Major League Baseball is ‘failing’ in its attempt to increase front-office diversity and the issue could get worse – Los Angeles Times
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color barrier, and the 45th anniversary of his last public appearance. He had accepted an invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the 1972 World Series but had no interest in serving as a prop for the sport to pat itself on the back.
He stood dignified on the field in Cincinnati, in coat and tie, his hair turned silver, his hands clasped and his head bowed as he listened to Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, bestow plaudits upon him. Robinson then stepped forward to accept a plaque, and gave a 17-second speech that challenges baseball to this day.
“Thank you very much, commissioner,” he said. “I am extremely proud and pleased to be here this afternoon, but must admit I’m going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third-base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball. Thank you very much.”
Robinson died nine days later. By 1987 — 40 years after Robinson’s debut — three black men had been hired and fired as manager, one as general manager, and the number of African Americans in each category had returned to zero.
“If you were to ask me if I think we’ve made enough progress, the answer is no,” the commissioner told The Los Angeles Times.
That was not Rob Manfred today, although it could be. Those were the words of Peter Ueberroth in 1987.
The gulf between the faces who play the sport and the faces who run the sport never has been wider. And under its current strategy, the numbers could get worse before they get better.
“We are failing in that regard,” said Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Assn.
In a season in which a record 43% of players are minorities, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the Angels’ Arte Moreno is the only minority controlling owner.
No one who is not a white man has served as a president or chief executive of a team since 2011. And there are only three minority managers, including the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, down from a high of 10 in 2009.
“There is a lot more that needs to be done,” Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife, said last year.
In seven of the past eight years, the number of minorities in control of a team’s baseball operations department has declined or stayed the same. This year, that number is three.
In the waning days of the 2015 season, over the sounds of balls colliding with bats and landing in gloves, Chris Gwynn heard his cellphone ring.
He was on a field in Peoria, Ariz., working with a prospect in the Seattle Mariners’ instructional league. The Angels were calling. They were looking for a general manager, and they wanted to interview him.
“I kind of went, ‘Whoa. I thought this was already settled,’ ” Gwynn said.
Within the industry, Billy Eppler was widely regarded as a shoo-in for the job. In 2011, the previous time the Angels had hired a general manager, Eppler had been the runner-up.
“There’s always that thought: Is this a real interview?” Gwynn said. “There’s always that thought for minorities: Am I just checking a box, or do they really have interest in me?”
In 1999, then-Commissioner Bud Selig directed teams to consider minorities when filling vacancies for manager, general manager, assistant general manager, scouting director and minor league director.
With more minorities in the candidate pool, the logic went, surely more would get hired — maybe not after a first interview, but after a second or third interview they might not have gotten without the chance to make a strong impression the first time.
When he enacted what came to be known as the Selig Rule, three teams were managed by minorities. That number rose to five in 2000, seven in 2001 and 10 in 2002, a record tied in 2009. That same year, a record five teams employed a minority general manager.
Today, 18 years after the introduction of the Selig Rule, the number of minority managers is the same as when Selig imposed the rule.
“These things are cyclical,” said Selig, 82, who is in his second year of retirement. “I think we’re very much on the right track.
“Would you like it to be better? Of course. I hope you and I have the opportunity to speak five or 10 years from now. I think you will agree with me that this is cyclical.”
That opinion rings hollow to Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Lapchick, who has studied racial and gender hiring practices in sports for three decades, said the trend has lasted too long to be cyclical.
“I think baseball needs to be concerned,” he said. “Just bringing in a diverse pool of candidates has not produced the numbers they want.
“The number is low enough and has been low enough for the past couple years that there has got to be a way to come up with a bigger hiring pool.”
On Aug. 13, 2015, in his seventh month in office, Manfred announced that the league had retained Korn Ferry, an executive search firm, to prepare teams and candidates for interviews in jobs subject to the Selig Rule. The announcement said Korn Ferry would give “special emphasis to the preparation of minority and female candidates.”
Gwynn, brother of the late Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, interviewed with the Angels six weeks later. He said no one reached out to help prepare him for the interview.
He said he thought the Angels were sincere. He talked about how he knew the market, by growing up in Long Beach and playing for the Dodgers. He explained how he would rebuild the Angels’ barren player development system, using his experience as a scout and player personnel director for the San Diego Padres and as a minor league director for the Seattle Mariners.
And, since former general manager Jerry Dipoto had clashed with manager Mike Scioscia, Gwynn made sure to point out he could get along with Scioscia. He already had. The men had adjacent lockers for five years with the Dodgers because Scioscia wore No. 14 and Gwynn wore No. 15.