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CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees talks to the media prior to Game 5 of the ALCS between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Friday, October 18, 2019 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
Alex Trautwig | MLB Photos | Getty Images
Former New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia is ready to embrace another post-career business decision that he hopes will bring awareness to the legacy of Black players in baseball.
In a partnership with the Major League Baseball Players Association, apparel company Roots of Fight create a clothing collection to honor former Black icons who played in Major League Baseball. Sabathia will serve as the creative director of the clothing line.
A portion of the revenue will be directed to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) to “preserve and celebrate the rich history of African American baseball and its significance in the social advancement of America at large,” said a statement announcing the partnership. Revenue from sales will also be directed to the estates of legendary Black players and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s near and dear to my heart, that museum, so I wanted to do something to commemorate the 100th year of the Negro Leagues and something for the museum to bring awareness to it and drive people to Kansas City to go check it out,” Sabathia told CNBC.
The MLB celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues on February 13, and the MLB was expected to honor the Negro Leagues this year before Covid-19 through its season in disarray.
The clothing collection will feature items, including hoodies, long-sleeved baseball t-shirts, and jackets. Former MLB great Jackie Robinson’s name and likeness will be included, and items will cost up to $350.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in the jazz music and historic hub downtown in Kansas City, Missouri on August 12, 2017.
Raymond Boyd | Getty Images
Sabathia said he wants the intuitive to bring more awareness to the declining percentage of Blacks in the MLB, which has recently hit historic lows. In 2017, Black players represented 7.7 percent of the MLB, the lowest in the history of the report’s data, which extends back to 1991 — back then, 18% of MLB players were Black.
In an interview with CNBC, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark called the declining stats the “exact opposite of growth and advancement.”
“This isn’t about (public relations) or ribbon-cutting,” Clark said. “This is about creating movement and awareness.”
But also concerning is the dwindling number of Black youth playing the game, something the MLB is trying to combat via its Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and its Youth Academy. Sabathia said there are plans to attract Black youth to playing baseball.
“It’s on us to step up and get these kids in the inner-city back playing,” said Sabathia, also noting how underprivileged communities can’t keep up with expenses associated with playing baseball. “It’s up to us to get these kids equipment, provide instructions, and get them playing.
“The reason why I started playing is because Dave Stewart looked like me; Rickey Henderson and Dave Parker looked like me,” added Sabathia, who retired after last year after 19 seasons. “It was so many different examples of faces in the game that looked like me … and it’s not that anymore. We’re not represented well.”
Sabathia, who finished his career with 251 wins (tied with Bob Gibson for 47th all-time), paid a visit to the Yankees summer camp on Tuesday as clubs continue to train for the MLB season delayed by coronavirus.
The league hit a brief snag this week, following the Independence Day holiday, as delayed testing results forced some teams to close camps. Sabathia said it’s “a tough time” for the MLB but added, “the country as a whole is going through this tough time with this virus.
He advised his former MLB colleagues to use the “one day at a time” approach as camps continue to ramp up with Opening Day scheduled for July 23 and July 24.
“I think guys are just trying to make it work,” Sabathia said. “Guys want to get out there and play and want to be as safe as possible, but they want to play baseball. We’re baseball players; that’s what we do in the summertime.”