Diversity agenda high on MLB’s priority list this winter
MLB is rolling out a robust diversity and inclusion agenda at this week’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, including launching new six-month internship programs geared toward helping former players with diverse backgrounds transition from the playing field to front office and on-field coaching roles.
While MLB officials cite progress in increasing diversity at the grassroots and entry levels of the sport, the scarcity of minority hiring for many recent high-profile positions has not gone unnoticed. Among the 11 combined general manager and managerial vacancies this offseason, only one — manager Carlos Beltran with the New York Mets — was filled by a person of color.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has taken the minority hiring issue so personally he surprised other baseball executives when he addressed some 10 MLB owners on the topic during a diversity and inclusion meeting at last month’s owners’ meetings in Texas.
“The fact that Rob had a pretty demanding schedule and he took the time to come to the D&I session and address that point, it was pretty impactful,” said Corey Smith, MLB’s senior director of diversity and inclusion. “I don’t think anyone was expecting him to stop by at all, much less give the instructions that he did — that we have to do better. We’re at the beginnings of the turning point.”
To that end, Paul Mifsud, MLB’s vice president and deputy general counsel, labor relations and player programs, said there has been marked progress recently by clubs and the league office in increasing diversity at other levels. Until a few years ago, he added, MLB’s labor economics department was traditionally dominated by white males. But over the past two years, almost every hire has either been female or a minority, he said, and the department is more diverse than ever. That portends more diversity in high-ranking club positions in the future, he said, because the department has a history of producing future general managers and assistant general managers.
“When we finally woke up to the fact that we had such a tremendous influence on who tomorrow’s GMs were going to be just by who we were hiring, we started making better decisions about who we were hiring,” Mifsud said. “I think you will see the results of that in the coming years.”
The Winter Meetings will also feature the second annual “Take the Field” program, which provides women interested in careers in coaching, scouting and player development with opportunities for engagement with team personnel. Elizabeth Benn, MLB’s coordinator of labor relations, diversity and inclusion, and baseball development, said the 2018 program was “pretty successful with around two-thirds of the participants having some type of experience in baseball over the following year.” This year’s sessions were expected to include discussions by Rachel Balkovec, minor-league hitting instructor for the New York Yankees, among others.
The former player internship, which is jointly sponsored by MLB Player Programs and the Diversity Pipeline Program, is a pilot program for those who played in either the minors or the majors and is designed to offer a foundation for aspiring front-office executives or on-field coaches. Eighteen teams are offering internships this coming year and the specifics of each paid internship vary depending upon the team and the career interests of individuals. Among those participating are Eric Patterson (Chicago Cubs), who played with four teams from 2007 to 2011, and Derrick Robinson (Kansas City Royals), who played for the Reds in 2013.
“We have this really talented group of former players, many of whom did not make the major leagues,” said MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem. “They were minor league players who left. How can we tap into that group — especially diverse individuals — to get them back in the game?”