According to the latest data, 20 percent of Major League Baseball (MLB) Central Office executives are Blacks or people of color. Three of them recently were in town during the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series.
Since 2008, Wendy Lewis has been the highest ranking Black female as senior vice president of Diversity and Strategic Alliances. Thomas Brasuell is vice president of MLB Community Affairs. David James became the first full-time director of the 22-year-old RBI youth baseball and softball program in 2008.
When asked if the young RBI female players, the majority of whom are of color, know how influential Lewis is in MLB, she replied, “Probably not — I won’t say that some of them do. But for a lot of them, it probably makes no difference that I am part of the executive level.”
Nonetheless Lewis has made a difference since joining MLB in 1995 after eight years in the Chicago Cubs organization. She set up the first baseball diversity business summit in 2012 for business owners of color, and her office runs MLB’s Diverse Business Partners program, which since 1998 has spent over $800 million with Black-, women-, and other persons of color-owned businesses, and the Diversity Economic Impact Engagement Initiative, which hopes to improve the level of baseball’s current workforce and supplier diversity.
“There are people working for clubs today because of those initiatives,” noted Lewis. “I’m very proud of baseball’s Diverse Partners program and the amount of suppliers who otherwise might not have been [involved]. I think to me that is one of the proudest accomplishments. I’ve just been a benefactor to being able to shepherd it all.”
“I think it is so important for kids to see someone who looks like them in leadership roles,” James pointed out. “I think baseball does a very good job of providing those types of role models and opportunities.”
Furthermore, there are off-field positions in baseball that still need diversity.
“Between broadcasting and licensing, community affairs, charities and special events, there are so many different areas for baseball,” noted Brasuell, who has been with MLB since 2000. “A lot of kids come up to me and say, ‘How do we get into baseball?’ We always [tell] them to broaden your horizons, finish school, because there’s so many opportunities for you in baseball, and we’re happy to talk to you about it.”
“Over the last few years I’ve had a number of young men and women approach me to ask how do they get an internship if they want to pursue a career in sports,” added James.
Lewis and Brasuell are part of the 19-member Commissioner’s On-Field Diversity Task Force formed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in April to address the Black talent pipeline — currently around eight percent of MLB players are Black — as well as other diversity issues.
“I think it will be one of the biggest things we’ve done to date,” surmised Lewis. “The commissioner has identified the under-representation of African American players. We call it a game changer. It’s a pretty big deal.”
“I think it takes a long time before people all the way down to the grassroots really know the impact of the leadership [Selig] has blessed me to be able to carry out for him,” she concluded. “I know that for young women, and particularly young women of color, exposure to someone like me is just really important and makes a difference.”
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