Rob Manfred has been baseball commissioner since January, and his honeymoon is still on. He’s admired for quickening the pace of the game and acting conciliatory to the union and Pete Rose in this Era of Good Feeling, with profits booming and good teams in New York, Washington, Chicago, LA and Canada. And we even get a small-market world champion in Kansas City. Isn’t everybody happy?
Well, not quite everybody. Now comes the venerable – if not always venerated – ballwriter Murray Chass to call Manfred out for doing nothing to advance the lost cause of minority hiring.
In his blog, Murray Chass on Baseball, he pointed out this contradiction: “While Manfred boasts of a desire to enhance minority hiring, he pushes the Milwaukee Brewers to hire a 30-year-old white guy, David Stearns, as their general manager.
“He oversees the naming of 15 white guys among a pool of 16 high-ranking executives and managers. And he does nothing to secure even a solitary interview for DeJon Watson, viewed as the most worthy minority candidate for the position of GM.
“In the past four months, teams have hired 14 high-ranking executives and two (field) managers. Only one of those 16, GM Al Avila of Detroit, is a minority.”
Chass, formerly the lead baseball writer for The New York Times, went on to criticize mainstream media for not joining him to prod Manfred into action, maybe appoint a committee. Something beyond just saying, “We need to promote diversity.”
Of a prominent writer for CBS Sports, Chass wrote: “Jon Heyman has nothing but praise for the commissioner, and he should know better.”
One national voice who might agree with the Chass-tising of Manfred is ESPN’s Mike Wilbon, an African-American. Wilbon, who lives in Chicago, suggested on Pardon the Interruption that a key factor in the declining black participation in baseball is that “you look up at the bosses, and none of them look like you.”
Given the impressive performance of black athletes in almost all sports save hockey and swimming, it might behoove Manfred and the baseball owners to make minority hiring a more prominent part of their agenda.
In the 1990s, Major League Baseball seemed committed to boosting minority involvement. Leonard Coleman, an African-American, was hired as president of the National League and also operated Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities.
Coleman worked with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to grow the RBI Program which built ballparks in cities that had all but squeezed out youth baseball.
But in 1999 the position of league president was eliminated as MLB became more centralized. MLB apparently couldn’t find another significant position for Coleman, a capable and energetic man who has three degrees from Ivy League schools. He has gone on to serve on boards of directors of Churchill Downs and other corporations.
Chass wrote that when he recently called Manfred to ask him about minority hiring in baseball, his inquiry was not treated seriously. According to Chass, Manfred wondered if readers could be very interested in this topic.
Perhaps they’re not.
But good reporters tell readers what they need to know, not necessarily what they want to know.
Chass, 78, is denigrated by the New Media as “cranky” and “old-fashioned.” If you Google his name you can pull up scathing attacks from Deadspin and other sources. They don’t like his snubbing of analytics and blogging and find it deliciously ironic that since The Times forced him out seven years ago, he’s become a prolific blogger himself.
It’s not that he’s opposed to analytics or Information Technology, he just thinks they’re overused and mostly boring. I can agree with him that people who can express baseball only in numbers miss out on so much of its beauty.
I saw Murray work in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, intensely and accurately covering not just the games but the financial and legal aspects of the baseball industry. He understands baseball in a way that few ever have, and sometimes crankiness is a good thing.
He’s always been willing to challenge the rich white men who run the sport, and he’s usually right in doing so. On the subject of minority hiring, which is to say lack of, by Major League Baseball, Murray Chass is right again.