Long way to go
Minority GM candidates still not getting a fair chance
Posted: Monday April 16, 2007 11:22AM; Updated: Monday April 16, 2007 3:12PM
Sixty years after Jackie Robinson broke into the major leagues, baseball still has one white blight on its record. Forty percent of major leaguers are minorities, yet there are still only two minority general managers, the same two it's had for the past six years -- Ken Williams of the White Sox and Omar Minaya of the Mets.
The sport received a B-plus for minority hiring on its recent (and unbiased) race report card. That isn't too bad when you consider that not too long ago baseball's commissioners would have been ashamed to take their race report card home to their mothers. Only two decades ago, baseball was a lot closer to an F than a B-plus.
Consider that in 1988, when Dodgers GM Al Campanis uttered his infamous words that African Americans "lacked the necessities" to run baseball teams, only 2 percent of baseball front office executives were minorities. Now the record shows that minorities occupy close to 25 percent of front-office jobs.
"We've done all right. But we have work to do. We have work to do at the manager and general manager level," commissioner Bud Selig told SI.com by phone from Los Angeles hours before he escorted Robinson's widow, Rachel, onto the field for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Robinson's historic debut.
With baseball only slightly off its high of 42 percent of 1997 (at the 50th anniversary of Robinson's historic game), the Race and Gender Report Card authored by Richard Lapchick late in 2006 is full of hope. (The report, serious and detailed, is not perfect, however; for some reason it counts Lou Piniella -- whose family emigrated from Spain -- as a minority.) The report also noted that 33 percent of minor-league managers are minorities, and 37 percent of coaches at all levels were minorities. And baseball also has its first minority owner in the Angels' Arte Moreno, who is running a model organization.
The five minority managers (not six, as the report says) represent a drop from last season, the result of three prominent, long-time minority managers -- Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou and Frank Robinson (who was in L.A. for the celebration) -- losing their jobs. Five isn't a number to crow about. But the real problem is at the GM level.
Baseball has to do better than two. And that's absolutely a necessity.
"Baseball has made a lot of progress when you realize that two black GMs [Williams and Ex-Yankees GM Bob Watson] won the World Series. But I think in this area baseball has to do better," said Steve Jacobson, the prominent baseball writer and author of the excellent new book Carrying Jackie's Torch. "It's one of those things where people hire their friends. And owners who are mostly white are not particularly comfortable with black people."
While there are also a diminishing number of African-American players, down to 8.4 percent now (the lowest total since tabulating began in the mid-80s), and some might wonder whether scouts are looking hard enough to find the marginal black player, Jacobson asserted that a lot of the reason for falling numbers can be traced to the black community.
Back in the '60s, baseball was the main game, he pointed out. The rise of basketball and football took a lot of the top black athletes. Jacobson said that his research showed that even Division III basketball players are revered in "the hood," while minor-league baseball players don't receive the same accord. And Jacobson discovered another reason: One black player he interviewed told him that baseball is a humbling game, and "brothers just don't like to be humbled."
The larger concern, though, should be the absurdly low number of minorities who head baseball departments. Williams is the only African-American GM and Minaya the only Latino GM. Williams is intense and intellectual, a former big-league backup outfielder with a Stanford pedigree. Minaya, a player in the minors and Europe, is a scouting savant who made it not on his resume but rather on charm, likeability and hard work. That they are two of the game's very best should encourage more owners to expand their thinking. But so far they haven't.
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