HONORING BUT BETRAYING ROBINSON

By Murray Chass

March 10, 2013

Major League Baseball pays so much attention to its Jackie Robinson past that it ignores distasteful developments in the present.

Baseball joined the Jackie Robinson Foundation last week in remembering and honoring the man who courageously broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. But baseball does this every year along with staging other events, such as the now annual civil rights game.Jackie Robinson 225

Robinson deserves to be remembered for what he did, but he would not be impressed with MLB’s hiring record in recent years. On the contrary, he’d be disappointed, if not disgusted. If MLB has a minority hiring program, it hasn’t made an impact in recent years.

  • Since the Philadelphia Phillies named Ruben Amaro Jr. general manager Nov. 3, 2008, teams have hired 14 general managers. All have been white.
  • Of the last 23 managers hired, dating to May 2010, three have been minorities, and one of them, Ozzie Guillen, no longer has his job.

Heading into the 2013 season, MLB has only one minority general manager, Amaro, and four minority managers – three African Americans and a Latino.

The newest general manager, Rick Hahn of the Chicago White Sox, replaced Ken Williams, a unique minority general manager, who served in the position for a dozen years until he turned it over to his assistant, Hahn, last October.  The last African American general manager before Williams was Tony Reagins, whom the Angels fired Sept. 30, 2011.

No other general managers are new for the coming season. Six managers, on the other hand, are new: Porter in Houston, the lone new minority; Terry Francona in Cleveland, John Farrell in Boston, John Gibbons in Toronto, Walt Weiss in Colorado, Mike Redmond in Miami.

Porter, most recently Washington’s third base coach, is in the least enviable position of the new managers. The Astros lost a total of 113 games the past two seasons. Yet those disastrous results were the reason the job was available. If you want to be a manager, you have to be willing to take what’s available.

The most unlikely recipient of a job was Gibbons, whom the Blue Jays fired less than half way through the 2008 season, then rehired him in the off-season. The difference was the general manager. In 2008 J. P. Ricciardi saw a reason to let him go; in 2012 Alex Anthopoulos saw a reason to bring him back.

But while Gibbons has received a second chance, plenty of minorities don’t get a first chance.

“I’m very sensitive about the subject,” Commissioner Bud Selig said. “We talk about it all the time. People tell me we have tons of people in the pipeline. I think we do.”

Commenting on that comment, I suggest that baseball officials, whomever Selig referred to, might talk about it all the time, but they don’t do anything about it any of the time.

In addition, if the pipeline is loaded with prospective managerial and general managerial candidates, what is the problem with disgorging them from the pipeline by hiring some of them?

Selig9 225“I’m satisfied that clubs are trying,” Selig said, “but we need to do better. It’s as simple as that.”

I have no evidence to support my view, but I just don’t believe clubs are trying, as the commissioner believes. He cited his rule that requires clubs to interview minority candidates for decision-making positions, a rule that, in fact, predates the National Football League’s similar Rooney rule.

But there have been too many instances where teams have appeared to be going through the motions with their interviews, interviewing an African American or a Latino, even a woman, simply to satisfy Selig’s edict but having no serious intent of hiring the person for the available opening.

“I’ve gone over hires with clubs,” Selig said. “I don’t want interviews to be ceremonial. It’s something I believe in.”

Yet I recall how a few years ago there was a minority candidate whom the hiring team interviewed by telephone. Can you see the manager-seeking Boston Red Sox, for example, interviewing Bobby Valentine by telephone?

I also recall times when teams didn’t adhere to the Selig rule and got away with it. The Detroit Tigers did that once, blatantly hiring Phil Garner without conducting a minority interview. Selig took no disciplinary action because the Tigers initiated a community minority program.

“You can’t tell clubs whom to hire,” Selig said in the telephone interview last Friday before a World Baseball Classic game in Phoenix. “I can’t do that. But there’s no question we have to have a better effect.”

Perhaps Selig can’t tell teams whom to hire, but he can be a very persuasive person. I don’t believe that at some point in the past five years, since the Phillies named Amaro to succeed Pat Gillick as their general manager, that the commissioner couldn’t have prevailed on one of 14 teams to hire a minority general manager.

During that time, before November 2011, he prevailed upon Jim Crane, the prospective new owner of the Houston Astros, to agree to move the team to the American League. Selig needed to switch a team from the National League to balance the leagues with 15 teams each, and the Astros were the obvious candidate.

It was simple. Jim, ole buddy, you want the team, and the other owners would love to have you join the club, especially Drayton McLane Jr., who wanted to sell. But there’s one catch. You have to agree to switch leagues. He did.

I don’t believe he would have balked had Selig tossed in another condition. There’s another requirement, guy. All you have to do is name an African American guy as your new general manager. There are plenty of good candidates. We’ll help you select a good one.

Not the best way to get the job done. But it would get the job done, and how much worse off would the Astros be with that minority general manager in place instead of Jeff Luhnow or any other white guy?

One weakness in the commissioner’s rule about interviewing minority candidates for decision-making positions. He tells clubs they have to interview a minority candidate, and that’s what they do – interview a single candidate, not multiple candidates, as they do with men of the white persuasion.

Perhaps Selig should alter the rule to say however many white guys they interview they have to interview the same number of minorities. Who knows? If a team interviews three African Americans or Latinos, they might find that one of them is acceptable. There is, after all, nothing magic about a general manager being a white guy.

Kenny Williams 225Williams did a great job with the White Sox, and Hahn will be hard pressed to match what the former outfielder did in his dozen years on the job. I am not a fan of the White Sox chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf, but I have always commended him for his employment of Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen. He has done a better job with minorities than any other owner.

As for minorities in baseball, the sport has a serious problem. It has a lack of African American players. Latinos have become more prominent.

At the start of each season, Dr. Richard Lapchick issues a racial and gender report that, among other things, tracks percentages of players in the major leagues

“Are we playing fair when it comes to sports? Does everyone, regardless of race or gender, have a chance at bat or to operate a team?” asks Lapchick, the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

“Although the total percentage of players of color has steadily risen over the years,” he wrote in his 2012 report, “there has been a concern about the percentage of African-American players in Major League Baseball. For the 2012 season, there was a small increase to 8.8 percent from 8.5 percent from 2011. This has been a concern of Major League Baseball and leaders in the African-American community.”

The major leagues have taken steps to try to increase the African American population. “That I’m comfortable with,” Selig said. “I think we’re making good progress.”

MLB is using academies to recruit young African American players. There’s an academy in Compton, Calif., and another opening in Houston. Selig said academies are also going up in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Miami, he said. Additional academies are under discussion in other cities, he said.

“It’s a subject very near and dear to my heart,” the commissioner added. “I’d like to do better. We’re not going to leave it to chance.”

I remain skeptical and suspect we will see another celebration of Jackie Robinson before we see another hire of an African American general manager.

The 14 general managers hired since Ruben Amaro Jr. became the Phillies’ general manager in November 2008:

  • Rick Hahn – White Sox
  • Jeff Luhnow – Astros
  • Terry Ryan – Twins
  • Jed Hoyer – Cubs
  • Theo Epstein – Cubs (president baseball operations)
  • Dan Duquette – Orioles
  • Jerry Dipoto – Angels
  • Josh Byrnes – Padres
  • Ben Cherington – Red Sox
  • Sandy Alderson – Mets
  • Chris Antonetti – Indians
  • Kevin Towers – D’backs
  • Mike Rizzo – Nationals
  • Alex Anthopoulos – Blue Jays

DUNCANS’ DREADFUL DEVELOPMENTS

This is the worst story I have heard in years. It’s a terrible tale of one family, a baseball family, as it happens, but it’s not the baseball aspect of it that matters. No family of any kind should have to experience it.

Dave Duncan 225Dave Duncan, one of the great pitching coaches in baseball history, was forced to relinquish his position with the St. Louis Cardinals under manager Tony La Russa when his wife, Jeanine, was diagnosed in 2011 with a brain tumor.

The tumor was a glioblastoma, as deadly as any that has been found. I wrote about it last week in a column about Michael Weiner, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, who was diagnosed with a glioblastoma last August.

But Jeanine Duncan was not to be the only member of the Duncan family so afflicted. Last October, 14 months after his mother was diagnosed, Chris, one of the Duncans’ two major league sons, was also found to have a glioblastoma, MLB.com reported. The only difference, Dave Duncan said in a telephone call, is his wife’s tumor is grade 4, his son’s grade 2, the higher number being worse.

Both Duncans are being treated at Duke University by Dr. Henry Friedman, a noted specialist in brain tumors generally and their tumor specifically. When I spoke to him a year or so ago, Dr. Friedman said, “The survival rate is increasing. We’re seeing a small increase in the number of survivors.”

Dr. Friedman offered no numbers to support his view, and another doctor who is intimately involved with brain tumors said he was not convinced that claim is valid. “Henry Friedman is always saying we’re making progress,” he said.

I had called Friedman at the time of Gary Carter’s diagnosis of a glioblastoma, and of the seven former major leaguers who died with glioblastomas Carter died the soonest following diagnosis, only 8 ½ months later. It has been 19 months since Jeanine Duncan was diagnosed.

Dave Duncan said his wife can’t drive and has vision problems but given her basic condition those are problems worth trading for her life.

Chris Duncan, meanwhile, continues his treatments, putting in time with a radio show. An outfielder, he played for the Cardinals for parts of five seasons and was a member of their 2006 World Series championship team. His father was the team’s pitching coach.

MESSING WITH RYAN – BAD MOVE

If the money men of the Texas Rangers are considering doing anything that would prompt Nolan Ryan to abandon his position as president and chief executive officer and leave the team, they would be making the biggest blunder of their financial lives.Nolan Ryan Jacket 225

Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, co-chairmen of the Rangers, were reported to have met with Ryan late last week to address his concerns about his position with the club.

Ryan flew to Dallas from spring training in Arizona after the Rangers promoted two executives, Jon Daniels from general manager to president of baseball operations and Rick George from chief operating officer to president of business operations.

Unless they wanted to push Ryan out, why Davis and Simpson would take those steps is beyond sensible. Not only is Ryan a Hall of Fame pitcher, but he has also proved himself to be a Hall of Fame executive.

Ryan is the primary reason the Rangers reached the 2010 and 2011 World Series and continue to be a formidable contender for future playoffs.

Tom Hicks, the former owner, recruited Ryan five years ago to clean up the mess he made, and Ryan became the face of the new ownership group, whose members had money but no baseball acumen.

Immediately after the Davis-Simpson purchase of the Rangers, the owners pushed out Chuck Greenberg, a Pittsburgh lawyer, who had been instrumental in the acquisition, when he and Ryan clashed over club policies.

Ryan is not the type to hang around if he finds anything about his position distasteful, but it makes no sense for Davis and Simpson to create that circumstance.

As a post-playing career banker and rancher, Ryan demonstrated an expertise in business and has also brought a high degree of baseball intelligence to the Rangers. That’s why they are where they are.

ATHLETICS MOVING

It’s not the park in the city he wants for his Oakland Athletics, but Lew Wolff last week got a new park in a new city. Two years from now the A’s will shift their spring training home from Phoenix to Mesa, Ariz., under a 20-year and possibly a 30-year deal.

lew-wolff-225The A’s will return to Mesa, where they spent spring training from 1969 through 1978.

Wolff wants to move the team from Oakland to San Jose for the season, but the San Francisco Giants have blocked his way to San Jose, and an absurdly extended four-year study directed by Commissioner Bud Selig has not helped clarify the issue.

Last week the San Jose Mercury News quoted a San Jose city councilman as threatening a lawsuit against the Giants, but Wolff quickly expressed no interest in such legal action.

“To clarify recent articles relating to legal action by any party pertaining to the A’s desired move to downtown San Jose,” Wolff said in a statement:

“We are a part of the MLB partnership and will continue to respect the Constitution and agreements that govern our participation in MLB. We seek our needed new venue based solely on the merits of the move and the benefits to MLB, the A’s and our fans and sponsors.”

The study goes on…and on and on and on. And on.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.