It’s no secret that there aren’t as many Black MLB players as there were 30 years ago. According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida (per CBS Sports), only 6.2 percent of players on Opening Day Rosters this baseball season were Black. In 1991, which is when the study began, 18 percent of the league consists of Black players. PopCulture.com spoke exclusively to Baseball Hall of Fame Dave Winfield who is on the board of directors of the MLB-MLB Youth Developmental Foundation (YDF). The 71-year-old talked about how the organization is encouraging more Black kids to play baseball as well as supporting young Black baseball players who are looking to make a name in the sport, specifically the Hank Aaron Invitational, which took place at Truist Park in Atlanta on Sunday.
“They supported financially and creatively and innovatively,” Winfield exclusively told PopCulture. “It’s a joint effort, one of the handful of joint efforts by the Players Association, MLBPA, Major League Baseball, and the Youth Development Foundation is … it’s been in existence since 2015, where money has been put together to support youth baseball in a number of ways — baseball and softball, actually, around the country. And this is one of the projects that has emerged early on where there had been a dearth or certainly a shrinking of the number of African American athletes playing the game.”
“It’s just a very special event. There’s a number of components of it,” Winfield continued, saying that “most” kids involved “will play in college and some will make it to the professional ranks. … There’s no one silver bullet to solve the issue where there aren’t as many African Americans playing the game. But it’s certainly a good step forward.”
The Hank Aaron Invitational focuses on high school baseball players. But the YDF also sponsors the HBCU Swingman Classic which had its inaugural event during MLB All-Star Week in early July. The game consists of 50 HBCU players and was hosted by another Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. Winfield said the game earned “a tremendous response” while adding that it was a “very special event.” He also said, “I’m sure they’ll find ways to improve it and make what they provide, make it stick, make it go to that next level next year. So we’ll see.”
Winfield has accomplished a lot during his baseball career, including being selected to the All-Star Game 12 times, winning seven Gold Gloves, six Silver Slugger awards and becoming a World Series champion in 1992. And while he’s active in the community now, supporting young baseball players was something he was always doing during his playing career.
“I was one of the first professional athletes in any sport to create their own non-profit operating foundation, 501C3, the Winfield Foundation,” Winfield explained. “So that started about almost 50 years ago. So I did it throughout my career and post-career. And it was because I knew I stood on the shoulders of a lot of people before me and I respected that. And the first thing I did, whether it goes in the story or not, was created what we call the Winfield Awards. So for the top minority student-athletes that provided community service back in St. Paul, Minnesota, the things that I did.”