What Would An All African-American WBC Team Look Like?
Back in November, MLB.com hosted a roundtable program entitled the “Culture & Journey of the Black Baseball Player”. Hosted by Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims, the program brought together a handful of current African-American ballplayers, along with former manager Charlie Manuel, to discuss the unique situation facing the modern day Black baseball player.
During the hour-long program, a variety of topics were delved into, including the lack of Black presence in the contemporary game, ways to inspire more young African-Americans to pick up a bat and ball, as well as the unique social challenges the fall on the shoulders of the few chosen players in the position in MLB today. Overall, it was a very engaging, truthful and enlightening conversation; one worth revisiting on the website today.
At a point during the program, Manuel brought up the idea of allowing an entry into the next World Baseball Classic consisting of just African-American players, to showcase the talents that are still both present, relevant and impactful in today’s game. The idea of that immediately sent my thought process going 1,000 miles per hour; what exactly would that team look like? There certainly are enough Black ballplayers to fill it out, but just what would the entirety of look like, together?
So, that is exactly what is set before you here: a 2021 version of an WBC-style African-American All-Star team. As the new year settles into the box, here’s a look at what would be one of hell of a modern day barnstorming team.
(Editor’s note: The fifth edition of the Classic was supposed to have taken place this year, but like all else, it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Shortstop: Tim Anderson, White Sox
Anderson has become one of the most exciting players in the game. In 2019, he captured the American League batting title, hitting .335. Last summer, his 45 runs scored led the AL, while he won his first Silver Slugger Award. Anderson is also one of the most outspoken, unapologetic presences in the game and would thrive in the spotlight like the WBC.
Reserve: J.P. Crawford (Mariners)
First Base: Dominic Smith, Mets
Although it was an abbreviated year, Smith had the type of season that had been awaited for a handful of seasons. He produced a .993 OPS over 50 games, with 10 home runs and 21 doubles, outdoing his cumulative numbers over the exact same number of at-bats in 2019 in nearly 40 fewer games.
Bench: Josh Bell (Nationals)
Second Base: Marcus Semien, Blue Jays
Semien will switch over from shortstop at his new stop in Toronto, a location where his value could get even greater with an easier defensive load. His 14.1 WAR ranks second among all shortstops since 2018, just a .1 behind Colorado’s Trevor Story. He finished third in AL MVP voting in 2019.
Bench: Tony Kemp (A’s)
Third Base: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates
Hayes made the most of his first taste of MLB action in 2020. Over 24 games, the former top prospect and son of hot corner veteran Charlie, stroked to a 1.124 OPS, with 43% of his hits going for extra bases. His presence adds a nice dash of the bright future for African-Americans around the game.
Catcher: Bruce Maxwell, New York Mets
All things being equal, this is a bit of a cheat to fill out the roster, as Maxwell was sent to the minors after recently signing with the Mets, but was out of the majors since 2018. But it also highlights a massive issue of a lack of African-American catchers throughout the upper tiers of pro baseball. For the last Black All-Star catcher? You have to go all the way back to Charles Johnson in 2001. It is a position when the Black presence is tremendously underserved.
Bench: We need to work on this, obviously.
Outfield: Mookie Betts, Dodgers; George Springer, Blue Jays; Aaron Judge, Yankees
This is where this collection gets especially devastating. Between the trio of Betts, Springer and Judge there are: the 2018 AL MVP (Betts), the 2017 World Series MVP (Springer) and a slugger in Judge who reached a host of records owned by Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Reggie Jackson as a rookie. Add in five Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers between them all, and this is by far the powerhouse portion of this lineup.
Bench: Michael Brantley (Astros), Byron Buxton (Twins), Kyle Lewis (Mariners),
Utility: Ian Desmond, Rockies
While he opted out of the 2020 season, Desmond remains an accomplished and versatile talent. After starting his career at shortstop, he has shifted between first base and center field over the past few seasons. To his credit, he is a two-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner.
Bench: Dee Strange-Gordon (Free Agent)
Starting Pitcher: Jack Flaherty, Cardinals
He didn’t have the all-universe showing in 2020 (4.91 ERA over nine starts) that he finished 2019 with, there are few pitchers on Earth as talented as Flaherty. Over his first three full seasons, Flaherty owns a 3.20 ERA, while his .198 average against is the third-lowest in baseball among starters. He also places in the MLB top 10 in WHIP (1.04) and strikeout percentage (29.7%) over the same time span.
Rotation: Marcus Stroman (Mets, 2017 WBC Most Valuable Player), David Price (Dodgers), Justin Dunn (Mariners)
Bullpen: Devin Williams (Brewers), Amir Garrett (Reds), Jeremy Jeffress (Free Agent), Jordan Hicks (Cardinals), Mychal Givens (Rockies), Triston McKenzie (Indians), Touki Toussaint (Braves), Taylor Hearn (Rangers), Demarcus Evans (Rangers), Chris Archer (Rays)
Led by the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year in Williams (one earned run over 22 appearances), and amplified by the plus arms of Garrett, Jeffress, Hicks and McKenzie, the bullpen offers a deep and diverse set of arms capable of cleaning up most any situation later in affairs as well.
Matt Whitener has been a freelance writer, radio personality and podcaster host since 2010. His work is featured on Yardbarker, The Whole Game & on the SOLC Network. Matt is based out of St. Louis, MO and is a regular and lifelong advocate for the history of African-Americans in baseball and ensuring the culture is represented in a true to the game fashion. You can follow Matt on Instagram at @CheapSeatFan and by name on Facebook.