April 16, 2014

67 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, Major League Baseball looks very different

Jackie Robinson is caught off first base. Credit: Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images

Major League Baseball is celebrating Jackie Robinson, who became the league’s first African-American player on April 15, 1947.

Robinson’s entry led the way to integrated teams and a steady rise in the number of professional black baseball players. However, in recent years, there has been growing concern about the declining share of black players in the league.

The share of black MLB players reached a high of 18.7% in 1981, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. In 2014, 8.3% of players on opening day rosters were black. Before the most recent decade’s decline, the last time baseball had such a small share of black players was 1958.

FT_14.04.16_BaseballAs the number of black players has declined, baseball has seen a rising share of white players, a trend that stands in stark contrast to the steady decline of whites as a share of the U.S. population. In 2012, the percentage of white ballplayers (63.9%) increased to levels last seen in 1995, when 64.5% of players were white.

Historically, the share of white players has been shrinking since the color barrier was broken, bottoming out at 60.3% in 2004. Since then, the percentage of white players has trended upward.

Major League Baseball’s racial diversity today roughly mirrors that of the U.S. population. In 2012, whites comprised about the same share of the population (63%) as they did in Major League Baseball, according to the most recent comparable data. By contrast, Hispanics were overrepresented in baseball, comprising 26.9% of players and 17% of the U.S. population. (When Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, less than 1% of players were Latino.)

In 2012, blacks were underrepresented in baseball, making up 7.2% of players and 13% of the nation’s population. Asians made up 1.9% of players in 2012 and 5% of the U.S. population. In 1993, there were no Asians in Major League Baseball, according to the baseball research group.

It’s worth noting that the majority of Asian (80%) and Hispanic (84%) players in 2012 were born outside the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (i.e. foreign born or born in a U.S. territory like Puerto Rico), according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

In 2014, some 223 players, or 26%, were born outside of the 50 U.S. states and District of Columbia. The largest number of players come from Latin America. The Dominican Republic leads the way with 82 players, followed by Venezuela (59) and Cuba (19). Puerto Rico had 11 players. Among Asian countries, Japan (9) had the most players, followed by South Korea (2) and Taiwan (2).

Topics: Race and Ethnicity

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. kenneth quertermous2 years ago

    The population statistic listed for Mexico as 120 million people is not correct. The correct number is
    100 million. Fact is that out of the 120 million people of mexico, 20 million of them are in the USA
    Illegally and riseing!

  2. SocraticGadfly2 years ago

    No, it’s not true, that baseball has shown a hugely increasing white player base. There has been a small increase, but not a huge increase.

  3. 12 year old2 years ago

    Yes Robinson did a lot in the sports world but in my opinion(and research) Kenny Washington broke the color barrier. He played in the NFL one more year before Robinson for the Rams in 1946. Why didn’t they make a movie about him?

  4. Brian3 years ago

    How can you say Hispanics are over represented in the Majors compared to African Americans when you consider that the majority of Hispanic players are foreign born?

    Populations of Latino countries with players in the majors:

    Dominican Republic= 10 million
    Venezuela= 30 million
    Cuba= 11 million
    Puerto Rico =3.5 million
    Mexico = 120 million
    Colombia=47 million
    Nicaragua = 6 million
    Panama =3 million

    Meanwhile the total African American population is only 42 million, so how exactly are Latinos overrepresented by comparison?? In actuality, U.S. born Latinos are far more underrepresented than African Americans, yet I don’t see many people emphasizing the importance of reaching out the Hispanic American communities.

  5. Fen Marshfield3 years ago

    The study is putting all Latin Americans into the the Latino category. Shouldn’t some of the Latino numbers be included in the African-American category (Dominicans, Cubans, Curaçao, etc. )? Are they not “African-Americans” also? If the study includes the 100 or so Black Latinos the percent is now about 20% African-American.

    Nobody is making a study about how extremely underrepresented any race besides African-Americans are in the NFL & the NBA, and what special programs are needed to help those races become more adequately represented…

    Not going to mention how underrepresented women are in the MLB, NFL & NFL. 😀

    1. Bonnie A Munday2 years ago

      No they are not African American look up the definition of what makes a person African American.

  6. George Seikel3 years ago

    note that although he broke the sixty year duration of the colored barrier, Robinson was not the first “colored player” in the major leagues. Moses Walker played on a very well documented professional Toledo team in the early 1880’s, Cap Anson and other bigots fostered the Jim Crow laws against minorities in baseball. In addition to the Blue Stockings, I believe he was also paid to play for White Sewing Machine of Cleveland. I am uncertain why that team is not considered a professional team (fans pay to watch, players are paid to play). However, Toledo was in the American Association during the time Walker played. He WAS definitely a pro.


  7. nm3 years ago

    It’s clear, racism still lives. How disrespectful are some of these comments concerning an article about a great legend; no matter what color his skin is.

  8. Robert3 years ago

    Jackie Robinson’s contributions to baseball and society are legendary and yet the only photo they could find to publish was one of him being caught off base. C’mon!

    1. slk3 years ago

      caught off base??? wouldn’t the thirdbaseman be between him and the bag??? thats a pic, of jackie sliding into third(stealing, basehit, groundout etc!!!)

      1. slk3 years ago

        my bad!!!

  9. Jorge Rodriguez3 years ago

    It continues to be funny why African Americans are used as a race. What are black people in Latin America called? What do you call black people in Africa? Africans Africans? We continue to bring the best players in the world to play our professional sports. And that is not an important statistic to whoever looks at the statistics. Look at the NBA what percentage of foreign born players are there? Then we are amazed that we have trouble winning the Olympics because half the top teams in the world have thee entire roster playing in the NBA
    Why don’t statisticians look at the percentage of Blacks or African Americans in that sport? Or in the NFL, NHL, track and field or swimming? We are all human being living in the Land of the Free. They come here to better themselves but there race doesn’t change when they arrive in our shores

    1. slk3 years ago

      since humans started in africa, we’re all african americans!!!

    2. Ahmad Qadafi3 years ago

      A better question is, “what constitutes a black person?”. The Latin countries have a different history than the U.S. and their conception of black is different than ours in the US. Just shows that racial categories are political in origin. However, ethnically the Latino players are different from African-Americans.

  10. Susan Graham3 years ago

    Why does Pew Research still refuse to track and include multiracial people in its data?
    Susan Graham
    Executive Director
    Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally)
    Blog: projectrace.com/blog

  11. slk3 years ago

    no problem with the nba, or nfl!!! when one has to choose, more blacks choose hoops and football!!! why aren’t there more mexicans playing??? because most play soccer!!! why ask why??? my knicks are usually mostly blacks, but they’re still my knicks!!! ENJOY!!!

  12. Nick3 years ago

    Why is there no concern about the number of white, asian or latino people in the NBA? Oh thats not politically correct.

    1. Ahmad Qadafi3 years ago

      Because the article is about baseball. Duh!

      1. Zander Stardust3 years ago

        The article is obviously about demographics and racial discrimination. Leftists don’t respond with reason, but with mockery and demonization such as your use of the word, Duh!.

        I care about the progress of blacks in America, but the subject of this article is trivial. Furthermore, it is a desperate attempt to imply there is greater discrimination in America today because the percentage of black MLB players has declined.

  13. billy springer3 years ago

    Baseball is a already dead, it just has not been buried yet. There is nothing more boring than to have to sit through 6-8 hours waiting for the game to end. Baseball teams had to move from the east coast because; they were putting people to sleep. Today baseball teams have to have clowns, chickens and whatever else to keep the fans awake. Baseball falls into three phases. (1) boring (2) boring (3) boring

    1. pete3 years ago

      This has to be one of the dumbest posts I’ve ever read anywhere. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. Without question, the most boring aspect of any sport is the final minute or two of a close basketball game. Foul, walk to the other end. Foul, walk to the other end. Foul, walk… (boring, isn’t it?)

      1. Fen3 years ago

        He has a good point thought about time, although exaggerated. When I started following the game in the fifties the games were much shorter than they are now, sometimes under 2 hours! Seems like 3-4 hours now? What happened? If you go to a game expect to devote a huge chunk of time door to door. I now prefer to watch the archived game on MLBTV and just skip through the breaks.

        1. Zander Stardust3 years ago

          According to an article in the Atlantic, baseball game times have increase due to longer commercial breaks between innings.

      2. Zander Stardust3 years ago

        You’re spot on about the weakness of basketball, except you forgot about the timeouts called between all the intentional fouls.

        For any of the sports, the excitement of the end of the game is largely determined by how close the score is at the end. A two point spread at the end of basketball game does not result in as many intentional fouls and any foul shots are important.

    2. Clocks3 years ago

      haha whoaaa!!! Billy!! you totally made me not want to watch baseball anymore! haha!! you’re so right! watching grown men give each other concussions is much more entertaining – I’m switching to football and never looking back