Dodgers’ Mookie Betts embraces his activist side for Black inclusion during All-Star Game

National League's Mookie Betts, of the Dodgers, lead off first base during the first inning of the MLB All-Star Game.
National League’s Mookie Betts, of the Dodgers, lead off first base during the first inning of the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.
(Sean M Haffey / Associated Press)

Mookie Betts wanted to deliver a message before Tuesday’s All-Star Game, quietly but with a purpose. It was written in blue airbrush on the black T-shirt he wore during batting practice.

“We need more Black people at the stadium,” the shirt read.

A few hours later, Betts used his voice. With the National League and American League All-Star teams gathered on the Dodger Stadium field, Betts grabbed the microphone to orchestrate a happy birthday greeting for Rachel Robinson, the wife of Jackie Robinson, who turned 100 on Tuesday. It was only right that Betts, one of six Dodgers All-Stars, handled MC duties.

Mookie Betts' shirt during batting practice carried a message
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

“I’m just glad everybody joined in,” Betts said. “Everything she’s been through and is going through, it may be rough on her, but she’s handling it very well.”

Betts, 29, was named an All-Star for the sixth straight season. He was voted in as a starter by fans for the third time. He’s a former most valuable player and a two-time World Series champion. He’s on track for induction to Cooperstown. And he’s accomplished those feats as one of baseball’s few prominent Black faces.

On Tuesday, after delivering an RBI single against Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan in his only at-bat, Betts shared that he’s learned to embrace a responsibility to serve as a Black ambassador for his sport. He admitted to shying away from the burden in the past. But he’s taking ownership as an established veteran who has secured generational wealth because “someone has to do it.”

“Just growth,” said Betts, who was pulled from the game after 2½ innings. “You evolve in life. I’m not young. I’m not 20 years old trying to make my way through now. I’m almost 30. It’s a different part in life.”

MLB officials have attempted to attract more Black Americans to the sport after years of decline in interest and participation. They’ve aggressively invested at the grass-roots level, in youth baseball programs, over the last decade striving to counter the slide.

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The effort has yet to result in change at the major-league level. This season, 7.2% of players on opening day rosters were Black Americans. That’s a drop from 7.6% last year.

There has been, however, better recent success in getting Black players drafted. It was evident Sunday when four of the top five players selected in the draft were Black. In a news release, MLB noted it was the first time that’s happened since the draft was introduced in 1965.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and outfielder Mookie Betts embrace in the dugout during the All-Star Game.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and outfielder Mookie Betts embrace in the dugout during the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

On Tuesday, five Black players started — Betts and four on the American League side. Betts said he came across the shirt he wore during batting practice while online. He bought a couple of them from Bricks & Wood, the shop in South Central L.A. that created it. He said he spoke with MLB about the pregame birthday ceremony for Rachel Robinson on Monday. He was the ideal candidate: a Black star playing on Jackie Robinson’s team, minutes from where the trailblazer was raised in Pasadena.

“That tribute there is probably the thing I’ll remember the most,” Betts said. “It was very special for me to be able to be on the mic and say it. It meant a lot.”

It was an opportunity he may not have embraced in the past. He said he doesn’t feel the need to encourage others to join him in assuming responsibility to attract Black fans and players. He knows it comes with time for some. In his case, he feels an obligation at this stage in his life. On Tuesday, that meant a message and his voice with the baseball world watching.

The MLB All-Star Game returned to Dodger Stadium for the first time since 1980 on Tuesday. Here’s our coverage:

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