You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1981, second baseman Brandon Phillips was born.
He was a good player, especially defensively. He would carefully place five gloves in his locker, three of them practice gloves, all significantly smaller than his game glove.
“You can touch my practice gloves, but no one touches my game glove,” he said. “I put a batting glove on top of my glove so I’ll know if someone touched my glove. [Pitcher Mat] Latos held my glove once. If he had put his hand in my glove, we would have fought.”
Gloves are the most personal piece of equipment. Players nourish their gloves, they protect them, they treat them like a loved one, not a piece of leather. No one was allowed to touch second baseman Roberto Alomar’s glove or shortstop Mark Belanger’s glove. Former Oriole infielder Rene Gonzales carried his glove in a Wonder Bread bag because its slogan is “no holes.” Former shortstop Walt Weiss used his glove for so long, it was so beaten and weathered, he called it “The Creature.” Ex-infielder Nick Punto kept his beloved glove lubricated, not floppy, by spraying it with suntan lotion, Aqua Net, Glade, etc.
“This is my baby,” he said. “I have to take care of it.”
Former utility man Jeff Manto used to carry 13 gloves on road trips, including two catcher’s mitts and two first baseman’s mitts. “The guys call me, ‘Store,”’ Manto said. “The equipment man hates me.”
Utility man Jeff Baker used four different gloves: one to play second base, one to play third, one to play the outfield and a mitt for first base. No one was allowed to touch the gloves for second or third, but he had teammate pitcher Kerry Wood break in his first baseman’s mitt because Wood loved playing first during batting practice. And he had the team’s video guy, Naoto Masamoto, break in his outfielder’s glove.
Former second baseman Darwin Barney carried five gloves, the exact same make and model, on every road trip. Each one was strategically broken in to someday become his game glove. He never used his game glove except in the game, “I don’t even play catch with it before the game,” he said. “If I play catch with it too often, it can make the pocket too deep. The other four gloves, I rank them. My No. 2 glove is next in line.” One game, he didn’t make a backhanded play. “I threw the glove away — in the trash can — and I never used it again,” he said. “It lasted a year and a half, but I just couldn’t use it anymore.”
Infielder Mike Gallego, a career .239 hitter, was in the A’s clubhouse when the earthquake hit at the 1989 World Series. “The lights went out, everything was dark,” Gallego said. “The place was shaking. Guys are running all over the clubhouse, trying to get out. I was halfway out when I realized I had forgotten my glove! I ran back into the clubhouse — a security guard said I couldn’t go back in, it might all collapse — but I found my locker. I got my glove. I couldn’t leave my glove behind, that’s my livelihood, my glove.”
Other baseball notes for June 28
In 2007, Craig Biggio got his 3,000th hit, a single, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. He is the only player to record his 3,000th hit in a game in which he got five hits. The same day, Frank Thomas hit his 500th home run.
In 1960, John Elway was born. He was drafted out of high school by the Royals in 1979, but went to Stanford, played football and baseball there, and was drafted by the Yankees in 1981. He played one year of minor league baseball. Several years later, one of Elway’s former baseball teammates, Rangers third baseman Steve Buechele, told me, “Man, he had a great arm.”
In 1976, Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych beat the Yankees, 5-1, to raise his record to 8-1. The game was televised nationally on Monday Night Baseball. I remember it like it was yesterday. He talked to the ball. He was so entertaining. He was a phenomenon.
In 1964, outfielder Kevin Reimer was born. He was a good hitter. Teammate B.J. Surhoff, who was an expert on bats — as a catcher, he knew what model every player used — said Reimer once broke 12 bats in one day: four in batting practice, four in the game, and four that he angrily snapped the handles off of after making each of his four outs in the game.
MVPs say time to pull Kennesaw Mountain Landis name off plaques
NEW YORK — Something still bothers Barry Larkin about his Most Valuable Player award.
The other name engraved on the trophy: Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
“Why is it on there?” said Larkin, the Black shortstop voted National League MVP in 1995 with the Cincinnati Reds.
“I was always aware of his name and what that meant to slowing the color line in Major League Baseball, of the racial injustice and inequality that Black players had to go through,” the Hall of Famer said this week.
Hired in 1920 as the sport’s first commissioner to help clean up rampant gambling, Landis and his legacy are “always a complicated story” that includes “documented racism,” official MLB historian John Thorn said.
This much is true, in black and white, about the son of a Union Army doctor wounded at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia during the Civil War: No Blacks played in the majors during his quarter-century tenure; Jackie Robinson broke the barrier in April 1947, about 2 1/2 years after Landis died.
“Landis is a part of history, even though it was a dark history,” Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
Fact is, few fans realize Landis’ name is plastered all over the Most Valuable Player trophies. Most people just call it the MVP.
But there it is, prominently displayed on every American League and NL MVP plaque since 1944 — Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award, in shiny, gold letters literally twice as big as those of the winner.
With a sizable imprint of Landis’ face, too.
To some MVPs, it’s time for that 75-year run to end.
“If you’re looking to expose individuals in baseball’s history who promoted racism by continuing to close baseball’s doors to men of color, Kenesaw Landis would be a candidate,” three-time NL MVP Mike Schmidt of Philadelphia said.
“Looking back to baseball in the early 1900s, this was the norm. It doesn’t make it right, though,” the Hall of Famer said. “Removing his name from the MVP trophy would expose the injustice of that era. I’d gladly replace the engraving on my trophies.”
Added 1991 NL MVP Terry Pendleton of Atlanta, who is Black: “This is 2020 now and things have changed all around the world. It can change for the better.
“Statues are coming down, people are looking at monuments and memorials,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of things, to do what’s right. Yes, maybe it is time to change the name.
“I’ve always thought about that, why is that still on there?” Pendleton said. “No doubt, MVP stands on its own. It doesn’t need a name.”
Many hallowed baseball trophies are graced by the names of the greats: Robinson, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Cy Young, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and more.
How Landis got etched into the list is easy to trace.
A federal judge in Chicago, Landis quickly established his powerful authority as commissioner, banning Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox for throwing the 1919 World Series.
In 1931, Landis decided members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America would pick and present the MVP awards. Before that, the leagues had their own mishmash system.
Then during the 1944 World Series, the BBWAA voted to add Landis’ name to the plaque as “an acknowledgement of his relationship with the writers,” longtime BBWAA secretary-treasuer Jack O’Connell said.
A month later, Landis died at 78. He soon was elected to the Hall of Fame.
“Landis is who he is. He was who he was,” Thorn said. “I absolutely support the movement to remove Confederate monuments, and Landis was pretty damn near Confederate.”
His precise role in racial issues has been debated for decades.
Landis broke up exhibitions between Black and white All-Star teams. He invited a group of Black newspaper publishers to address owners in what became a cordial but totally fruitless presentation.
Toward the end of his tenure, he told owners they were free to sign Black players. But there is no evidence he pushed for baseball integration, either, as the status quo of segregation remained.
“If you have the Jackie Robinson Award and the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Award, you are at diametrically opposed poles,” Thorn said. “And it does represent a conundrum.”
O’Connell said no MVP had voiced a complaint to him about Landis since taking his post in 1994. He said Landis’ name on the plaque wasn’t pledged or part of the BBWAA constitution.
Any BBWAA member could raise an objection to Landis’ presence. Normally, that would be discussed at the organization’s next gathering, currently scheduled for December at the winter meetings in Dallas. The coronavirus pandemic has put the event in peril.
O’Connell said that if someone raised the issue now, it could be brought up to the board and opened to discussion and a vote. To pull Landis’ name “would be a simple matter of redesigning the plaque,” he said.
To Larkin, that would remove the tarnish from the trophy.
Larkin recalled that shortly after he was voted MVP, he got a call from two-time NL MVP Joe Morgan. The star Black second baseman of the Big Red Machine talked about Landis’ legacy and “he said it never sat well with him, having that name on there,” Larkin recalled.
“His name should not be represented on a plaque or award of honor, especially at this day and time,” he said. “If his name was taken off, I would not be opposed to it at all.”
Tim Kurkjian’s Baseball Fix – ‘Trying to hit Sandy Koufax was like drinking coffee with a fork’
You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1962, Sandy Koufax threw his first no-hitter.
He would finish with four no-hitters — only Nolan Ryan had more. One of Koufax’s no-hitters was a perfect game. In Koufax’s first no-hitter, he struck out 13, including the side on nine pitches in the first inning. When it comes to peak value for a pitcher, few in major league history could match Sandy Koufax. Former teammate Don Sutton, a 300-game winner, said, “The most dominating pitcher I ever saw, without a doubt, without recourse, is Sandy Koufax.”
In his final four seasons, Koufax won three Cy Young Awards and went an astounding 97-27. Then he retired at age 30 because of an arm injury. He remains the youngest player (36) ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He led the National League in ERA in each of his last five seasons. In 1965-66, his final two seasons, he won the pitching Triple Crown: the league leader in victories, ERA and strikeouts. In his final two seasons, he had 27 complete games each year, and he led the league in innings pitched in each season.
Koufax led the league in strikeouts four times; in 1965, he struck out 382 batters, which established a major league record. That season, he walked only 71 — he remains the only pitcher in major league history to have a season in which he had 300 more strikeouts than walks. “Trying to hit Koufax,” Willie Stargell once said, “was like drinking coffee with a fork.”
Koufax was at his best in the postseason, when it mattered most. He pitched in eight World Series games, starting seven of them. He went 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA and two shutouts. He threw 57 innings, allowed 36 hits, walked 11 and struck out 61. In 1963 against the mighty Yankees, he set the record for most strikeouts in a World Series game with 15.
Koufax was a tremendous basketball player at the University of Cincinnati thanks in part to his enormous hands. In baseball, those hands allowed him to wrap his exceptionally long fingers around the ball in a way to manipulate it. His vicious overhand curveball was one of the best ever. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was one of the best, most confident hitters of all time. He hated pitchers, and there wasn’t one he didn’t think he could hit. I asked how he did against Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale. Robinson answered, to each one, “Oh, I hit him good.” Yet when I asked about Sandy Koufax, Robinson’s tone and body language changed. “No one,” Robinson said, “could hit that man.”
Other baseball notes for June 30
In 1912, Shoeless Joe Jackson hit three triples in one game. “His glove is where triples go to die,” Ray Kinsella said.
In 1995, Eddie Murray collected his 3,000th hit. He, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are the only members of the 3,000-hit, 500-home run club.
In 1964, Doug Dascenzo was born. He is 5-foot-7. He pitched in four games in his career. “I really was the short reliever,” he said.
In 1957, pitcher Bud Black was born. On one day in 1992, his career record was 92-92, and the teams for which he played were 796-796. The ultimate .500 pitcher. I tracked that stat for months, then when it all lined up perfectly. I flew from Dallas to San Francisco to tell Black. He looked at me, smiled and said, “You flew 1,500 miles just to tell me that? Is that all you have to do with your life?”
Inside the rise of MLB’s Ivy League culture
AT A TIME when industries across America are facing a racial reckoning following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the rising support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, spoke out recently about the homogeneity of today’s Major League Baseball front offices. Including his own.
“I’ve hired a Black scouting director, [a] farm director in the past, but the majority of people that I’ve hired, if I’m being honest, have similar backgrounds as me and look a lot like me,” Epstein said earlier this month. “That’s something I need to ask myself why. I need to question my own assumptions, my own attitudes. I need to find a way to be better.”
MLB’s analytics revolution has brought sweeping changes to the game on the field, from the proliferation of launch-angle data, which has led to players swinging more for the fences, to the implementation of defensive shifts against batters, something that was an anomaly not much longer than a decade ago. And it has fundamentally altered how teams approach roster construction, with a heavier emphasis on young, cheaper stars.
But the rise of analytics also has resulted in another massive shift: an influx of white, male graduates of Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities into teams’ front offices. In a data analysis conducted by ESPN, the percentage of Ivy League graduates holding an organization’s top baseball operations decision-making position — which, depending on the club, could be its president, vice president or general manager — has risen from just 3% in 2001 to 43% today; while the percentage of graduates from U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 25 colleges — both universities and liberal arts schools — holding the same positions has risen from 24% to 67%.
This rise coincides with a drop in former players running front offices over the same period, from 37% to 20%, while the percentage of minorities running front offices has risen, but from just 3% to 10%. Additionally, no woman holds the top baseball operations position for any of the 30 major league clubs.
To be clear, MLB front offices have always lacked diversity. It wasn’t until 1994 that the Houston Astros‘ Bob Watson, a former player, officially became the first Black GM in the history of the league. (Atlanta Braves executive Bill Lucas essentially was the team’s GM in the late-1970s, but team owner Ted Turner elected to keep the title for himself.) And there wasn’t an Ivy League culture to blame for that exclusion. Indeed, the only graduate from an Ivy school running a front office at the time was Oakland Athletics GM Sandy Alderson, a Dartmouth alum, and more than half of the teams were run by former players. Baseball didn’t see its first Hispanic GM for another eight years, when the Montreal Expos hired Omar Minaya.
Still, the 2002 hiring of Epstein by the Boston Red Sox helped spark the current Ivy League trend in MLB, which represents one of the most significant barriers to entry in baseball today. And that makes what Epstein said all the more instructive in defining and attempting to solve a major diversity problem in the sport as it stands in 2020.
How we got here
“The majority of people that I’ve hired, if I’m being honest, have similar backgrounds as me and look a lot like me.” — Theo Epstein
THE SUCCESS OF Epstein — who helped snap historic World Series title droughts in both Boston and Chicago — and A’s vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, of “Moneyball” fame, created a template for winning through data-driven decision-making. For the first decade of hires following the success of Beane and Epstein, the addition of similarly minded general managers marked progress in the diversity of thought in the sport. Epstein’s hiring, and his 2004 World Series championship, validated the hiring of 28-year-old Cornell alum Jon Daniels by the Texas Rangers and 28-year-old Tulane alum Andrew Friedman by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2005.
But the trickle of young graduates from prestigious colleges filling baseball front offices soon became a flood. Today, many minorities and women working in the sport — from on-field personnel to baseball operations staffers — say the pendulum has swung the other way, with analytically driven executives, mostly white men, no longer representing a fresh approach to the game, but the predominant one.
“There are teams that were too much the other way, too many baseball guys,” said one Hispanic American League baseball operations staffer, who, like others in this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You can’t have too many baseball guys. Now, we have figured out that doesn’t work. They have biases. We’re kind of doing the same thing, but now we’re doing it with smart, rich, educated white guys.”
Among the emblematic recent hirings was Jeff Luhnow, born in Mexico City to white American expats, by the Astros in 2011. His extreme strategy of tanking produced a string of losing seasons but also a treasure trove of high draft picks, which Luhnow turned into foundational roster pieces such as Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer. His tenure included a controversial, trash-can marred World Series championship team in 2017 that ultimately cost Luhnow his job.
Before his public fall, Luhnow had leveraged his degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and his experience at the management consulting firm of McKinsey & Company to create the definitive modern baseball front office.
The years after Luhnow joined the Astros saw the 2015 hiring of then 30-year-old Harvard graduate David Stearns by the Milwaukee Brewers, the 2016 hiring of then 40-year-old Princeton graduate Mike Hazen by the Arizona Diamondbacks and, more recently, the 2019 hiring of then 36-year-old Yale graduate Chaim Bloom by the Red Sox. Bloom had gotten his start in baseball from the Rays, a team led by 44-year-old Harvard graduate Matthew Silverman. What baseball once called a smart hire in the front office has become similar candidates getting hired again and again, opening after opening.
“If I’m going to put my geek cap on, it’s a statistical impossibility that every — that the best candidate for every position in baseball is a middle-aged Caucasian male,” San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, a 43-year-old Muslim Canadian-American with Pakistani roots and a degree from MIT, said to PBS in 2015.
Chicago White Sox vice president Ken Williams, who is Black and a Stanford graduate, told USA Today in December: “The natural assumption is that it’s a racial problem and it’s easy to jump to that. But there’s much more to it. The Ivy League-educated, analytically based, Power Point-savvy individuals are being hired because they speak the same language as ownership groups. They’re hiring people in the limited circle that are new to the industry because they can relate to them.”
Those on the field see the same trend.
“There’s big-time discrimination of age and salary, along with the intellectual thing,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said in that same USA Today story. “It’s not a question of whether you went to school, but where you went to school. Now it appears they’re just hiring their friends.”
Baker continued: “Nothing against the Ivy League, but how many minorities are friends and fraternity brothers of those who went to those schools? Most of us weren’t at those schools, or if we played baseball, we weren’t in that fraternity.”
A 2017 story on IvyLeague.com detailed the paths of A’s general manager David Forst, a Harvard graduate; Diamondbacks assistant general manager Peter Woodfork, a Harvard graduate; and Cleveland Indians general manager Mike Chernoff, a Princeton graduate, toward jobs in big league front offices.
“As more Ivy League graduates found their way into front offices, networks began to develop that helped younger alums find jobs,” the story reads. “Chernoff worked under Princeton graduate [Mark] Shapiro in Cleveland. He followed the path of fellow Princeton alum Mike Hazen — now the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks — who interned with the Indians two years prior to Chernoff.”
The Ivy League creates a networking bubble for many in baseball. Forst, Woodfork and Colorado Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich all played on the same Harvard baseball teams. Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington received his first opportunity with the Red Sox in 1999 when he was hired by Dan Duquette, a fellow graduate of Amherst College (one of the so-called “Little Ivies”).
“The one thing that does not change between the old front-office and the new front-office makeup is that people will hire their friends or people who remind them of them,” said one minority baseball staffer who has worked in the sport for more than a decade. “People will hire people like them.”
It’s not that minorities don’t graduate from Ivy League schools: According to a 2015 Harvard Crimson survey of students enrolled in the Class of 2019, 11.2% identified as Black, 12.5% identified as Hispanic, 6.5% identified as South Asian, 1.4% identified as American Indian and 23.5% identified as Asian. Harvard’s graduation rate ticks in at 98%, among the highest at American colleges and universities.
But pulling from a hyper-specific group of Ivy League graduates means inheriting that group’s diversity and classism problems, including the legacy admissions programs notorious in elite colleges that favor white and wealthy applicants. Yale University currently boasts four undergraduate alumni running baseball teams, tied with Harvard for the most represented school among top baseball executive undergraduate alma maters. In 2018, the acceptance rate at Yale was 6.9%, with the cost of attendance in 2020 — which includes tuition and living expenses — estimated at $78,725.
All of the Yale graduates running teams, including Epstein, Bloom, Mike Elias of the Baltimore Orioles and James Click of the Astros, who replaced Luhnow, are white men. Among the Harvard graduates — Bridich, Stearns of the Brewers, Silverman and Michael Hill of the Miami Marlins — Hill, a Cuban-American, is the lone minority. White Sox GM Rick Hahn also attended Harvard Law School after graduating from the University of Michigan. According to the Harvard Law School website, the cost of attendance prices at $100,625.
Since 2001, the average acceptance rates of the alma maters of top baseball operations executives have fallen from 50% to 26%. The drop in acceptance rates also has coincided with a rise in the average cost of attending these colleges in 2020, from $47,049 to $64,012. The growing homogeneity of front offices is directly tied to the exclusivity and expense of attending schools that all but qualify a graduating student for successfully pursuing a job in baseball.
Just 0.4% of all college students in the United States attend one of the eight private Ivy League institutions, while nearly 74% of all college students in America attend a public college, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2020, just five (17%) of the top baseball operations executives graduated from public colleges.
“Systematically, you’re missing minorities who may have less of an opportunity to go to those places and be exposed to the things that those types of school exposes you to, that ultimately makes you a better candidate to get in,” said one female National League baseball operations staffer.
And as an Asian-American baseball staffer explained, “The more we entrench ourselves in analytics, we’re entrenching ourselves in by nature a more privileged group of job candidates who have the ability and financial ability to get into a school to learn data manipulation and things like that.”
The influx of analytics across the sport changed the entry-level jobs available. Whereas 20 years ago, many began their careers in baseball front offices as scouts or assistants, today, many first jobs require data analysis and fluency with programming languages such as Python and R.
“You get these teams looking for these very technical and very specific skills, whether it’s R or Python,” said one minority baseball operations staffer, a participant in MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Program, which provides entry-level positions to minority college graduates. “When you look at the landscape of colleges and where you are going to find those skills, it leans towards Ivy Leagues and other prestigious colleges where people take computer science courses, mathematics courses, but aren’t doing the scouting that once prevailed in baseball.”
While Harvard admitted a majority-minority Class of 2023, a New York Times study from 2017 suggests that even with affirmative action, Blacks and Hispanics are more underrepresented at top colleges than they were 35 years ago.
Why it matters
“I need to ask myself why. I need to question my own assumptions, my own attitudes.” — Epstein
WHEN ONE AMERICAN League baseball field staffer with a Hispanic background began his first job in baseball out of college for an organization run by an Ivy League graduate, he immediately felt he didn’t fit in. Most of his colleagues were white men, he said, who shared similar education backgrounds and who all seemed to dress similarly. Without many colleagues on his team going through an equivalent cultural transition, he felt isolated.
“It was something I wrestled with inside pretty deeply,” he said. “My first year, I was trying to be somebody that I wasn’t because that’s what I perceived they wanted. I wanted to be an Ivy League guy. I thought that was the way to go about things instead of trying to be myself. I was a young guy trying to make my name in baseball and have a career in the game of baseball, and I didn’t want to be an outcast.”
As one of the few minorities working for his team, the field staffer struggled with speaking up in meetings, afraid of going against the grain in a room full of people who tended to share similar baseball philosophies and private education backgrounds. The experience can be similar for former big leaguers. Once a defined and clear career trajectory to one day run a team, former players now find themselves in the minority in front offices. A lack of diversity — cultural, educational or otherwise — in the room can keep minorities silent when roster-building decisions are made.
“If you’re the former player that’s a special advisor, and then you’re sitting at a roundtable with all these guys, you already probably feel a bit inferior from a cerebral standpoint,” said the field staffer. “Granted you played, but you also know I don’t want to be the guy that says no, and then they’re like, this guy doesn’t agree with our stuff, he’s not buying in, let’s get him out of here. It’s what you always face as the minority in the room.”
“There’s definitely a separation between being a player and a front-office guy or a coach and a front-office guy. I think it’s just a misunderstanding of people, maybe sometimes on our end, feeling like [the front offices] look down on [non-Ivy Leaguers], and then on the other side, us looking at them like they’re a bunch of nerds.”
AL staffer who often serves as an intermediary between the front office and those on the field
The American League baseball staffer also sees how the lack of front-office diversity affects the development of non-white players.
“There’s so much that goes into making a big league player a big league player, and for Hispanic players, who are an important part of our game, being able to make them feel at home is so important,” he said. “We’re missing that diversity to mirror it off the field.”
Every baseball operations staffer interviewed for this story expressed a similar opinion: that the homogeneity in front offices has led to a decrease in interpersonal skills, known colloquially as “feel” around the sport.
“When we view the game more analytically, the players become more of an asset, less of a human being. We’re forgetting or leaving behind this interpersonal approach to the game that not just impacts on the field but impacts off of it,” said one female scout. “With that comes a loss of feel, because the more that you’re dealing with real people, the more that feel is important, the more that the appreciation for the human being playing the game is important.”
Those we spoke to said the Wall Street culture, exemplified by the Astros, of valuing data and wins above all, has now spread across every front office. Wall Street and Ivy League schools have long been tied together, with 29% of Harvard graduates in 2011 taking finance jobs and a constant stream of recruiters interviewing students on those campuses.
“I feel like we’re really fake. We’re trying to run like a corporate company, when really baseball isn’t that or traditionally hasn’t been that,” the American League field staffer said. “So it’s really interesting just because the work dynamic is so different. We’re trying to run it like a Fortune 500 company, and it just causes a very toxic, almost Wall Street-type environment. We’re trying to look good on the PR side, being the most forward-thinking organization. Now I think that’s more valuable than even winning a World Series. We want to be the most forward-thinking organization.”
Diversity issues don’t stop at team front offices. All eight men running MLB’s executive office are white, with commissioner Rob Manfred and deputy commissioner Dan Halem both graduates of Cornell. The MLB Players Association, led by former big league first baseman Tony Clark, who is Black, represents a player base that is 28.5% born outside the United States and 7.7% Black.
“There’s definitely a separation between being a player and a front-office guy or a coach and a front-office guy,” said the American League field staffer, who often serves as an intermediary between the groups. “I think it’s just a misunderstanding of people, maybe sometimes on our end, feeling like [the front offices] look down on [non-Ivy Leaguers], and then on the other side, us looking at them like they’re a bunch of nerds.”
“I need to find a way to be better.” — Epstein
DEBATE CONTINUES OVER the effectiveness of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview a minority for every head-coaching opening. The policy hasn’t solved many of the diversity issues among the coaches. Research from professors at Georgetown, George Washington, Emory and Iowa State in 2016 found that white position coaches and assistants were twice as likely to be promoted to coordinators than their Black peers.
Baseball’s equivalent, the Selig Rule — named after Manfred’s predecessor as commissioner, Bud Selig — requires teams to interview a minority candidate for any managerial or front-office opening. But that hasn’t prevented teams from operating around the mandate. In 2015, the Marlins even made general manager Dan Jennings their interim field manager despite no prior coaching experience. And while nearly 30% of major leaguers have Latino backgrounds, only four managers — Rick Renteria of the White Sox, Charlie Montoyo of the Toronto Blue Jays, Luis Rojas of the New York Mets and Dave Martinez of the Washington Nationals — share those roots.
Minorities and women within the sport we spoke to said the Selig Rule doesn’t do enough to address the systemic problems preventing minorities from getting their first job in the industry, let alone rising in the ranks of power.
“There’s a huge flaw in the system of forcing owners or GMs to interview minority candidates for high-level baseball jobs both on the field and off,” said one Hispanic American League baseball operations staffer who graduated from an Ivy League school. “That’s a mistake because it opens the door for the token interview. We’re going to interview you, you’re a Hispanic or African-American or you’re a woman who could be in this conversation, but we’re not even taking this seriously and we just need to check a box and we’re going to check the box with you. That’s almost more disrespectful than not interviewing anybody at all.”
“It shouldn’t just be when it’s convenient or at the forefront. It shouldn’t just be Theo Epstein saying it’s a problem when it’s convenient for him to say it’s a problem. That’s the burning question right now: Are we going to conform to be one of them or are they ever going to try to be more like one of us?”
Former participant in MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Program who now works in a major league front office
Kim Ng, the senior vice president of baseball operations for MLB who has served as assistant general manager for the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, has interviewed for nine top baseball operations positions without an offer. In 2018, Ng interviewed for the top Mets job, which went to former agent and Stanford graduate Brodie Van Wagenen — who had no previous experience working in a front office. Will Ng become the league’s first female general manager?
“The idea that this is all sitting on my shoulders — it’s a lot of pressure. It’s hard,” Ng told her alma mater’s University of Chicago News in 2018. “But I think someone’s going to have to do it. At the end of the day, if this doesn’t happen, I’m not going to see it as, ‘My career was a failure.’ That might be other peoples’ take, but that’s not mine.”
Other women are rising through the game’s ranks, including Eve Rosenbaum, a Harvard grad hired by the Orioles in January as director of baseball development. But for many minorities and women who entered the sport in the past decade, getting their first job meant convincing power brokers who largely hire candidates with similar backgrounds to their own. Once inside, a lack of role models to follow has left minorities and women with another hurdle as they navigate the politics of their workplace.
“We can be grassroots with this and really taking a more active stance towards this as opposed to a passive one, which is when it’s time to look for interns,” said the Hispanic American League baseball operations staffer who graduated from an Ivy League school. “We’re going to look for these guys or these men and women, we need to be doing this more proactively and cultivating these candidates in the same way we would be scouting an amateur player, when they’re a sophomore, junior in high school or a non-draft eligible college player. We need to view it the same way.”
Two years ago, MLB implemented its Diversity Fellowship Program, designed to address this issue. The fellowship, which lasts 18 to 24 months, gives its recipients a window into the inner workings of baseball front offices via entry-level positions. The league’s first class featured 22 college graduates, not just from Ivy League schools but also from historically Black colleges and universities such as Morehouse College and public schools such as Jackson State and Arizona State. The large majority of the first fellowship class continue working in the game today, according to LinkedIn profiles.
Still, those we spoke to who participated in the program said the fellowship is merely a starting point. More must be done.
“Baseball needs to do a better job of reaching out to minority communities,” said one participant, who now works in a front office as a baseball operations staffer. “When teams are doing their hiring, you notice they reach out to Ivy League schools, but they need to do a better job of reaching out at an even earlier point, whether that’s high schools that are historically minority-driven or HBCUs. Going beyond the scope of the elite colleges where everyone is hiring from is a good starting point, but don’t wait for people to reach out to you.
“If you take the premise that a baseball team is more than just a baseball team and more than just a business, but also socially responsible for the things happening in our society, then it needs to be a conversation that happens continuously, more than just diversity hiring. Right now, there’s a nature of not being socially responsible for the benefit of baseball, and teams need to think about those things and how they affect the way minorities and women perceive their organization and the sport in the long run.”
As Americans continue to take to the streets protesting the killing of George Floyd, minorities working within the sport hope to see the words of power brokers like Epstein turn into action to create systemic change.
“It shouldn’t just be when it’s convenient or at the forefront. It shouldn’t just be Theo Epstein saying it’s a problem when it’s convenient for him to say it’s a problem,” said the diversity fellowship recipient. “That’s the burning question right now: Are we going to conform to be one of them or are they ever going to try to be more like one of us? Or will the pendulum swing back and will this fade as a distinct era in baseball operations?”
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