• The Star Staff

Players Alliance gets $10 million from MLB and union to build diversity


By James Wagner


Major League Baseball and the players union have pledged $10 million to the Players Alliance, a nonprofit formed this summer by more than 100 current and former Black players in the wake of George Floyd’s death, aiming to help build Black participation in the sport, from front offices to the diamond.


The donation, which was officially announced Monday morning, will be dispersed annually over five years, financing initiatives including a player-led mentorship program, a program meant to recruit Black students to internships in the sport and another meant to donate baseball equipment to Black groups in need throughout the country.


Curtis Granderson, 39, president of the Players Alliance and a former outfielder whose 16-year career included stints with the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and New York Mets, called the money “amazing,” in part because the nonprofit was formalized only 12 weeks ago.


“MLB and the union have rolled out programs historically, and some have been great and some have obviously needed to have a little bit of assistance to them,” he said in a telephone interview this weekend. “We, as the players — the market you have been targeting — some of us have gone through these programs or have started very similar programs, so we can be a great resource to take the programs that are already good and make them better, or introduce some new ones.”


The idea for the Players Alliance came this summer when Cameron Maybin, a 33-year-old Chicago Cubs outfielder, saw a video of NFL players saying, “Black lives matter,” and listing victims of police brutality, including Floyd. (The majority of players in the NFL are Black.)


Realizing that little had been said within baseball on the same topics, Maybin reached out to one of his closest friends, Dee Strange-Gordon of the Seattle Mariners, and talked about getting the few Black players in baseball to take part in a video of their own, which they did in June with the help of former pitcher Edwin Jackson.


Maybin said Black players in baseball have felt handcuffed because there are so few of them and they feared repercussions for speaking out.


“In the past, it’s like: ‘Hey, you don’t need to touch social or political issues. You just need to be a role model at baseball camps,’” he said in a telephone interview.


By making the video, Maybin said Black players realized there was strength in numbers. He added, “If we all speak up and we all feel strongly about what’s going on in our communities, we all can be the voices for our communities.”


Granderson said making the video, the interest it garnered and subsequent conversations among Black players, which brought them together more than ever, led to the formation of the nonprofit. They resolved to pool their efforts to tackle problems they saw. (In the past, their community service efforts were fragmented; a survey of Players Alliance members found that they had donated over $40 million over recent years on their own.) As the group grew and began programs like mentorship of young Black players and students, Granderson said, MLB and the union reached out to ask how they could get involved.


“The biggest value that we have in the Players Alliance is us, the players,” Maybin said. “It’s not somebody speaking for us. We are the face.”


The donation from MLB and the union was timely: Granderson said the Players Alliance had no money in its bank account before the pledge. The $10 million will allow the group to expand and formalize more initiatives; Maybin said he had recently discussed with his former Yankees teammate C.C. Sabathia, the Players Alliance vice president, how to help finance youth travel teams, because playing baseball is expensive.


In a statement, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league believed the efforts of the Players Alliance “will complement existing diversity initiatives and accelerate progress.” The players union chief Tony Clark added in a statement: “Recent events and social unrest have profoundly crystallized the need for prescriptive programs and additional education designed to enhance Black participation at all levels of baseball for the betterment of our game as well as society.”


There were only 67 Black players on opening day major league rosters this season, with a smaller share of representation in several other areas of the sport. While MLB’s own efforts have gradually reached more underserved and underrepresented youth players — for example, two 2020 first-round picks, Ed Howard of the Cubs and Jordan Walker of the St. Louis Cardinals, both of whom are Black, are alumni of diversity development programs — the rate of Black players in the major leagues has dwindled from a high of around 19 percent in the early ’80s to about 8 percent now.


There are only two Black major league managers (Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros), two Black heads of baseball operations (Michael Hill of the Miami Marlins and Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox) and just one Black CEO or team president (Derek Jeter of the Miami Marlins). There are no Black majority owners.


“We don’t want charity cases, but we have seen historically that there have been individuals that are qualified for some of these positions,” Granderson said.


Details are still being ironed out, but Granderson said the Players Alliance hoped to pay for or help set up young Black men or women with entrees into the sport, from front offices to coaching staffs to apparel company positions.


He added, “Some of the stuff we’ve heard in talking to certain student-athletes is: ‘Hey, I’m in a state where there is no MLB anywhere close to me. They’re not coming to a job fair down by us because it just doesn’t make sense.’ But again, with 2020, we don’t have to go to you, we can Zoom it to you.”


The Players Alliance has also set up multiple advisory boards and committees, including one made up of team owners, one of team executives and another of minor league players.

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