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The Sports Report: Team of Jackie Robinson had no African American players on roster during season

Divisional Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals - Game Four
For the first time since 1946, the Dodgers didn’t have a single African-American player on their roster in 2019.
(Getty Images)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

DODGERS

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers:

The stars at this year’s Dodgers alumni game spanned decades. Steve Garvey, Orel Hershiser, Davey Lopes, Fernando Valenzuela and Maury Wills were among the dozens of former players at Dodger Stadium on June 1 to celebrate the franchise’s deep history.

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But it was impossible for Kenny Landreaux, a former Dodgers center fielder, and some of his peers to ignore a difference between the rosters for the nostalgic exhibition and the lineup the Dodgers fielded that night for their 59th game of the 2019 season: While the alumni game brimmed with African Americans, the Dodgers, the franchise that signed Jackie Robinson to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 and remained the preferred destination for black American players for decades, did not have a single African American player on their roster.

“We were like, ‘Wow, man, it’s getting kind of scarce around here,’” Landreaux said.

That game was not an anomaly. For the first time since 1946, the season before Robinson debuted and altered the course of American history, an African American did not appear in a game for the Dodgers for an entire campaign. For Landreaux, it was startling and yet unsurprising.

“I noticed it even before,” Landreaux said at a recent charity golf tournament to benefit the Major League Baseball Youth Academy in Compton. “Even though they went down to zero blacks on the team, I remember when it was cut down to six, then five, then four, then three, then two. I just saw it keep going down, down, and down.”

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The dearth of African Americans on the Dodgers is just the latest example of an issue vexing a sport that has diversified in other ways, with an increasing presence of players from Latin America (many of whom are black) and Asia.

Of the 882 major leaguers on opening day rosters in 2019, 68 were African American, amounting to 7.7%. Eleven teams had no more than one African American. The Angels had four African American players last season: outfielders Justin Upton, Brian Goodwin and Michael Hermosillo and relief pitcher Keynan Middleton. Their top prospect, triple-A outfielder Jo Adell, also is African American.

The percentage of African American players peaked in 1981 at 18.7% and did not dip below 16% until 1997, according to the Society of American Baseball Research. The 1989 All-Star game featured 15 African American players.

By 1993, Latin American players exceeded African American players. By 2017, 27.4% of major league players were Latin American. Meanwhile, the decline of African American players accelerated, hitting a low of 6.7% in 2013.

On other fronts, Friedman’s 2019 Dodgers reflected diversity. Dave Roberts was the only African American manager in the majors. Catcher Russell Martin is an African Canadian from Montreal. Closer Kenley Jansen is from Curacao. Pedro Baez and Yimi Garcia hail from the Dominican Republic. Julio Urias represents Mexico, Hyun-Jin Ryu arrived via South Korea, Kenta Maeda is from Japan, and Kiké Hernandez calls Puerto Rico home.

But the Dodgers went a complete season without an African American on their 40-man roster after outfielder Andrew Toles did not report to spring training due to a personal matter and was placed on the restricted list.

Read the whole story by clicking here.

USC BASKETBALL

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Onyeka Okongwu had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and USC beat Fairfield 54-47 in a first-round game at the Orlando Invitational.

Jonah Matthews scored 14 points and Elijah Weaver added 13 for the Trojans (6-1), who rebounded after their season-opening five-game winning streak was snapped in a 70-61 loss to Temple on Nov. 22.

Fairfield (1-5) got 16 points from Landon Taliaferro and 13 from Jesus Cruz.

USC overcome an eight-point deficit with 12 minutes left in the first half to take a 25-22 lead at the break. Weaver opened the second half with a pair of 3’s to help USC go up 14 points with 8 minutes remaining.

USC dominated in the paint, outscoring Fairfield 24-6. The Trojans also had a 20-4 advantage in fast-break points.

Fairfield shot just 27% (17 of 63) and USC went 20 for 48 (41.7%).

LAKERS

Wednesday was an emotional day for Anthony Davis, one filled with reunions, boos, praise and probably a few nerves. But Davis could count on one thing — he had a formidable army of teammates behind him.

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“I don’t think all season it’s shown up as strong as it did tonight, our guys really wanted to get this win for AD,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s their brother, you know what I mean. It’s a brotherhood for him and a family atmosphere with this group and they all wanted this badly for him.”

With their support, Davis responded by becoming the first player in NBA history to score more than 40 points in his first game against his former team.

“New Orleans fans should probably boo their own team for letting him get 40 when you come back,” Kuzma said.

Davis scored 41 points, picked off a game-changing steal and sealed the 114-110 win with a pair of free throws with 4.2 seconds left in the game.

“They said it pregame, we don’t want to leave this building without a win,” Davis said. “I think this game was circled on both calendars. They came out guns blazing, and we [were] able to come out with the win. My teammates, you know, kept telling me, ‘AD, don’t worry about it, we gonna get this win. We’re gonna find a way to win for you.’ And we did that.”

RAMS

During his first two seasons with the Rams, safety Marqui Christian’s braids often caused people to mistake him for star running back Todd Gurley.

Christian did not mind.

One night, he went out for sushi at Nobu in Malibu. The waiter offered him a free dessert.

“I think the waiter knew but the owner didn’t,” Christian said, laughing. “He was like, ‘You’re not Todd, but you’re Todd tonight.’

“I’m like, ‘You’re right. I’ll take it.’”

Christian, a fourth-year pro, has since dyed his hair a lighter color. He also has carved his own identity as a valuable rotation player and special teams stalwart.

Christian, perhaps more than any Rams player, is looking forward to Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.

It’s an elimination game of sorts for the Rams, who are 6-5 and almost certainly need to win all of their five remaining games for a chance at a third consecutive playoff berth.

And Christian has a connection to the Cardinals.

In 2016, they selected him in the fifth round of the NFL draft after he concluded his career at Division II Midwestern State in Texas.

Christian had been inactive for the first three games when the Cardinals made an ill-advised gamble. Punter Drew Butler had suffered injuries that prevented him from kicking, but he also served as the holder for field-goal attempts. The Cardinals signed another punter and kept Butler on the roster, making room by putting Christian on waivers and hoping no team would claim him. The Rams did.

Was Christian surprised?

“Hell yeah!” he said. “I was a fifth-round pick, three games into the season, I’m in a new city and living in a hotel.

“I’m like ‘Damn, life came fast.’”

UCLA FOOTBALL

Senior Krys Barnes, who finishes his last UCLA final exam next week, Saturday’s season finale game against California is the gate to the rest of his life. He’ll step through with a mix of excitement and caution as he confronts a murky NFL future.

“I knew it was going to happen eventually,” Barnes said of confronting the end of his football career, “but for me, I just wanted it to be under my own power. And honestly it’s not really up to me.”

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound prospect is hoping to become the next graduate of the self-proclaimed LBU since UCLA had six linebackers selected in the last six NFL drafts. His 31 career starts rank second among UCLA’s current non-specialists, and his 74 tackles rank second on the team this year. In a rare combination of skills, he leads the Bruins (4-7, 4-4 Pac-12 Conference) in both tackles for loss (10) and pass breakups (seven).

Yet two NFL scouts told The Times last week that the “instinctive and hard-working” Barnes was “average across the board” and a late-round pick or a free agent.

All he wants is a shot, Barnes said. Saturday will be one of his final sales pitches, but he might not close the deal. After collecting nine tackles in UCLA’s 52-35 loss to USC, Barnes reaggravated a nagging knee injury that’s plagued him all year.

He is questionable for his final game at the Rose Bowl.

CLIPPERS

Most Clippers players didn’t know Rodney McGruder when he was claimed off waivers in April, but after he joined the team in the Bay Area for the start of its first-round playoff series against Golden State, they understood how the undrafted guard out of Kansas State had worked his way into a starting role in Miami.

“Man, he’s one of the hard-nosed, tough defenders, especially out there causing a lot of havoc,” center Montrezl Harrell said.

He was causing more during the third quarter of a game Wednesday night in Memphis, turning a steal into a fastbreak layup on the other end. Immediately upon landing, however, the typically stoic guard grimaced and reached for the back of his right leg.

McGruder was not in the locker room following the Clippers’ 121-119 comeback victory over the Grizzlies, but the early signs from his injury were not encouraging for a backcourt already down shooting guard Landry Shamet. Harrell said he had heard McGruder pulled a hamstring.

“I’ve seen those and I’ve had them, and where he was grabbing, my guess it’s not a good injury,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He was playing terrific, driving, defensively. Rodney’s been fantastic for us, but my guess he’ll be out for a while.”

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Washington at Lakers, 7:30 p.m, Spectrum Sportsnet, 710 ESPN

Clippers at San Antonio, 5:30 p.m., Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Kings at San Jose, 1 p.m., FSW

Winnipeg at Ducks, PRIME

USC (basketball) vs. Marquette (at Orlando, Fla.), ESPN2

BORN ON THIS DATE

1927: Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully

1946: Skier/chapstick user Suzy Chaffee

1959: Hockey Player Neal Broten

1960: Baseball player Howard Johnson

1968: Basketball player Dee Brown

1969: Baseball player Mariano Rivera

1969: Soccer player Kasey Keller

1970: Football player Lamar Smith

1971: Hockey Player Brad May

1972: Basketball player Jamal Mashburn

1974: Hockey player Pavol Demitra

1982: Race car driver Ashley Force

1988: Football player Russell Wilson

DIED ON THIS DATE

1974: Boxer James J. Braddock, 69

2003: Football player Tony Canadeo, 84

AND FINALLY

Vin Scully calls the final inning of Sandy Koufax‘s perfect game. Listen to it here.

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. If you want to subscribe, click here.


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