As has been customary since 2009, all Major League Baseball players, managers, coaches and umpires wore No. 42 on April 15 — Jackie Robinson Day — to commemorate the pioneer’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ceremonies were held in every stadium, with video tributes and on-field celebrations to honor Robinson’s legacy. His family, former teammates, former Negro Leaguers and NBA great Bill Russell were among those who took part in the celebrations.
But another custom has evolved over the years since MLB retired Robinson’s number in 1997, the 50th anniversary of his debut. The day is also used to highlight the dwindling number of African-American players in the big leagues. USA Today reported that the percentage has dropped to 8.05 percent, the lowest since the earliest days of the sport’s integration.
That represents a dramatic decline from the peak of 1975, when 27 percent of all rosters were African American, according to the newspaper, adding that the percentage was 19 percent as recently as 1995. “Baseball likes to say things are getting better,” said agent Dave Stewart, a former pitcher and front-office executive. “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.”
At least one player is tired of the same old narrative every year. Chicago Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd said that the focus on Jackie Robinson Day shouldn’t be on the decrease in the number of black players but instead on the increase in the number of black professionals.