Playing baseball is tough. Living up to the hype is a little harder. But so far, Hunter Greene seems up to the task. Too bad the league he plays in isn’t.
A day after Major League Baseball and the overwhelming majority of its fans, networks and Americans pretended to care Jackie Robinson’s legacy and the 75th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier, One of the few black baseball players — and pitchers — in the league showed how he carries on the legacy of being an over-talented athlete in a sport still bent on excluding blacks.
While the nation was busy putting its “42” jerseys back in the closet, Greene received minimal attention as he threw 39 pitches at 100 mph or faster than the Cincinnati Reds at 5 in his second career : 2 against the Los Angeles Dodgers lost early. Since pitch tracking began in 2008, nobody has thrown this much heat into a game, as Jacob deGrom held the previous record of 33 pitches that reached at least the 100-mile mark.
“I wish we’d won, but it was a really, really fun time,” said Greene after the game played in LA, just off the streets of Compton where Greene grew up. “It was an incredible feeling and experience to compete against this line-up. freddy [Freeman] gave me some love, kind of a top of the cap, so that was cool. I was happy to be able to do this and have family here.”
There’s no guarantee what will happen to Greene, 22, in the majors. He could become one of the greatest pitchers of his time or just a viable fellow for clubs to keep in their bullpen. But whatever the outcome for him, he’s already made it. “Hunter Greene has been compared to Noah Syndergaard on the hill and to Alex Rodriguez on the field. Meet the possible first overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft,” is how the future No. 2 overall pick was described when he was Sports Illustrated’s newest teen cover boy in 2017.
“This is exactly the kind of child we desperately need” A major league official said SI’s Lee Jenkins in the articlesince it was noted that Greene started wearing Robinson’s number 42 at the age of 6.
“What [Robinson] endured as a player, as a man is incredible, the grace he played, everything on the field, the teammate he was.” Greene said about Robinson a day before the 75th anniversary. “To be here at Dodger Stadium, to be here for the 75th anniversary, is very special. To be here as a black player and young man to represent what he stood for is super important to shed that light on our community and let these kids know they can do it.”
You’d think that a league that’s in the single digits every year when it comes to the percentage of black players in opening-day rosters would find a way to highlight players like Greene. For example, the Phillies made history this year by not having a single African-American players on their list for opening day for the first time since 1959.
“If you’re talking about African American ballplayers, we have to do better.” Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts recently told the LA Times. Roberts is one of two black managers in the majors this season. “I think about it all the time. It’s getting really awkward.”
It feels like Major League Baseball would rather focus on that international talent than the native blacks who made baseball what it is today, as revealed by opening-day lineups 275 internationally born players. Many fans and executives in the league are focused on the performances of 27-year-old Japanese rookie Seiya Suzuki, who slashes .429/.564/.929 in 10 games with 4 homers and 11 RBI Roki Sasaki a Japanese pitcher for the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Nippon Professional Baseball League of Japan who had one perfect game thrown earlier this season (19 hits) and followed that up with eight more perfect innings before pitching the next time before being pulled. They are both outstanding talents who deserve recognition, but so does the “diverse” here in America.
This moment we are in feels similar to 2020 when Triston McKenzie – a young black pitcher – had a breakout moment That seemed to be ignored, though the then-rookie right-hander hit 10, including Miguel Cabrera – twice – and conceded just two in a 6-1 win for Cleveland over the Tigers. McKenzie would appear in eight games in 2020 (42 Ks) and 25 in 2021 (136 Ks) and has appeared in quite a few games this season.
“There’s a cloud or stigma that there aren’t black kids who want to play baseball.” Greene said recently. “It’s not the case. There are a lot of black kids who love to play baseball. I just got back from Atlanta. There are a lot of black baseball players in Atlanta. Chicago too. These kids are out there. You just have to give them the opportunity.”
Black kids have always wanted to play baseball and always will. The question is whether baseball wants them to play and thrive at the highest level. There’s a reason Kyler Murray turned the sport down after becoming the only athlete to be a top-10 pick in the MLB and NFL drafts. And if baseball doesn’t do a better job of presenting the next Hunter Greene, then don’t be surprised if black athletes start picking up football helmets and basketballs instead of baseball bats more than they do now.