In the mid-1990s, the Phillies fielded such a lily-white team it fueled a perception that the team didn't try very hard to acquire black players. That sparked a lengthy examination of the subject in the Daily News with the headline, "Pale by Comparison."
When the article was published on July 18, 1996, the Phillies didn't have a single black player on the active roster after placing outfielder Glenn Murray on the disabled list 10 days earlier.
In the interim, Puerto Rico native Ricky Otero started twice in centerfield. Those were the only times in that span a minority was on the lineup card handed in at home plate.
And that wasn't something particularly new, either. Then-general manager Lee Thomas said at the time that he had been shocked during the 1993 World Series against Toronto to realize how monochromatic his team had become. In Game 3, for example, the Phillies started an all-white lineup with the exception of second baseman Mariano Duncan, although Wes Chamberlain later pinch-hit and Milt Thompson was a defensive replacement in left. Ricky Jordan and Kim Baptiste also were on the postseason roster.
Three of the first four Blue Jays hitters in that game, by contrast, were African-American. And the next two were Latin.
So, while the Phillies have clearly made great strides in bringing Latin talent into the organization, the organization also has improved its record of recruiting talented African-American players as well.
In addition to Howard, Rollins and Francisco, John Mayberry Jr. made the team as an extra outfielder and No. 1 prospect Domonic Brown was on the disabled list. And Howard last season signed the biggest contract extension in franchise history: 5 years, $125 million.
Richard Lapchick's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida annually breaks down baseball's racial scorecard. This year, his studies revealed that the percentage of black players dropped to 8.5 percent on Opening Day, the lowest level since 2007. That's down from 10 percent at the start of last season.
So the Phillies stack up pretty well against the rest of baseball these days. And while there was never any valid reason to suspect that the lack of high-profile African-American players 15 years ago was the result of anything other than poor scouting, the article did make it clear that there was a perception at the time that the last National League team to integrate was viewed by some to harbor vestigial racism.
At the time, Al Irby was a South Jersey-based agent who had extensive dealings with the Phillies representing minority players such as Tony Longmire, Milt Thompson and Ben Rivera. He also is an African-American who has lived in the area his entire life.
"In my personal negotiations with the Phillies, I can't say that I've detected any racism," he said in the article. "I think Lee Thomas and [then assistant general manager] Eddie Wade have always dealt fairly with me."
But he also conceded that the Phillies had a terrible image problem.
"I've talked to hundreds, thousands of people in the African-American community. And I'm telling you: I've not talked to one who doesn't believe that the organization isn't prejudiced toward African-American players," he continued. "So I have two perspectives. As an agent, I think I've always gotten an honest value for my clients. But as a citizen, there is definitely a perception that it is a racist organization that doesn't offer a good atmosphere for a brother."
That perception seems to have been largely erased, both by winning and the fact that Howard and Rollins have blossomed into the two best African-American players signed and developed by the Phillies since Dick Allen. *