Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In April 2017, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut, MLB Network aired a roundtable discussion about diversity in the game.
Hosted by Harold Reynolds, the panel included Josh Harrison of the Pirates, Chris Archer of the Rays, Mychal Givens of the Orioles and Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays. But the highest-profile star at the table was Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones.
Less than two years later, Jones is unemployed. His free agency has stretched deep into spring training, and his prospects are uncertain.
Simply put, this is bad for baseball, which needs to find a way to showcase its charismatic black stars.
We're not saying that Adam Jones should get a job because he is black, or that he is a victim of discrimination. We're saying that Adam Jones should get a job because he can still play -- and that's it's extra important to have proud members of the black community representing the game, at a time when baseball is focused on improving its appeal with that community.
Jones' numbers last season were below his All-Star prime, but at 33 years old he remained productive. He posted a 2.6 offensive WAR in 2018, and hit 15 home runs. In some way, team evaluators say, he is a victim of the analytics culture, which sees declining defense and undervalues leadership.
The Mets were briefly interested in Jones, before they pivoted to other outfielders like Keon Broxton and Carlos Gomez, who are better bets defensively in center field at this point in their respective careers.
Personality-wise, Jones would have been a great fit for New York, providing veteran leadership, postseason experience and name recognition to excite the fan base.
Major League Baseball has worked hard in recent years to grow engagement with an African-American audience. That Reynolds-hosted panel was one small example. Last May, the league announced the inaugural class of its diversity fellowship program, aimed at grooming executives from traditionally marginalized groups.
That initiative was desperately needed; African-Americans are virtually absent in the baseball power structure. There is only one black general manager in the game, Miami's Michael Hill, and one owner -- Hill's boss, Derek Jeter. The game's hierarchy remains largely white and male.
The decline in black athletes choosing baseball is well-documented. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, in its 2018 Major League Baseball Racial and Gender Report Card, noted that 7.2 percent of MLB players were black. That was the lowest number since the Institute began its studies in 1991 (the number in 1991 was 18 percent).
Jones is not just an African-American former All-Star, but one who cares about reaching out to many of the same communities that MLB is trying to cultivate.
As one of many examples, the Baltimore Sun reported last year that he donated $8,500 to the Mamie Johnson Little League All-Star team, the first predominantly black team to reach the Mid-Atlantic regional tournament for a shot at the Little League World Series. He has also quietly given to many schools and programs in both Baltimore and his hometown of San Diego.
"Say 10, 15 years from now, somebody can be saying the same thing that 'I did this and Adam Jones helped me out,' or 'this player helped me out' or 'that player helped me out," Jones told the Sun. "It's like what Snoop does. He's got about five or six people in the NFL right now from his football camps that he does, the football league he does in L.A. That's what it's about, giving the next generation opportunity.
This is the type of citizen that baseball needs. If Jones were 38 or washed up, this would be a different conversation. But he's still a big-league player, and needs to be in someone's starting lineup on Opening Day.