There were 449 pitchers on MLB opening-day rosters and the disabled list. Just 14 were African American. So brothers who study the art of diamond mining don’t have a wide variety of pitchers to follow who look like them. Baseball has historically been like that, and the numbers have even decreased over the years.
At the start of the 2016 season, no team had more than one black pitcher on its major league staff, and four of those starters reside in the pitcher "integrated" American League East: CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees, David Price of the Boston Red Sox, Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays and Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays.
There is not a single African-American pitcher in the AL Central , and San Diego Padres starter Tyson Ross is the lone brother toting the rubber in the National League West.
(Photo Credit: bigstory.ap.org)
According to an April USA Today piece on the dearth of MLB pitchers, African Americans comprise just 1.6% of major league pitchers - well below their reported 8% of the general player population. And there aren't many Black Knights on baseball ponies coming down the talent pipeline either. According to rankings by MLB.com, the top 100 minor league prospects include just four African-American pitchers - Dillon Tate, Amir Garrett, Touki Toussaint and Justus Sheffield.
And of the top 50 projected players in this year’s upcoming draft, to be held June 9-11, Reggie Lawson of Victorville, California, Alex Speas of Powder Springs, Georgia, and Jordan Sheffield of Vanderbilt are the only African-American pitchers.
That being said, there shouldn’t be any further discussion about why I make this list. For young African-American ballplayers -- especially pitchers -- here is a little bit of inspiration for you. And when that coach asks you to switch from pitcher to the outfield, remember it’s no different than when they used to make great black college QBs switch positions if they wanted a shot at going pro. Stand firm and fight it tooth and nail. Times will eventually change...We hope.
No. 1 David Price: Price has an ERA of 5.34, which would be considered a disaster for a guy who just raked in an MLB-record $217 million as a free agent. However, his 7-1 record and the Red Sox’s worst-to first turnaround as they lead the AL East with a 29-17 record after finishing a cellar-dwelling 78-84 in 2015, is proof that this “Black Ace” comes with more than just firepower and pitching savvy. He was expected to give up a few more dingers pitching in Fenway Park now anyway. Besides, he’s still hurling nasty stuff up there and making batters miss as evidenced by his AL-leading 76 K’s.
The Red Sox broke the bank to acquire the best arm on the market and Price adds leadership, World Series experience, accolades and a pit bull mentality to a team fighting to regain its edge. He’s been worth every penny so far this season. Imagine when he really gets comfortable in his Boston digs?
No. 2 Marcus Stroman: After a promising rookie season in which he flashed 11 wins in 130.2 innings of work, injuries limited Stroman to just 27 innings pitched in 2015, and his season ended with him looking like a Toronto tiger about to burst out of a cage. The 25-year-old Medford, NY product, standing just 5-8, 160-pounds, has the chance to be the Allen Iverson of baseball as far as his emotional contributions to the team, passion for the game and impact as a little guy playing a big man’s game.
This season Stroman is looking refreshed, refined and ready to help his Blue Jays squadron defend their division championship and reach or surpass last season’s 93-win mark. His 5-1 record, WHIP of 1.17, and gritty 3.89 ERA in an offense-rejuvenated MLB season makes him a formidable replacement for the loss of Price. He's allowed two or fewer earned runs in four of his last five starts and is definitely one of the torch bearers for MLB’s Black Knights of moundmanship.
No. 3 Taijuan Walker: We told you guys about the Seattle Mariner’s young gun when the highly-hyped hurler was called up late in the 2013 season. Walker, a 6-4, 210-pound hurler, was the 43rd overall MLB draft pick in 2010. He showed some flashes of potential, but was still raw and expanding his repertoire at the time. By 2015, he was a valuable knight in King Felix’s court. Walker won 11 games in 29 starts for a 76-win team.
This season it’s popping for Walker and Seattle, which is leading the AL West with a 28-18 record. The 23-year-old Walker is sporting a 1.06 WHIP and 2.70 ERA and his 47 K’s in 50 innings show increased command and control of the strike zone. Walker will continue to get better and as long as Seattle remains in the driver’s seat, America will get a chance to see one of the few killer hill cats in baseball on a playoff stage.
No. 4 CC Sabathia: CC was the supreme “Black Ace” for much of his career, which began with Cleveland in 2001. By stanky-legging his way to the Cy Young Award and winning 21 games in 2010 with the NY Yankees, Sabathia has already proved his worth as a high-priced free agent. He came to the Yankees in 2009, fresh off an 11-2 record for the Milwaukee Brewers as a hired gun for the ‘08 playoff stretch. Sabathia immediately asserted his presence, winning a World Series right out the gate.
He met all expectations and pitched innings like one of those throwback, rubber-armed hurlers from back in the days. Over the years his personal life tumbled out of control as he dealt with alcoholism.
We found out it wasn’t just his age and wear and tear causing him to gain weight, pitch in just 37 games the past two seasons and go 9-12 with an ERA over 5.00. Apparently, Sabathia has handled his problem with the help of his wife and family and he seems to be reinvigorated this year at age 35. CC is 3-2 with a 3.41 ERA in six starts. He’s contributing to the Yankees climb back into the AL Race.
No. 5 Chris Archer: Archer is still that dude and he’s probably the most charismatic and well-known out the bunch. He was easily one of the most sought-after ballers at MLB All-Star Weekend last year in Cincinnati. TSL was there.
But for a guy touted by many, including myself, to be a potential Cy Young Award winner this season, 100 trips to Cuba won’t fix a 3-5 record and 5.16 ERA with 10 homers allowed. He began the season with a three-inning, six-run dud and he’s surrendered four homers in his last 10 innings pitched.
In Archer’s defense, his last place Tampa Rays team isn’t good. So he’s not working with too much. Regardless of his team’s deficiencies, Archer’s personal performance has to improve. He does have 65 K’s in 52 innings but too much contact is being made. Expect him to pick it up as the summer progresses.