MLB hires Ken Griffey Jr. to help improve diversity at youth levels

Cassandra Negley
·3 min read

The Kid is back in a role fit for the name.

Ken Griffey Jr. is joining MLB as a senior advisor to commissioner Rob Manfred, the league announced Friday. The job will entail a variety of issues, but will focus on baseball operations and youth development with a focal point of improving diversity at amateur levels.

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Griffey to lead youth diversity in baseball

Griffey, a 13-time All-Star over a 22-year career, will also serve as an MLB ambassador at youth baseball initiatives and special events, like the All-Star Game and postseason festivities.

“I am humbled to be asked to work with Major League Baseball in this role,” Griffey said in a statement. “It will be an honor to represent the best sport in the world and to promote our game among today’s youth.”

He has served as a youth ambassador for MLB and the MLB Players Association on the join baseball development initiatives since 2016, the same year he was inducted to the Hall of Fame.

“We are thrilled that Ken will represent Major League Baseball on some of our sport’s most important stages, alongside our current and future stars,” Manfred said in a statement. “We welcome the perspective and insights that Ken gained as an historic player, as a parent, and as someone who has spent his life in and around our great game.”

Griffey, known as “The Kid” when he was a 19-year-old rookie with the Seattle Mariners, has worked to encourage kids to choose baseball as their sport. The video clip shared by MLB shows him explaining why it’s cool to play it.

He played for the Seattle Mariners and the Cincinnati Reds during his career, winning the MVP award in 1997 and 10 Gold Gloves. Griffey, 51, worked with the Boys & Girls Club often as a player and was named by current players as one of the most influential players of the generation.

He and his wife, Melissa, have three children who all excelled in sports so he’s seen first-hand the modern youth, high school and collegiate frameworks.

MLB lacks diversity

Ken Griffey Jr. speaks at a mic.
Seattle Mariners Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. will work for MLB in youth initiatives. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Baseball is often viewed as “uncool,” which is easy to see since MLB can be viewed as stifling and conservative. The average age of fans is 57.

Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are playing baseball, but participation has declined. They typically hit roadblocks to continuing past the earliest levels and need investment and true allyship from MLB to address the lack of diversity in the sport.

MLB and USA Baseball established the Dream Series to prepare youth players and increase diversity, but it’s focused on high school players. The Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program was created for youth, but has its own challenges as detailed in Yahoo Sports’ Privilege of Play series.

Griffey will face the challenge of answering some of these questions to improve diversity and keep children interested in a sport often viewed as one where players must stay within a rigid box of unwritten rules.

He has already made a lasting impact on MLB beyond his play on the field. In 2007, commissioner Bud Selig expanded Griffey’s idea of wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson day to all on-field personnel. It has continued every year since then.

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