AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker wrote a story ahead of the 2005 World Series that had stuck in his mind since: that year, the Houston Astros became the first team since 1953 to play in the Fall Classic without a U.S.-born Black player. The way things were trending in baseball, he figured he might soon write a story about an entire World Series without a U.S.-born Black player on either roster.
Fast forward to 2022.
Scanning the rosters of the Astros and Philadelphia Phillies prior this year’s World Series opener, Walker may have been the only person on the planet notice the complete absence of U.S.-born Black players. It would be the first time since 1950 — three years after Jackie Robinson broke the sport’s color barrier — that no U.S.-born Black players would play in the World Series.
Walker knew he had a story that would be of interest beyond the sport, and he knew the subject needed to be reported carefully. He worked closely with Aaron Morrison, from AP’s Race and Ethnicity team, for precise language about Black identity in baseball clubhouses.
He also reached out to good sources: Gary Matthews, a Black former Phiilies outfielder; Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; and Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida. Their voices added context on the history of waning participation by Black players in U.S. baseball.
Walker’s reporting also pointed to some positive signs for encouraging Black children in baseball, but his AP story presented a sobering reminder that despite its diversity, Jackie Robinson’s sport has hardly been successful carrying on his hard-earned legacy.
In a World Series full of big names and rich storylines, Walker’s piece was undoubtedly the buzz of baseball in the days before Game 1. It performed well on AP’s platforms and for several days was the top Google result for searches of “World Series,” “MLB” and “baseball.” It was cited widely even outside the sports world, by NPR, CNN and others.
The story also elicited responses from Black figures active in baseball, including Houston manager Dusty Baker, who lamented a day later to AP reporter Kristie Rieken that “What hurts is that I don’t know how much hope that it gives some of the young African-American kids.” Players union chief Tony Clark, a former Black player, on Friday blamed years of inattention by Major League Baseball.