MLB touts diversity but is quitting on Oakland, its most diverse city

Major League Baseball pushes diversity with all kinds of initiatives and talk about trying to be as inclusive as possible with many nationalities and cultures.

Yet, MLB is in the process of pulling a team out of the most diverse city in the majors, Oakland, calling into question the sincerity of the league’s diversity efforts.

MLB can argue all it wants that relocating the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas makes more business sense — which remains a serious debate — but there’s no argument from a diversity standpoint.

The city that graced us with legends from Frank Robinson and Joe Morgan to Rickey Henderson and Dave Stewart along with trailblazers Curt Flood and Glenn Burke — and many others who started their illustrious careers on the Oakland sandlots — is close to losing its MLB identity because of cloudy decision-making from every angle.

“Man, it’s going to be history. History. I don’t care what they say in Vegas, it’s not going to be like Oakland,” said Oakland native Shooty Babitt, former A’s infielder and current A’s scout and TV analyst. “I was drafted by the A’s in ’77, made the big club in ’81. Always involved in the community. I don’t care how raggedy that Coliseum is, that’s where I grew up idolizing Vida (Blue) and Moon (Blue Moon Odom) and Campy (Bert Campaneris), all the guys of color, guys we dreamed of being one day. It’s sad, bro.”

Research firm AdvisorSmith, using data compiled from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, ranked the most “ethnically and racially diverse” cities in the country in 2021 and had Oakland No. 1. U.S. News and World Report ranked Oakland second among cities with a population of at least 300,000, behind Stockton.

Las Vegas certainly is diverse but nothing like Oakland. The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2020, shows Oakland as 30% white and 21.3% Black while Las Vegas is 46% white and 12.9% Black. Oakland has experienced a large growth in its Hispanic and Asian populations and other racial and ethnic groups.

Rep. Barbara Lee, who represents the 12th District in Congress, including Oakland and Alameda, emphasized the importance over time of situating an MLB team in Oakland.

“The impact the A’s have on the community in Oakland is a metric you can’t find in any report or budget proposal,” Lee told The Chronicle. “Oakland is such a unique, diverse city. We have a passionate fan base, a rich history and great weather. Not to mention, the A’s history of Black and brown superstars has inspired countless people in our community. Representation matters, especially in a sport like baseball. There aren’t many cities like Oakland, and MLB is better off having a franchise here.”

MLB could have done itself a major favor by telling John Fisher it’s Oakland or bust — in other words, make it work in Oakland or we’ll find someone else. It doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. Owners are free to run their teams horrifically.

Imagine if Fisher and MLB did the right thing for Oakland and stayed. Or, better yet, sold to local investors who’d pull the franchise out of the hole that Fisher dug for it. Las Vegas likely would have gotten a team through expansion while Oakland would have been given a chance to revitalize itself, if not at Howard Terminal then the Coliseum site.

Rather than making it work on the 112 acres at the Coliseum or the 55 acres at Howard Terminal, Fisher prefers all of nine acres on the Las Vegas Strip, a small ballpark in a smaller market. All that drivel about needing a ballpark village to accompany a stadium and generate revenue to field a competitive team was hot air, in retrospect, because there’s no ballpark village in the latest plan.

Nor is there a waterfront. Another reason Fisher and Dave Kaval lobbied for Howard Terminal over the Coliseum site. Lots of baloney being bantered about these days, and on the subject of diversity, MLB had a true opportunity to make good on its pledges.

To be fair, 40.34% of players on Opening Day rosters come from diverse backgrounds, including 30.2% Latinos, and the MLB-hosted World Baseball Classic in March was a smashing success. The strides MLB is making are admirable with its Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and other ventures designed to attract young African Americans into the game, the results demonstrated in recent drafts and on top-prospect lists.

But the fact is, just 6.2% of players on Opening Day rosters (including the injured list) were African Americans, 59 of 945 players, down from 7.2% last year. It’s not the progress MLB anticipated, especially in a sport that brought us Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and countless other African American legends.

Fisher could have made a difference in Oakland as the Giants did in San Francisco, the opening of their stadium in 2000 leading to the revitalization of China Basin and Mission Bay, but he quit.

Quit on competing with the Giants for Bay Area bragging rights. Quit on working with Oakland officials even though they said they raised $375 million for infrastructure, far more than Fisher first requested and similar to what Las Vegas is willing to contribute. Quit on a proud community.