Black former players to play in Negro Leagues All-Star Game tribute on Memorial Day weekend

The names trigger memories recent and long ago. From David Price to Russell Martin, from Tony Gwynn Jr. to Jerry Hairston Jr. to Dee Strange-Gordon, former Dodgers sprinkle the rosters.

And the 14 Hall of Famers serving as coaches include a who’s who of legends that tormented the Dodgers as exalted opponents: Ozzie Smith, Ken Griffey Jr., Fergie Jenkins, Dave Winfield, Fred McGriff … the list goes on.

They’ll gather in Cooperstown, N.Y., for the East-West Classic: a tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game on Saturday at historic Doubleday Field. Team captains CC Sabathia and Chris Young held a draft of recently retired Black players to fill rosters for the game, which anchors a Memorial Day weekend of festivities at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum surrounding the opening of an exhibit titled “The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing these guys’ faces when we walk into the Hall of Fame,” Sabathia said. “We are all super close, and it’s going to be fun to get us all together.”

The exhibit will cover the Negro Leagues era, the complexities of integration, Jackie Robinson, the struggles Black players experienced and calls for change in today’s game. Stories from Black baseball also are being added to other exhibits throughout the museum.

Only 6% of players on opening day major league rosters this year are Black, a number that has slowly eroded for decades. A study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida found that Black players represented 6.2% of MLB players in 2023 and 7.2% in 2022. When the study began in 1991, 18% of MLB players were Black.

Baseball has launched programs to boost participation in recent years, and one result has been an uptick in the number of Black players drafted in the top 100 — an average of 12 per year since 2021. Ten of the first 50 draft picks in 2023 were Black and 30% of the first-round picks in 2022 were Black — a significant increase over the previous decade, when 17.4% of first-round picks were Black.

Four of the first five selections in the 2022 draft were Black, and all four were alumni of at least one of the following MLB diversity initiatives:

— The DREAM Series operated by MLB and USA Baseball has since 2017 brought together predominantly Black high school pitching and catching prospects nationwide during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. The program includes seminars, mentorship, scout evaluations and video coverage in addition to on-field instruction. Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High product Hunter Greene participated in the DREAM Series.

— The MLB ID Tour scours the country for baseball talent among underexposed and diverse groups of athletes, and this year has held events at the Compton Youth Academy as well as in Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago.

— The Breakthrough Series provides a platform for players who have entered the MLB diversity pipeline to perform for scouts and college coaches. The Series, which began in 2008, has produced 22 first-round draft picks and 36 players have advanced to the major leagues.

— The Hank Aaron Invitational will be held in July at Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Fla., where approximately 250 teenage players from across the U.S. will by trained by former MLB players and coaches that in the past have included Griffey, Winfield, Eric Davis, Marquis Grissom, Reggie Smith and Delino DeShields.

Only 6% of Division I baseball players are Black, a number that has grown slightly but remains alarmingly low. Developing future major leaguers is a clear objective of MLB’s diversity initiatives, but getting Black players into college is also important.

“We see more kids playing at the Division I college baseball ranks, and we see more kids being drafted into the minor leagues,” said Del Matthews, MLB vice president of baseball development. “And so we’re just flooding that through [our] various programs.”

The Memorial Day weekend festivities honoring the history of Black baseball will begin with an unveiling of a bronze statue of Aaron on the first floor of the Hall of Fame Museum. Then the East-West Classic — the name is a nod to the Negro League All-Star game held annually from 1933 to 1962 — will bring living, breathing Black players together. The Hall of Fame announced Friday that the game is sold out.

“It’s going to be one of those weekends that’s going to stick with us for a long time,” said Young, the East team captain who played for the Angels in 2018, the last of his 13-year career. “If you have a son or daughter who plays baseball, take them to the Hall. If you are a baseball player, go check it out. It’s life-changing.”

East-West Classic rosters

East: Captain Chris Young, Josh Barfield, Doug Glanville, Tony Gwynn Jr., Jerry Hairston Jr., Scott Hairston, LaTroy Hawkins, Ryan Howard, Edwin Jackson, Jeremy Jeffress, Adam Jones, Russell Martin, Melvin Mora, David Price and Mo’Ne Davis.

West: Captain CC Sabathia, José Contreras, Ian Desmond, Prince Fielder, Dexter Fowler, Curtis Granderson, Darrell Miller, Tyson Ross, Tony Sipp, Dee Strange-Gordon, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton.

Hall of Fame coaches: Harold Baines, Rollie Fingers, Ken Griffey Jr., Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Fred McGriff, Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Lee Smith, Ozzie Smith, Joe Torre, Dave Winfield, Pat Gillick and Ryne Sandberg.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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