latin America and other existing academies. Don´t worry that the players that are developed may be drafted by other teams. Do it because it should be done. Besides, under the current system, the players could still opt to accept a college scholarship and then re-enter the draft later, giving the Yankees another opportunity to sign them.
Next, campaign for the end of the baseball draft altogether. Make all amateur players free agents. While this may seem to be an uphill battle, keep in mind that MLB has been searching for a way to turn around the trend of diminishing black players. The RBI program, which began in 1989, has failed to increase participation. A recent committee headed by Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski has also made little progress.
Ending the amateur draft would encourage all teams to start up or expand domestic baseball academies. If MLB is serious about reversing the trend, this is a solution.
Competing in an amateur free agent system would benefit the Yankees. They could attract the top prospects with top dollar. They could make it financially worthwhile to play in the minor leagues for players of all races. The minor league system would be replenished. And certainly, Jackie Robinson would have favored free agency to a draft.