Honor Buck O’Neil by hiring more black Kansas City Royals

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Today, the team sought by the Negro Leagues icon has the fewest black players in MLB.

Associated Press file photo

On Sunday, John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, Jr., will be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Kansas City Monarchs legend O’Neil certainly deserves the praise.

But on this long-awaited weekend of celebration and pageantry, we must point out the obvious: just like Major League Baseball, the Kansas City Royals have a diversity problem.

On Opening Day in 2022, black players made up just 7.2% of all Major League Baseball players, the lowest number in three decades, according to the latest report from TIDES, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

During his heyday, O’Neil and other black players were denied a fair opportunity to play in the major leagues. What would the former Royals scout say of an organization that only has two black players – Amir Garrett and Michael A. Taylor – on his list of 40 men?

What would O’Neil, a champion of equality, think of a manager Mike Matheny’s coaching staff, who seems to have only one black coach? Would he be disappointed with the organization?

And what about minority hires at the front office? We asked Royals for demographics of the front desk staff.

Of 43 full-time employees on the baseball operations side, 20 identify as minorities or women, club officials said. Last Friday, we were still waiting for more complete information.

When TIDES began tracking this data in 1991, black players made up about 18% of all major league rosters, according to the report. In 1995, 19% of MLB players were black.

The Royals and the rest of Major League Baseball are headed in the wrong direction. What does this say about the state of the game 75 years after Jackie Robinson entered the modern era of Major League Baseball in 1947?

When Robinson played his final season in 1956, African Americans made up 6.7% of major league rosters, according to Andscape, the website formerly known as Undefeated. Last year, that number was 7.6%, or 0.4% more than this year.

In 2022, 38% of all Major League Baseball players were people of color, a 0.4% increase from the previous season, according to the TIDES report. Still, the league’s percentage of black players has declined.

Diversity issues in Major League Baseball aren’t limited to players and coaches, either. Off the field, only one black, one Latino and two Asians have ever held high-level positions such as general manager, president of baseball operations or the equivalent, according to the report.

The Royals have made progress, team officials tell us. In 2020, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Karen Daniel became minority owners of the club. Both are black.

The team association Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy is designed to increase the number of black and other minorities participating in baseball and softball.

But the team is apparently moving away from the mission of providing opportunities for urban youth through restructuring, a former employee said in a federal racial discrimination lawsuit recently filed against the club.

Cleitus Ross of Kansas served as the Urban Youth Academy’s baseball program coordinator from 2018 to 2021. He was fired because executives knew he wouldn’t be okay with the realignment, allegations are made in a Complaint filed in Western Missouri District Court.

The Royals have denied the allegations. In a public statement, team officials described the claims as “completely baseless”.

We have long believed that O’Neil, one of baseball’s greatest ambassadors, deserves a bronze statue in Cooperstown. We should all be proud that Major League Baseball is finally honoring the great and former Kansas City Monarchs player and coach.

But the Royals must honor O’Neil’s legacy by reinforcing their commitment to hiring more qualified candidates of color and developing a pipeline of talented minority coaches, players and executives within the organization.

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