Minor League Baseball has placed diversity and inclusion at the forefront of its growth strategy. We strive to create an industry where all identities are represented, welcomed, valued and empowered to enhance our league's culture, creativity, innovation and comprehensive service to the communities we occupy. We strive to be the most fun and inclusive league in all of sports and entertainment.
While conversations regarding diversity and inclusion happen daily in the Minor League Baseball office and among our 160 clubs, we recognize the need to do more to elevate the voices and stories of those who currently work in our industry. There is something uniquely powerful about sitting face-to-face with someone and listening to his or her experience.
The goal of this series is to spotlight the people, programs and stories in the baseball industry that champion diversity and inclusion and advance the mission of Minor League Baseball's diversity initiative. This week we profiled Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp general manager Harold Craw.
When Harold Craw was named the Southern League Executive of the Year in 2017, he became the first and only African American executive to win the award. With a Minor League Baseball career spanning 17 years, his journey has included stops in Charleston, South Carolina; Davenport, Iowa; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Jacksonville, Florida - where he currently serves as general manager.
Craw has made championing diversity and inclusion a pillar of his leadership style since beginning his career in baseball. He has consistently made efforts to build bridges into ballparks for communities of color in every city he's called home.
The inaugural sport management internship class from Andrew Jackson High School.
"I feel like the ballpark should be a melting pot and the place where all people can come together in the name of fun. If we can come together in the ballpark, then it should help us become an even more close-knit community. A person I hold dear once gave me the greatest gem. He said, 'A community can function without a ballpark, but a ballpark cannot function without a community.'"
Currently, Craw is the only African American general manager in Minor League Baseball. While this distinction makes it clear there is more work to do, Craw embraces the opportunity he has to champion diversity and advocate for representation throughout the industry. Fortunately, Craw comes from a family who instilled in him early the importance of not letting difference become an impediment to success.
Craw and director of community relations Andrea Williams with former Negro Leaguer Harold Buster.
"Many of my influencers growing up were trailblazers in their own way. My grandmother, grandfather and mother were all 'firsts' of their own at some point in their careers. Beyond that, my mom and dad were big sticklers for history. So I learned and witnessed what it meant to be different and to find a way to make your own path."
One of Craw's career goals is to help identify and develop future general managers who look like him. While he recognizes the trend of the decline in black participation in the sport of baseball, he thinks for sports professionals, baseball offers such a unique and exciting opportunity to enact change and find success.
"My advice would be to keep an open mind. I know it may get tough sometimes, but success is never easy. The opportunities to effect real change are here with MiLB. I try to ask minority candidates what their ultimate life goal is. My goal is to see if they are thinking big picture early. In my history, it's those who think big picture who give themselves a great opportunity for success in the business."
Craw speaking to local middle schoolers as a part of their career day.
The Jumbo Shrimp have consistently been toward the top of MiLB's attendance list and draw positive national attention for a variety of reasons. Craw credits the success of his club to their deliberate effort to be different.
"Whether it's how we run our social media, outlandish promotions, random saying on merchandise items, or the food being served at games, it's our way to differentiate ourselves in a crowded Jacksonville sports market. Also, I truly believe our 'Affordable, Family, Fun' messaging has hit at the heart of Jacksonville."
A leader whose pursuit of excellence is never-ending, Craw's next goal in Jacksonville is to ensure that the makeup of his club's attendance is representative of the makeup of the city.
"A ballpark should reflect your city. As you walk around the concourse or sit in your seat, the park should look the same as if you were walking in downtown."
With Jacksonville in the midst of a demographic shift and on the cusp of becoming a minority-majority city (i.e., a city whose population is composed of less than 50% non-Hispanic whites), the need to constantly adapt is a reality for Craw and his staff.
"Our city is constantly changing; Duval County is already one of the top 15 most populated areas in the nation, and it's growing. We need to make sure we're adapting along with it. We need to make sure our diversity and inclusion tactics are fluid and constantly improving. We have an opportunity here to extend a hand to all in our community; I want our ballpark to truly be Jacksonville's ballpark."