Major League Baseball’s Institutional Problem

By Zach Bernard

Think about some of the most dominant players in Major League Baseball today. A few names probably come to mind immediately: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw, David Price and Jake Arrieta are standouts from the 2015 campaign and in our current baseball lexicon.

Now think of some of the game’s most respected leaders, on the field and off: Joe Maddon, Mike Matheny, Terry Collins, Bruce Bochy, Terry Francona, Dave Dombrowski, Theo Epstein, and Mark Shapiro are several that seemingly earn continuous acclaim among baseball circles.

There’s no arguing with the resumes of the aforementioned 16 men and what they have achieved and continue to achieve. There’s also an immediate issue with the above list of names: only two of them (McCutchen and Price) are of a race or ethnicity other than white.

It’s almost impossible to escape how monochromatic baseball in America has become over the last 15 years. In 2002, Major League Baseball had ten managers of color, and as of October 2015 only have one in Fredi Gonzalez with the Atlanta Braves. And coaches of color have decreased just over four percent since 2013. Lloyd McClendon was baseball’s only black manager in 2015 and was relieved by the Seattle Mariners with the arrival of Jerry Dipoto as general manager. He was replaced by former MLB catcher Scott Servais.

Dipoto’s hiring of Servais follows a recent trend in Major League Baseball: teams are hiring more men with zero major league coaching experience to lead them as managers. All of them happen to be white.

This isn’t exactly a new practice, but the frequency in hiring former players as managers with little or no coaching experience at the big league level has increased dramatically. Servais, Brad Ausmus, Mike Redmond (who was self-replaced by general manager Dan Jennings, also white), Robin Ventura, Matt Williams, and Mike Matheny are all guys thrown into the fray expected to utilize their fine professional careers and parlay them into terrific managerial careers.

Looking at the above names, the only man with any semblance of success is Matheny, and while his managerial tendencies can be questionable at times, he’s a smart baseball man whose regular season track record speaks for itself. The rest of them have either been mediocre (Ventura) or outright laughable (Williams). The jury is still out on Servais, who has spent his post-baseball career as a scout.

And it’s not as if qualified people of color aren’t applying for jobs; they’re just not getting them. DeMarlo Hale’s name always seems to come up whenever a new managerial position opens, but he has been resigned to coaching roles since joining the Boston Red Sox coaching staff in 2006. Sandy Alomar Jr. came up in past managerial searches but never made much headway. Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez always gets recognized as a candidate but has never made the final cut to manage.

Dusty Baker may be a poor modern strategist, but he’s a proven leader with a track record that should attractive to any franchise in need of leadership. Rick Renteria was let go by the Cubs so they could hire who many believe to be baseball’s best manager, but proved despite a 73-89 record in 2014 that he can successfully lead young players.

The list goes on. Alomar’s exclusion as a manager is especially jarring because the prerequisite – at least in the cases of Servais, Ausmus, Redmond, and Matheny – seems to be a history as a big league catcher, professional coaching experience be damned. And nobody can rightfully say that Hale, Alomar, Martinez, Baker, and Renteria aren’t qualified to be managers if a guy like Robin Ventura is qualified to maintain his job despite a professional record of 297-351 over 648 games.

These managerial hiring practices fly right in the face of the “Selig rule” dating back to 1999, when former commissioner Bud Selig suggested to executives in an official memo they consider minority candidates for managerial and front office positions. He also requested lists from a team’s search, and if he saw fit, he would recommend minority candidates.

This measure went surprisingly well from its outset, but hasn’t sustained itself in any way, shape, or form. Sure, you’ll hear that Hale, Alomar, Martinez, Baker, or Renteria are being considered for managerial jobs, and that’s all well and good. But when it comes time to pull the trigger, none of them ever come out on the winning end.

It furthers baseball’s unflattering reputation as an “old boys club,” where grossly unqualified people like Matt Williams or Robin Ventura land jobs because they’re respected by an owner or general manager despite no real evidence of a working managerial philosophy. It doesn’t help that the “old boys club” is predominantly white.

This, and comments like the one Bud Norris made in late September in which he lambasted the way Latin players perform and blamed them for many on-field conflicts, advances the idea that baseball is a white man’s game, no matter how heavily Major League Baseball wants to try and flaunt its racial diversity.

It doesn’t matter that Latin players made up 29 percent of big league rosters in 2015; players like Jose Bautista, Carlos Gomez, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Fernandez have faced controversy for simply being themselves on the field. Add this to the virtual disappearance of African American players and managers and you’re looking at a sport dominated by white men with white ideals on how to play, while shunning those who don’t adhere to the “rules.”

Major League Baseball has attempted a number of initiatives to improve urban involvement in the hopes of encouraging more African American participation in the sport. But when leaders around the league make it clear that qualified candidates of color can’t get managerial jobs and will be resigned to less than their worth for possibly their entire careers, why should they?

It’s dangerous social territory the league continues to step into, and they’re creating an ideal that no initiative or memo can change. The league’s hiring practices of managers sends a message to minorities that they can be good, but not good enough for the big time in today’s league.

Every player can wear #42 on April 15 of every baseball season to honor Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947, and I don’t doubt that every player of every race fully believes in Robinson’s great impact on the sport. But the homage becomes increasingly shallow when the game’s brass finds itself hiring unproven former white players for leadership jobs while casting qualified minority candidates with actual track records aside.

If baseball wants more participation from black youths and minorities, they first need to show an openness to institutional change. Leading by example is the best practice to show minorities are welcome in Major League Baseball and prove the league isn’t monochromatic. No initiative can establish that. Only people can.

*Diversity numbers courtesy of baseball’s 2015 Racial and Gender Report Card by the University of Central Florida.