Dusty Baker was still open to a manager’s job when the Nationals won the World Series in October.
Baker led Washington to the postseason in his two years there, finding quick success as he had throughout a managerial career that started in San Francisco in 1993. But after following a 95-win season with 97 victories in 2017, the Nationals fired him.
“It’s almost like if you’re African American, unless you win it all, then you’re considered a failure,” Baker said in a recent interview with The Chronicle. “You see other guys getting jobs immediately after they were fired.”
After Baker was let go, the only African American manager in the big leagues was the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts.
He still is, because baseball took another pass this off-season: Eight managers were hired, and seven were white. The only minority was Carlos Beltran, now in charge of the Mets.
A year ago, six teams hired managers, and none was black. Thirty-three managers have been hired over the past four years, and just two were African American, both hired for the 2016 season: Roberts and Baker.
“I told somebody about 10 years ago that I saw this coming, with the decline in African American players,” said Baker, who ranks 15th all-time with 1,863 victories. “I’ve lived long enough to see trends, and this is a very dangerous trend. Everybody talks about it, but who’s doing anything about it?”
Nearly 45 years after Frank Robinson became baseball’s first African American manager, baseball has a problem with its hiring practices. Blacks are disproportionately overlooked. White owners tend to hire white general managers who tend to hire white managers, and the results are clear.
Just 8.2% of players on 2019 Opening Day rosters were African Americans, which is in line with recent years but a drastic drop from 19% in 1995.
Perhaps it’s not surprising. There are no African American majority owners — the only one of color is the Angels’ Arte Moreno — or chief executives. At last month’s general manager meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., when teams made their executives available to reporters in a hotel ballroom, just one African American was present: Michael Hill of the Marlins.
“I think baseball has to do more to address this,” said Richard Lapchick, who studies racial and gender hiring practices and gives annual report cards as the director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
“I believe they’re earnestly trying to increase the number of African American players with their various programs that they have throughout the country, particularly the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program. But the numbers aren’t increasing.”
Major League Baseball officials say progress is being made at the grassroots level with several programs, including those designed to bring more African American players and managers to the big leagues.
Among the youth initiatives in underserved communities, RBI encourages participation. As part of another initiative, 10 youth academies have been set up in the U.S. for baseball and softball instruction. Plus, a tour of several cities is being arranged to identify talent among eighth- to 11th-graders, including a stop in Oakland in May.
Furthermore, MLB launched the Diversity Pipeline Program in 2016 to attract and develop a pool of minority and female candidates for high-level positions on the field and off.
“You can’t hide from it. It’s a challenge. It’s a concern,” Tony Reagins, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball and softball development, said of the lack of African American managers, “but what we have to do and what we continue to do is try to create opportunities for individuals to get those chances and opportunities to manage at the major-league level.”
Tyrone Brooks, senior director of MLB’s pipeline program, said he’s encouraged with the young group of African American candidates.
“We have a budding group coming along that just entered the process for the first time,” Brooks said. “We have work to do.”
Five African Americans were interviewed for managerial jobs this offseason, including Will Venable, 37, by Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. The job went to Gabe Kapler.
Johnny Washington, 35, interviewed with the Angels, who hired Joe Maddon, and George Lombard, 44, interviewed with the Pirates, who hired Derek Shelton.
Furthermore, Baker, 70, and Ron Washington, 67, were finalists in Philadelphia and San Diego, respectively. The jobs went to Joe Girardi and Jayce Tingler. In fact, all five jobs went to white men.
“We haven’t made any progress,” said Baker, who managed the Giants for 10 seasons. “I don’t see it coming anytime soon, really.”
MLB diversity and inclusion programs
Selig Rule: Mandates that minorities be included in interviews for manager, general manager and scouting director openings.
Diversity Pipeline: Seeks to identify, develop and grow the pool of qualified minority and female candidates for on-field and baseball operations positions.
Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities: Creates affordable league opportunities in underserved and diverse communities.
Youth academies: Provides affordable instruction in 10 U.S. communities.
The Tour: Recognizes select talent among eighth- to 11th-graders in several cities, including a stop in Oakland next May.
Diversity-focused development camps: Draws high school-aged players to spring training-type environments where they receive training from former big-league players and are seen by college and pro scouts.
It’s a similar story among high-level executives; only Hill and White Sox executive vice president of baseball operations Kenny Williams are African American. The only other minorities in those roles include Zaidi, who’s of Pakistani heritage, and Tigers GM Al Avila, who’s Latino.
Brooks sees African Americans receiving more managing opportunities in the future and cited 43-year-old James Rowson, Minnesota’s hitting coach the past three years and now the Marlins’ bench coach, as an excellent candidate. Rowson interviewed last year with the Twins and Angels.
There is no shortage of candidates. If succeeding as a Triple-A manager is important, Gary Jones, Pat Listach, DeMarlo Hale, Bobby Meacham and Glenallen Hill would be nice options.
Former big-league players Torii Hunter, Barry Larkin, Gary Pettis and Terry Pendleton have been mentioned in recent years as candidates — lacking managerial experience shouldn’t be a detriment because plenty of today’s managers had zero previous experience.
Lloyd McClendon, one of two African American bench coaches (he’s with Detroit), Jerry Manuel and Bo Porter have plenty of managing experience in the majors. McClendon was the last African American hired to manage in the majors before Baker and Roberts.
“It’s gotten to where in the NFL and NBA, you need African American coaches because there are more African American players to relate to,” Baker said. “In baseball, you’re not going to see as many African American managers because there aren’t many African Americans on the field. If they don’t need you, basically they’re not going to hire you.”
Venable is a strong candidate. He grew up in San Rafael, the son of former Giants outfielder Max Venable, is well-respected and well-liked, played nine seasons in the majors, mostly with the Padres, and coached first base for the Cubs the past two years following a brief stint as a special assistant to Cubs President Theo Epstein.
That he graduated from Princeton (with a degree in anthropology) puts him on a level with baseball’s new wave of Ivy League executives.
Beltran is among six minority managers, joining Alex Cora (Red Sox), Dave Martinez (Nationals), Rick Renteria (White Sox), Charlie Montoyo (Blue Jays) and Roberts, who’s half African American and half Japanese.
While one in three players is Latino, just 17% of managers are Latino.
And, of course, 3.3% of managers are African American.
“Programs are in place,” said Brooks, noting the so-called Selig Rule that requires teams to interview minorities for managing and top executive positions. “Getting kids playing is first and foremost — and helping them to be in position to play college baseball. It’s about planting a seed to have them stay involved in the game because there are great opportunities to work in Major League Baseball.”
Lapchick releases his report card every April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, covering the previous season. While he gave excellent grades for racial hiring of players and coaches in 2018, the racial hiring grade for managers was C-. It’ll be slightly better for 2019 because the number of minority managers increased from three to four.
Now there are six, including one African American.
“That’s obviously an area of concern for us doing the research, but it should be for Major League Baseball as well,” Lapchick said. “There certainly are more candidates of color out there who could take over a team and be successful, but they’re certainly not being given the opportunity.”