MLB’s most troubling diversity problem
The monochromatic owners and GMs dictate the lack of diversity on the manager level
You know how you can tell baseball has a problem on its hands?
Former Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez found out he was being fired via a travel-reservation email this week and it wasn’t close to the biggest talking point about the man’s dismissal. Instead, the conversation centered around one important question: Why isn’t there more diversity among MLB managers? It’s an obviously valid inquiry. After Gonzalez’s axing, we’re now down to just two managers of color in MLB (Dusty Baker and Dave Roberts) and the number has decreased steadily since 2009. But it isn’t the most important question.
What we should ultimately be asking and trying to unpack is this: What does the lack of diversity among owners and general managers portend? As of opening day this year, MLB had just four general managers of color (two African-Americans, one Latino and one Asian) and one majority owner of color, Arte Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels, a Latino. Those numbers are from Richard Lapchick’s 2016 MLB Racial and Gender Report Card, which also says there is also just one CEO/president of color in the sport (Michael Hill) and when he got the title with the Miami Marlins in 2014, it marked the first time a person of color held such a job since 2003.
This is a sport where 38.5 percent of its participants identify as Latino, African-American or Asian — as of opening day 2016 — and yet just 13 percent of the general managers, and less than 1 percent of the owners and managers are of color. And as Kevin Blackistone pointed out in his column this week: “16 Latin-born players made baseball’s All-Star Game last season, which is six more Latinos than have become managers in the 100-plus-year history of the major leagues.”
There can be many reasons for this disparity and there are. Some have asked whether owners are hesitant to put Latinos in managerial positions because organizations don’t want someone with a thick accent and “broken” English being the face of a team. Others, like the sport’s own commissioner, say that the diversity numbers have always ebbed and flowed.
That’s a tough sale to make, given that Lapchick’s numbers illustrate a lack of diversity over years and years. It places Commissioner Rob Manfred in a difficult position. He has been quoted multiple times about the need to hire more diversely, but how do you steer that when those charged with hiring aren’t diverse? The truth may be that Manfred doesn’t have much agency over this issue. The numbers on diversity among general managers, owners and CEOs/presidents hasn’t ebbed and flowed over the years. It has gotten progressively worse in many cases and, in others, remained static.
Barring an influx of diversity at the highest levels of baseball — which could take years or decades for the jobs to turn over — a more likely catalyst for more immediate diversity at the managerial level is a financial incentive to hire managers of color.
Maybe such an incentive exists.
Baseball has a culture war on its hands.
You can Make Baseball Fun Again or talk about the unwritten rules of the sport and hit batters with fastballs to the face when they flout these rules. And even though a white player, Bryce Harper, started the Make Baseball Fun Again movement (or its name, at the very least), there are two sides to baseball’s culture war. With the sport already nearly 30 percent Latino and likely to continue growing, it’s fair to ask whether having a manager who communicates with them — who understands them — is a strategic advantage.
Jose Bautista, Yasmani Grandal, Manny Machado and many other Hispanic players have all said a variation of the same line over the years: When we celebrate and you plunk us with a baseball or spit and curse at us, you fail to realize something: We aren’t celebrating to mock you. We are doing it to celebrate us.
If there were 10-12 managers of color (roughly the same percentage of players in MLB that are of color), can you imagine how many players in the sport would crave playing for a manager with which they better identified and vice versa? Imagine if Ozzie Guillen were still coaching. He was reckless and raw, sure, but honest, too; and he always stuck up for his marginalized players.
“Don’t take this wrong, but they take advantage of us,” Guillen said in 2010. “We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid (and say), ‘(Bleep) you, you go to the minor leagues, good luck.’ And it’s always going to be like that. It’s never going to change.”
Or maybe it might change. Hiring managers like Guillen — and other men that speak their language who might be more apt to defend the way they play baseball, and are less beholden to archaic rules or offending the overly sensitive — could lure players like Bautista, Yasiel Puig, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Gomez. It could spark the MLB-equivalent of LeBron James trekking to South Beach to play alongside two of his best friends: a super-team with Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Mookie Betts and Carlos Correa, all playing for a manager who doesn’t give a bleep what unwritten rules you think exist.
“But one thing about Wrigley Field, I puke every time I go there,” Guillen said in 2009. “That’s just to be honest. And if Cub fans don’t like the way I talk about Wrigley Field, it’s just Wrigley Field.”
Maybe owners and general managers don’t want that representing them. But nearly 40 percent of the sport is made up of players of color and a whole lot of them just might. And their happiness and comfort level should be paramount. They are the ones who make you all that money, after all.