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The Rise of Latinos in Major League Baseball

Roberto Muñoz for The New York Times

We all know that Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League baseball back in 1947. Soon after he broke the color barrier, hundreds of African Americans began walking through the newly open door to play in America's pastime. By the early 1980s, 18% of MLB players were of African American decent.

Soon after however, the percentage declined to the point that by 2019, only a little over 6% of MLB players were African Americans.

On the Latino front, the MLB also saw an increase after 1947 when only 0.7% of MLB players were Latino, but the rise continued and exceeded African Americans in the years following. By 2019, Latino players made up 27.4% of all Major League rosters.

Countless factors can contribute to the decline in the number of African American players, just as they do in the increase of Latinos. Some argue that a shift in sports preferences within the African American communities has had a significant influence, as stats show the steady increase in black players over the past decade in both pro football and basketball leagues.

Another argument gaining momentum is the possibility that clubs are increasingly looking for talent in Latin American countries. Many MLB teams have set up international bases throughout Latin America to better monitor players and provide top professional in-country training. If Google offers any indication, an online search for the term “baseball”, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Venezuela by far have the greatest search popularity.

In general, the number of foreign-born players reached a record number of 254 in 2018. On closer inspection of the 2019 opening day rosters, most Latino players come from just 5 Latin American countries, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. Colombia has had a slight decrease in players, but surprisingly the small island of Curacao has contributed the largest percentage (by population), providing 25 professional players per million inhabitants. In comparison, the United States only averages 3 professional players per million inhabitants.

As the proportion of players from Latin America increases due to immigration, so can the club demand for players from this region. Presently, the United States has a greater number of immigrants from Latin American countries, so a plausible explanation is that migration patterns are directly influencing the number of Latinos playing in the MLB. America's pastime is bound to truly be all of America's pastime.