Major League Baseball will enter its 2016 season with at least one black manager because a team owned by the 86th-richest man in the world tried to save a few bucks. After announcing Bud Black (note: he’s actually white) as their new manager last Wednesday, the Washington Nationals promptly filled the well with strychnine by offering Black a 1-year, $1.6 million deal they presumably pulled out of a condemned bargain basement.
The Nationals, while still negotiating with Black, then circled back to their second choice, Dusty Baker, who quickly agreed to terms and will thus spare MLB the ignominy of its first opening day without a black manager since 1988.
In the 41 years since Frank Robinson became the first black man to be hired as a MLB manager, there have been just 26 more black managers in the major leagues. If one is looking for what that presumed progress has amounted to, consider that apparently all it takes for a black manager to land a MLB gig in 2015 is a willingness to live with being the second choice—even in the eye of the public—and some lightspeed organizational stupidity.
Going by the words of Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, none of this dreck should have been lit aflame in the first place.
“Communication in the clubhouse, communication with the coaching staff, is vital,” Rizzo said when asked in a press conference what the team would seek in a replacement for fired manager Matt Williams. “We feel that where we’re at in our timetable of winning a championship, we certainly would lean toward someone that has some type of managerial experience, especially at the major league level."
Given those desires, in a choice between Bud Black and Dusty Baker, nothing short of Baker declaring that Samhain demands the crucifixion of Bryce Harper should have kept him from being the first choice. Baker’s 3,176 career games managed are more than double Black’s total of 1,362. And, while every team Baker has managed reached the playoffs under his direction, Black has yet to manage a single postseason game.
Add in Rizzo’s preference for a gifted communicator and the scales tip further in Baker’s direction, since he’s successfully managed everyone from aloof demigod Barry Bonds to perpetual supernova Carlos Zambrano. The knocks on Baker—poor bullpen management and aversion to advanced statistics foremost among them—remain no less valid, but those same criticisms could be levied against the two managers in this year’s World Series.
All told, we can assume that either Black is just an absolute charmer in person or maybe, just maybe, a sports league with a long history of institutionalized racism at every level hasn’t quite yet sorted out the concept of equality.
This is all just another example of not just MLB’s days of future past relationship with racism, but the bone-deep failure of the so-called Selig Rule—a mandate handed down by then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig on April 14, 2009, that required every club to consider minority candidates for all general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development, and director of scouting positions.
It’s more than six years later now, and Dusty Baker has just joined Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves as one of only two people of color serving as field managers in MLB. That works out to people of color in 6.6 percent of MLB’s field manager slots—to manage MLB rosters, where over 40 percent of players are minorities.
Beyond the rule’s failure on its own terms, MLB teams also routinely make a mockery of the requirement. In May of this year, the Miami Marlins announced they’d be shifting general manager Dan Jennings into the vacated role of manager. Jennings is a perfectly nice white man, who had last coached 30 years prior, for a high school.
The Marlins did not interview anyone else, minority or otherwise, for the position. The commissioner’s office, that grand old bastion of equality, dutifully rubber-stamped the hiring, as it always does.
And so we end up in the same place we always do anytime rules on hiring minority candidates uncomfortably intersect with the reality of hiring minority candidates. It is the notion that a rule is a measure of progress and not, say, actual progress. As it stands, the idea that people of color should appreciate a handful of managerial roles instead of zero remains a joke.
The even bigger joke is the possibility that Baker, who has managed a World Series, only got his Nationals interview because of the Selig Rule. If that’s progress, it’s the sort of progress that demeans people of color at the expense of comforting the game’s white rulers. This all feels familiar.