White Sox

Micah Johnson: MLB has platform to reach African American youth

micahjohnsonwhitesoxslide.png

Micah Johnson: MLB has platform to reach African American youth

CLEVELAND -- Micah Johnson thinks Major League Baseball has an audience with young African Americans, it just needs to reach them.

The White Sox second baseman is excited for the opportunity to start Wednesday on Jackie Robinson Day and to pay tribute to the legendary Brooklyn Dodger. But Johnson, who will bat ninth when the White Sox play the Cleveland Indians, is saddened by the decline in African American players, who only represent 7.8 percent of the players on Opening Day rosters. He hopes MLB takes advantage and better markets players like Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen and San Diego’s Tyson Ross, Justin Upton and Melvin Upton.

“It’s not like what it used to be,” Johnson said. “Basketball is kind of huge. … “Everybody knows who Steph Curry is and Kyrie Irving. Everybody knows who those guys are because they’re on TV all the time.

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox bullpen has different 'vibe' in 2015]

“That’s what it really takes is to kind of put it in the face of the kids so they can see. You’ve got a guy like McCutchen, an MVP who has dreads … you can be yourself and still play baseball.”

Even though the day is intended to honor Robinson, as players throughout the league wear No. 42 jerseys, Johnson also believes it honors the late White Sox great Minnie Minoso. Same as Robinson, Minoso endured hardships because of his skin color and race. Johnson sees Minoso, who passed away in February, as a trailblazer for many of his Spanish-speaking teammates.

“He’s equally important,” Johnson said. “He set the stage for (Jose) Abreu and all these guys, the international game.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Johnson doesn’t expect baseball’s African American population to continue to decline. But he also thinks MLB, which has worked to create opportunities in the inner-city in several major markets across the United States, needs to continue its proactive efforts to draw more fans.

“Everything always has those phases,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take baseball to put the players to the forefront. Market the McCutchens, the Uptons, the Brantleys, Tyson Ross, Taijuan Walker, Dee Gordon, all these young faces to really put them out there so that kids can see them.”

Jose Abreu didn't come to White Sox looking for leadership role, but he's the face of the franchise on the All-Star stage

0717-jose-abreu.jpg
USA TODAY

Jose Abreu didn't come to White Sox looking for leadership role, but he's the face of the franchise on the All-Star stage

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Jose Abreu didn’t come to the White Sox to be a leader. But that’s what he is as he took his spot among the best in baseball at Tuesday night’s All-Star Game.

Abreu is the face of the South Side baseball club and he’s had a stellar-enough first four and a half seasons in Major League Baseball to earn the distinction of a starter in the Midsummer Classic. But Abreu, unsurprisingly, doesn’t look at himself as one of the best in the game. He looks as himself as a hard-worker.

“I don’t believe that I’m the best,” Abreu said through a team translator on Monday. “I’m just a person who likes to work hard every day and try to do my best.”

That humility is nothing new to folks who follow the White Sox on a regular basis. And neither is talk of Abreu’s work ethic, the admiration of everyone involved with the team and a constant talking point from Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all Abreu’s teammates.

Abreu has become as important for his off-the-field roles as he has for his on-the-field production for this rebuilding White Sox team. He’s been described as a role model for all the young players in the organization, whether they’re on the big league roster right now or coming up through the system.

“None of them have told me that yet,” Abreu joked. “But I know that. It’s definitely a compliment, and I take it as something that makes you feel good, something that makes you keep moving forward and to keep trying to help the guys to improve and get better as a team. You feel like that is a big honor, that people think that way of you.”

As good as he feels to be held in such esteem, Abreu didn’t set out to be one of this team’s leaders when he came to the United States. And to be honest, he might not be in his current position if it weren’t for the team’s rebuilding effort. Abreu is one of the few veterans on this team.

“That was something that happened. I didn’t look for it,” Abreu said. “I was always trying to help people and trying to give advice to help people to improve. But I never tried to be a leader. If people say that because of what I do, that’s good, but that’s not something that I’m trying to force or something that I say, ‘I want to be a leader.’ No, that’s not who I am. I am just the kind of person who likes to help people, who likes to give advice.”

Abreu is seemingly the definition of what the White Sox want their next winning roster to be full of. And whether it’s the special relationship he has with fellow Cuban Yoan Moncada or the role-model status he holds in the eyes of his other teammates, both current and future, he’s helping the White Sox develop those kinds of players.

Oh, and he’s generally — though this season has seen an extended slump and atypical numbers — one of the most consistently productive hitters in the game.

Who wouldn’t want all that as the face of the franchise?

“It’s all a blessing. I can’t ask for anything else,” Abreu said. “I’m a true believer that if you work hard, good things are going to happen. That’s why I work hard every day, I try to do my best, I try to improve every day and just to be a better person. Not just a better player, but a better person.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

jose.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

With Jose Abreu playing in the All-Star Game, we asked some of his American League teammates about the White Sox first baseman. Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Brantley rave about Abreu, explaining why he’s such a great hitter and a tough out for pitchers. 

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: