NEW YORK -- Black players accounted for 10.2 percent of major leaguers last year, the most since the 1995 season.
The sport had reached an all-time low of 8.2 percent in 2007, according to Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. The percentage of black pitchers rose to 5 percent from 3 percent and the percentage of black infielders went up to 9 percent from 7 percent.
"I feel encouraged. It's not a huge leap, but it's a step forward," said Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson. "I think we have to feel encouraged, not only feel encouraged but feel inspired by progress so that we can not only sustain what we have but work harder to see that we get that number up in future reports."
Baseball received an A for race hiring for the first time in his annual report, which was released Wednesday, up from an A-minus last year. Lapchick cited 10 minority managers at the start of this season, matching the previous high in 2002. There were five African-Americans, four Latinos and one Asian-American.
There were five minority GMs: three African-Americans and two Latinos.
The sport got a B for gender hiring, up from a C-plus. Its overall grade went up to B-plus from B.
Lapchick released the study on Jackie Robinson Day, the 62nd anniversary of when Robinson broke the major league color barrier.
"Bud Selig has led the way on these issues in MLB, which achieved this through strong records for race in the commissioner's office, as well as at the levels of manager, coach, general manager and the professional administrators of teams," Lapchick said. "MLB continues to have an outstanding record for diversity initiatives."
He said the percentage of minority employees in the commissioner's office went up to 34 percent from 28 percent.
"Under commissioner Selig's direction, Major League Baseball launched several programs designed to increase African-American representation among our players and minority representation among our managers and front offices," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "The Lapchick study shows that those programs are working."
Lapchick called baseball's progress substantial.
"They're still behind the NBA but they've gained ground consistently over the last three or four years. They're a very close second to the NBA," he said. "They've really been the industry leader in working with minority vendors. That has built up a well of good will for baseball in the African-American community that really didn't exist 15 years ago."
Speaking at Citi Field, where the Mets dedicated the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, Rachel Robinson was encouraged by the changes baseball has made.
"Rich Lapchick is a friend of mine and he does a very good job with that report and I think it's important that it gets circulated so people know, because so often people feel so down and so pessimistic and so cynical about social progress," she said. "And so I don't let that get into me because I have to be spirited and I have to be ready to carry on and I won't be pessimistic. I just refuse to be."