SBJ/20100517/Opinion

MLB excels in racial diversity; gender category needs work

Major League Baseball may have its issues, but when it comes to hiring women and people of color in their team front offices and in the central office, MLB has it figured out. This was apparent when the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida released the 2010 MLB Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC) in April.

Everyone credits the NFL for adopting the Rooney Rule with all the resulting changes in head coaches and general managers, and the NFL deserves the credit. However, two years before there was a Rooney Rule, Bud Selig instituted a similar policy in MLB for managers and general managers with equally impressive results. In fact, MLB has more managers who are people of color than the NFL, with 10 in 2009 and nine in 2010. The NBA remained the industry leader in its 2009 RGRC, with 12 head coaches who are people of color, a position it has held for 20-plus years.

MLB had its best report card ever with continued improvement of its record on the issue of racial and gender hiring practices. For the second consecutive report, MLB received an A for race and a B for gender. In 2008, baseball received an A- for race and a C+ for gender.

“My mother always expected A’s on our report card. We will work to get A’s in both categories, but we are proud of our progress,” Selig said.

MLB has done that especially where the commissioner has the most influence. In the central office, 32 percent of the staff were people of color while women made up 39 percent of the positions based on 2009 MLB work force data. In the MLB central office, there are two executive vice presidents and eight vice presidents who are people of color, in addition to six women senior vice presidents and five women vice presidents.

Of concern to many is the decreasing numbers of African-American players in MLB. After nearly 20 years of gradual decline, MLB hit its low point in 2007, when 8.2 percent of the players were African-American. There was a 2 percentage point gain in the 2008 season, to 10.2 percent, but the increase was not sustained as the percentages fell to 9 percent in 2009 and 9.1 percent at the start of the 2010 season. Seven teams had only one African-American player. No team had fewer than four Latino players.

To some degree, MLB’s players now look more like America than most sports, with 40.2 percent of its players being players of color at the start of the 2010 season. That was close to MLB’s record high of 40.6 percent in the 2008 season. On Opening Day, 28.3 percent were Latino and 2.4 percent were Asian. Native Americans or Native Alaskans were at 0.4 percent. 

I think it is clear that the best players play, and it has been that way for a long time. The reason I started writing the RGRC was because there were so few women and people of color running the game in team front offices and in the central office. MLB was getting C’s when Selig became commissioner. 

All that has changed under his tenure. When Selig mandated a diverse pool of candidates in 1999, MLB had two African-American managers and one Latino. At the start of the 2010 season, MLB had nine managers of color: four African-American, four Latino and one Asian. Five of the nine managers have already had great records: Cito Gaston in Toronto, with four division titles, two pennants and two World Series titles; Ozzie Guillen with the Chicago White Sox, with two division titles, one pennant and one World Series title; Lou Piniella with the Chicago Cubs, with six division titles, one pennant and one World Series championship; Dusty Baker in Cincinnati, with three division titles and one pennant; and Jerry Manuel with the New York Mets, with one division title.

In 1999, there were no general managers who were people of color. At the start of the 2010 season, there were two Latino and three African-American general managers. All five have had impressive successes. In 2006, Omar Minaya’s Mets played in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series. Ken Williams’ White Sox won the 2005 World Series. In their first year as general managers, Michael Hill’s Florida Marlins had a .522 win percentage and Tony Reagins’ Los Angeles Angels had a .617 percentage winning over 100 games during the season. Ruben Amaro Jr. in his first year as general manager also enjoyed a highly successful regular-season and postseason with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. 

MLB has good signs on the gender side as well, even if that is where the most improvement needs to come. Someday it may be the first of the major professional leagues to have a woman as general manager. Kim Ng is vice president and assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jean Afterman is vice president and assistant general manager of the New York Yankees. The Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants led the way in MLB’s report, with seven and six women in vice president positions, respectively. There were a total of 56 women holding team senior vice president and vice president positions in MLB. However, in general, women are still far behind in senior professional positions at the team level, where they hold less than one in five jobs.

So I salute the commissioner and his staff, especially senior vice president Wendy Lewis, who heads up MLB’s diversity efforts, including their wide-ranging diversity initiatives at the team and league levels. I look forward to the day when Bud Selig’s mom’s expectations of all A’s are fulfilled.

Richard E. Lapchick (rlapchick@bus.ucf.edu) is the chairman of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program and the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

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