Race Runs Deep in the MLB-Or Does It?

Corwin_2016Baseball By Kyle Corwin

Opening Day 2015 at Fenway Park. The hot dogs and the hamburgers are being cooked near the concession stands, the kids are running into the team store with all the money they have stocking up on their favorite player’s apparel and souvenirs, and the players are warming up on the field as they prepare to start the game. As the seats fill up and the attendance nears capacity, one would be missing out if they didn’t stop to take a look around and take in all the sights, sounds and smells that a Major League Baseball game has to offer. There are no clouds in the sky, the temperature on the jumbo-tron reads a perfect 75 degrees, and the infield grass and dirt are receiving their pregame manicure. Everything seems to be in order. As it gets closer to the start of the game, the home plate umpire signals for the managers to meet at home plate to exchange lineups. As the men emerge from the depths of their respective dugouts, it goes unnoticed by almost everyone in the park. If they were to pay closer attention, however, they would realize that the same thing would be happening in 13 other ballparks that weekend: neither coach is of color, nor are 26 others who are leading their ball clubs.

Racial diversity is something that is preached day in and day out throughout Major League Baseball; however, it is not necessarily practiced to the same degree. Although there has been a heightened effort in increasing the amount of minority players throughout the league, the results for coaches aren’t there. Much of this, one might argue, is due to collective memory within the baseball world. Scholar Jonathan Markovitz describes collective memory as the memory that helps shape the ways in which people make sense of particular events, phenomena, or dramas, and how ultimately it can “lead to differences in public opinion and reactions.” In the circumstance of Major League managers, most fans remember their favorite or the best coaches as being white. This is not to say that the best coaches have always been white, rather it is due to the fact that there have not been enough managers of color to have the opportunity to succeed on the big stage (see all-record below). Baseball’s collective memory of the history and trends of diversity in the managerial dynamic not only affect today’s minority coaches’ ability to flourish, but it also impacts the selection process for future positions.

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Fredi Gonzalez was one of two minority managers on Opening Day in 2015.

At the start of the 2015 MLB season, there were two coaches of color: Lloyd McClendon an African-American manager for the Seattle Mariners, and Fredi Gonzalez, a Latino who was at the helm for the Atlanta Braves. According to Anthony Salazar, a Seattle-based chair of the Latino Baseball committee for the Society for American Baseball Research, “The lack of diversity among managers isn’t due to a lack of talent or a pipeline. Many black and Latino former players have gone into coaching positions as assistants or head minor-league teams, but their careers stall before they reach the MLB manager role”. Collective memory could not be more evident as historically, the most managers of color to be in the Major Leagues at one time is ten, an all-time record set in 2002. As a result, baseball fans have a limited pool of memories and moments to pull from when thinking about past managers who were minorities.

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Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947.

 

Markovitz argued that the “analysis of collective memory is crucial for any investigation into the dynamics of racial spectacles.” Therefore, one cannot understand the current circumstances of managerial diversity without looking into the depths of not only baseball’s history, but American history. With Jackie Robinson breaking the game’s color barrier, it opened the door for African-Americans. Barely, but opened nonetheless. From there, the nation saw more and more blacks entering the league not just to survive, but to thrive. Eventually, they would find themselves in a position to manage. Despite their success, racism remained and served as a divider that would not only harm the players of that time, but their future in the game as well. Nonetheless, there have been black players that have risen above the hindrances placed before them to harvest some of the greatest baseball careers the world has ever known. Similarly, some of the most highly renowned coaches have been of color. Frank Robinson and Ron Washington are two examples of men who have built impressive resumes over the years. The latter even appeared in back-to-back World Series by taking his Texas Rangers to the Fall Classic in 2010 and 2011. But in terms of former players making the jump to the superior levels, Howard Bryant of ESPN puts it bluntly:

“The days of ex-players — black, white or Latino — becoming general managers seem to be coming to an end, a reign of opportunity that was never exactly plentiful. Hall of Fame players such as Nolan Ryan have accepted team-president roles recently, but currently only three ex-players — Beane, the Angels’ Jerry Dipoto and the Phillies’ Ruben Amaro Jr. — currently hold GM jobs.”

In Markovitz’s piece, he discusses the construction of collective memory and how mass media plays a major role. Furthermore, he goes on to say that journalism, in particular, is extremely powerful in this regard. With there being so many articles and columns on how there are race issues in baseball, and how minorities aren’t given the same opportunities to manage at the highest levels, there is added pressure to the big picture operations of the front offices of these teams. In other words, the collective memory of the baseball population pertaining to minority management represents that of a, “Huh, now that I think about it, there really hasn’t been many coaches of color. What is Major League Baseball doing to change that?” This is where many presidents and general managers might feel the heat to avoid such concerns that could put a black mark on their organization. On the other hand, such a belief could be shot down given the fact that nothing has been done to fix it. Collective memory, one might also argue, could lead a team’s front office to select a white manager, not because of underlying racism, but because it is what they have known. Without a wide variety of minority coaches to compare and contrast credentials and resumes, it appears as though a general manager’s decision would almost always come down to choosing between white coaches. In fact, following Lloyd McClendon’s firing at the conclusion of the 2015 season, MLB was without a full-time black manager, a circumstance foreign to the NBA and NFL. Although veteran manager Dusty Baker was hired by the Washington Nationals shortly thereafter, it still raises the questions of 1. What is being done to address the issue of race in baseball, and 2. What efforts are being made to regain the interest of the African American community. Also, it reinforces the collective memory of the sport, as there continues to be a lack of minority representation and no evident signs of change.

There has been much criticism surrounding the Selig Rule—named for former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig—which “mandates that teams consider minorities when hiring a manager, general manager, assistant GM, director of player development or director of scouting.” It compares to that of the Rooney Rule in the NFL, which states that teams are required to interview minority candidates for coaching vacancies. As stated by Edwin Rios, a New York Daily News contributor, “at least the Rooney Rule requires NFL franchises to interview; the Selig Rule, on the other hand, says that teams merely must include minority candidates on their lists of potential hires and submit those lists to the league office.” As a result, it can be considered quite a mockery when one looks at the stipulations of the Selig Rule and then turns and looks at where Major League Baseball is today.

Current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has attempted to answer questions particularly coming from the minority populations in baseball: “We’re engaged in a number of new initiatives designed to try to make sure that we have more minority candidates that get interviews that actually get jobs. We are particularly focused on minority hiring in entry-level jobs, so we have a nice, full pipeline of people coming up.”

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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says he is making efforts to get minority coaches more interviews from teams across the league.

In the same article, writer Bob Nightengale claims such efforts to influence the selection of managers (whether due to race or other various attributes) are useless:

“Still, no matter how many guidelines and initiatives MLB imposes, it can’t empower any club to make a hire of its choosing. If clubs want analytical managers with no dugout experience like the Mariners, so be it. If teams want to hire a 30-year-old GM with a political science background from Harvard, like the Milwaukee Brewers did with David Stearns, MLB is powerless to stop them.”

            When reflecting on the history of baseball, it becomes difficult to understand why it has been racially dominated by the white population, even with the percentages of Latino players much higher than they were decades ago. Despite the success of minority players on the field, there has yet to be the same amount of success in managerial roles because they haven’t been provided the opportunities. With the highest number of coaches of color in the Major Leagues at one time being 10, one must wonder where the future of baseball is headed in that regard. There has been a relative decline even since that record-breaking year, and with clubs’ shifts in preference to more “Ivy League” type management, the coming years do not necessarily look promising. Given the aforementioned evidence that baseball is shifting to more of a new-age style characterized by analytics, one would think that managers of color would stand a better chance of taking over the throne of a club if his coaching statistics and style generated such numbers. However, collective memory and the disadvantages that it creates for such candidates still serves as the dominating force over the diversity of coaches in Major League Baseball today.

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