Posted on November 14, 2020

Baseball’s Dearth of Black Catchers Helps Explain Its Dearth of Black Managers

Jared Diamond, Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2020

Growing up as a baseball-obsessed child in a predominantly white area of Iowa, Ian Moller always introduced himself to new coaches as a catcher. They usually didn’t believe him—largely, Moller believes, because of the color of his skin.


Now a high-school senior, Moller has since developed into one of the best catching prospects in the country and is seen as a potential first-round selection in next July’s major-league draft. It makes him a prime candidate to end a disturbing trend with significant ramifications for the future of the game.

No Black American has been the everyday catcher for a MLB team since Charles Johnson retired after the 2005 season. {snip}

Part of this phenomenon stems from declining Black participation in baseball, a demographic shift that MLB officials are desperately trying to reverse. Though players from Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela now make up about 30% of the league, Black representation has sunk to around 8%, down from nearly 20% four decades ago.

The disappearance of Black catchers specifically has particular importance as it pertains to the sport’s even more glaring lack of Black leadership. There are just two Black managers in MLB: Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, who was born to a Black father and Japanese mother. None of the three managers hired this offseason is Black. Meanwhile, more than a third of the current managers are former catchers, including Joe Girardi of the Philadelphia Phillies, David Ross of the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers’ new skipper, A.J. Hinch.

This is no surprise. Catching requires leadership and communication skills more than any other spot on the field. The position has emerged as a direct pipeline to the manager’s seat—a pipeline with no Black candidates.


Webster likens Black catchers to Black quarterbacks in football, who for decades were held back because of racist stereotypes about their leadership capabilities. Though the NFL now has several superstar Black quarterbacks—like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson—academic studies have shown that their success is more likely to be attributed to their athletic skill, while their white counterparts are praised for their intellect.


When Nick Hassan, the catcher at Kennesaw State, first started playing travel ball as a young teenager, “They didn’t believe that I was a catcher,” he said. {snip}

Early in his life, Hassan says, coaches tried to put him at shortstop, believing it was a better use of his speed, a common occurrence for aspiring Black catchers.


For any of this to change, players say, baseball first needs to address the larger issue of attracting young Black athletes to baseball. But catching comes with its own challenges unique to the position. It requires specialized training beyond fielding and throwing, such as calling and receiving pitches and blocking balls in the dirt. {snip}

Webster says he sees progress, thanks in part to MLB’s programs designed to bring more Black athletes to the game. He hopes it will ultimately lead not just to more Black players, but to more Black managers and executives in baseball—and the road begins behind the plate.