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Baseball's Dearth of Black Catchers / Wall Street Journal Sports 10 months 1 week ago #401493

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Baseball’s Dearth of Black Catchers Helps Explain Its Dearth of Black Managers

Former catchers hold about a third of MLB’s managing jobs. But there hasn’t been a Black everyday catcher in baseball in nearly two decades.


By Jared Diamond

Nov. 12, 2020



Growing up as a baseball-obsessed child in a predominantly white area of Iowa, Ian Moller always introduced himself to new coaches as a catcher. They usually didn’t believe him—largely, Moller believes, because of the color of his skin.

“Coaches just straight up told me, ‘You’re not going to make it catching’ and ‘I’m not going to waste your athleticism back there,’” said Moller, who is Black. “Coaches never really wanted to put me back there at all.”



Now a high-school senior, Moller has since developed into one of the best catching prospects in the country and is seen as a potential first-round selection in next July’s major-league draft. It makes him a prime candidate to end a disturbing trend with significant ramifications for the future of the game.

No Black American has been the everyday catcher for a MLB team since Charles Johnson retired after the 2005 season. There are no obvious candidates in the majors or top levels of the minors who appear poised to end that streak. The position dominated by Black stars like Roy Campanella, Elston Howard and Earl Battey throughout the 1950s and ‘60s is now exclusively the domain of white and Latino players.

Part of this phenomenon stems from declining Black participation in baseball, a demographic shift that MLB officials are desperately trying to reverse. Though players from Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela now make up about 30% of the league, Black representation has sunk to around 8%, down from nearly 20% four decades ago.



The disappearance of Black catchers specifically has particular importance as it pertains to the sport’s even more glaring lack of Black leadership. There are just two Black managers in MLB: Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, who was born to a Black father and Japanese mother. None of the three managers hired this offseason is Black. Meanwhile, more than a third of the current managers are former catchers, including Joe Girardi of the Philadelphia Phillies, David Ross of the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers’ new skipper, A.J. Hinch.

This is no surprise. Catching requires leadership and communication skills more than any other spot on the field. The position has emerged as a direct pipeline to the manager’s seat—a pipeline with no Black candidates.

“What we’re trying to do is get rid of this ‘raw’ label that baseball has put on our kids,” said Lenny Webster, who is Black and was a major-league catcher from 1989 through 2000. “All ‘raw’ means is that they ‘lack knowledge.’”

Webster likens Black catchers to Black quarterbacks in football, who for decades were held back because of racist stereotypes about their leadership capabilities. Though the NFL now has several superstar Black quarterbacks—like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson—academic studies have shown that their success is more likely to be attributed to their athletic skill, while their white counterparts are praised for their intellect.


Moller said that throughout his life, coaches, college recruiters and scouts have complimented his playing ability but questioned whether he could handle the mental aspects of catching, like running a pitching staff or calling games.

“The label that I know was put against me was, ‘He might have the tools, but he’s not intelligent enough to go back there and handle the game,’ which obviously is just a stereotype,’” Moller said. “That was put on me before anybody even gets to know me.”

Many Black catchers have stories about receiving strange looks and hearing inappropriate comments throughout their amateur careers.



When Nick Hassan, the catcher at Kennesaw State, first started playing travel ball as a young teenager, “They didn’t believe that I was a catcher,” he said. Team coaches asked him if he could play any other positions before even seeing him behind the plate. Hassan realized that none of his childhood catching icons—like Yadier Molina and Salvador Pérez—were like him. He’s too young to remember watching Johnson, a four-time Gold Glove winner. (Russell Martin, a MLB catcher from 2006 through 2019 whose father is Black, hails from Canada.)

Early in his life, Hassan says, coaches tried to put him at shortstop, believing it was a better use of his speed, a common occurrence for aspiring Black catchers.


“Coaches wouldn’t trust that we have that knowledge of the game and knowing everything and knowing where everybody has to be,” Hassan said.

A.J. Lewis, who signed with the Colorado Rockies’ organization out of Eastern Kentucky this summer, had a different experience. He grew up in Chicago playing almost exclusively with other Black kids in the Jackie Robinson West Little League and the Chicago White Sox ACE program, which is designed to promote baseball among inner-city children. When he arrived for his freshman year of college ball at Missouri, however, “A couple of the guys were like, ‘You’re a catcher?’ We’ve never seen a Black catcher before,’” he said.

At Missouri, Lewis was initially blocked by an upperclassman catcher, so his coach tried to move him to the outfield. That experience only reinforced that he wanted to be a catcher, so he wound up transferring to find an opportunity to go back behind the plate. It was the one position that reminded him of basketball and football, the other sports he used to play, because “it kept you in every single play and you’re always doing something.”

“I’m more than literally ‘just an athlete.’ I think the game. I can handle a pitching staff. I’m able to control a baseball game,” Lewis said. “I truly believe that given the right opportunity, these African-American kids are just as capable or even more capable than some other candidates.”



For any of this to change, players say, baseball first needs to address the larger issue of attracting young Black athletes to baseball. But catching comes with its own challenges unique to the position. It requires specialized training beyond fielding and throwing, such as calling and receiving pitches and blocking balls in the dirt. With so few Black catchers in the professional ranks, “There are not lot of guys who can come back and teach how to play it correctly, so when you do get to those higher levels it’s, ‘You’re serviceable back there, but I think that you’d fit better here,’ ” Lewis said.

Webster says he sees progress, thanks in part to MLB’s programs designed to bring more Black athletes to the game. He hopes it will ultimately lead not just to more Black players, but to more Black managers and executives in baseball—and the road begins behind the plate.

“Change is coming,” Webster said. “We just have to have an open mind at the top level.”
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Baseball's Dearth of Black Catchers / Wall Street Journal Sports 10 months 1 week ago #401526

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Lol.

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Baseball's Dearth of Black Catchers / Wall Street Journal Sports 10 months 1 week ago #401542

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I think this stuff is silly to be quite honest. You either want equal representation based on population distribution for every group or you don't care. You need to pick one or it's complete hypocrisy IMO. So if you want this stuff, you should also want way more white RB's/WR's/DB's in the NFL and way more white NBA players. I for one think the best players should play regardless of appearance. But it's absurd to only want one group represented while ignoring all others. Literally the opposite of diversity and representation.

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Baseball's Dearth of Black Catchers / Wall Street Journal Sports 10 months 1 week ago #401547

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The lack of African American (not Afro-Caribbean or Afro-Latino) players in baseball as a whole is a real thing and is a pretty interesting trend.
Staking it to one position seems like a stretch.

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Baseball's Dearth of Black Catchers / Wall Street Journal Sports 10 months 1 week ago #401552

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Baseball as a whole is a more expensive sport to participate in. Cleats, gloves, bats, batting gloves, bat weights, the list goes on and on. Also the proliferation of travel teams makes it hard for kids from single parent families to participate in. I would guess that overall, participation in baseball about the age of 12 is on a steep decline. Lots of kids are no longer interested in playing sports, and many others see baseball as a boring sport compared to lacrosse.

Throw in the fact that many of the best black athletes who do play baseball possess speed, they likely will be encouraged to play positions that utilize speed.

Now, throw in the fact that for college, athletic scholarships for baseball are limited to 1/4 and 1/2 scholarships (along with academic and grant-in aid) and most colleges couldn't afford to load a roster with players who need more in a non-revenue producing sport.

But more than anything, I would factor in that black kids, much like white kids, aren't as interested in baseball as other sports.

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Baseball's Dearth of Black Catchers / Wall Street Journal Sports 10 months 1 week ago #401575

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Bingo Beast...the dominant thought on youth today seems to be that baseball is boring. They aren't completely wrong...the pace is too slow sometimes. I'm glad they juiced the ball because chicks (and dudes) dig the long ball. It makes the game more fun and gives more of a swag factor like a big dunk in hoops. I used to pretend to be Griffey Jr hitting a HR in my backyard. I also like baseball because it's one of the true American sports and part of our culture and tradition. You have to have some patience, but when there is good playoff baseball, there's nothing like it. I remember being at Shea in 2006 during the NLCS against the Cards and Delgado hit 2 HR I believe...I clearly remember thinking "Shea might seriously collapse". You could literally feel the stadium shaking. I think it's a great sport, but it's not as showy and egotistical like basketball or football. I think kids today like that egotistical in your face style compared to those from other generations.

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Baseball's Dearth of Black Catchers / Wall Street Journal Sports 10 months 1 week ago #401578

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Baseball can be more cerebral. It’s tough in this day to entertain people with limited attention spans.
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Baseball's Dearth of Black Catchers / Wall Street Journal Sports 8 months 2 weeks ago #411637

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MainMan wrote: The lack of African American (not Afro-Caribbean or Afro-Latino) players in baseball as a whole is a real thing and is a pretty interesting trend.
Staking it to one position seems like a stretch.

Besides the ones mentioned there were others (Elrod Hendricks, Johnny Roseboro) but its not like there was a whole slew.
 

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