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On Minority Hiring in Baseball

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I was ten years old when the efforts to integrate the management level of baseball began.  On April 6, 1987, the ABC news magazine show "Nightline" had a special honoring the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.  One of the guests on the program was Al Campanis, General Manager of the Dodgers and a former minor league teammate of Robinson.  Host Ted Koppel pressed Campanis on the question of why, forty years after Robinson's debut, there were no blacks working in the Major Leagues as a manager or general manager.  Campanis' response would become infamous:

No, I don't believe it's prejudice, I truly believe that it's just that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager.

Pressed by Koppel, Campanis expanded on his remarks:

I know that they have wanted to manage, and many of them haven't managed. But they are outstanding athletes, very God-gifted and wonderful people … They are gifted with great musculature (sic) and various other things. They are fleet of foot and this is why there are a number of black ballplayers in the major leagues.

This wasn't some former era of American history.  This was barely twenty years ago.  Campanis, by the way, had made the decision to hire Tommy Lasorda as manager of the Dodgers over Jim Gilliam, the former Negro League star who was Rookie of the Year for the Dodgers in 1953 and was the Dodgers' first hitting coach.

Campanis lasted only two days after those comments as GM of the Dodgers; it would take a lot more, however, to truly integrate the managerial positions in baseball.  Oriole legend Frank Robinson was the first minority manager in the majors, when he was named player-manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975.  The next year, Bill Lucas was the first African-American to be given the responsibilities of a general manager, although his title with the Braves was Vice President of Player Personnel.  Lucas died in 1979; there would not be another minority general manager in baseball until Bob Watson was named GM of the Astros in 1993, my junior year of high school.  At present, baseball has three minority GMs - Kenny Williams of the White Sox, Tony Reagins of the Angels, and Omar Minaya of the Mets.  This represents more than half of the minorities who have ever served as general managers in the history of baseball.

This disparity has been widely studied, and its persistence can largely be attributed to two factors: unconscious bias and social networks.  These subjects were examined by Brian W. Collins in the New York University Law Review, Vol. 82 (2007) note Tackling Unconscious Bias in Hiring Practices: The Plight of the Rooney Rule:

Although explicit assertions of African Americans’ intellectual inferiority, such as the statements of Campanis and Schott, appear to have waned, many of those in the position to hire head coaches continue to harbor similar stereotypes unconsciously. These decisionmakers function in a largely nondiverse atmosphere, where most of their exposure to African Americans consists of interactions with athletes stigmatized by the image of the so-called "African American Athlete."

People commonly attribute the success of African American athletes solely to natural ability, whereas Caucasian athletes are often depicted as intelligent and hardworking. Early 1990s media reports about four top college basketball players (two African American, two Caucasian) described the African American players as "having the tools" but possessing "questionable" intellect and reserved "[t]he real praise . . . for white players because they have managed to prevail despite . . . their modest athletic endowment." Further, in a USA Today poll of their readers, both Caucasian and African American respondents ranked Caucasian athletes highest for leadership, then thinking, instincts, strength, and speed; African Americans were ranked in the exact opposite order.

The term "old boy" networks describes social networking systems and perceptions allegedly prevalent among certain American communities.  Due in large part to unconscious bias, these networks tend to reinforce traditional power structures by limiting hiring practices and/or business transactions to other elites or acquaintances within the network. African Americans and other minorities are often blocked from these predominantly Caucasian networks not as a result of conscious animus but because there is a "tendency to recognize intellectual power and unusual capacity for [creativity] more easily in persons of one’s own sex and race." While it seems eminently reasonable for a decisionmaker to seek the evaluation of those he or she knows and trusts when making choices from among a number of outstanding candidates, this extensive reliance on mutual friends and colleagues—i.e., other network members—operates "to exclude even those few minorities [who] have managed to surmount the more easily quantifiable barriers to access."

In sports, the "old boy" hiring system excludes African Americans from authoritative positions.  A head coaching vacancy begins with an already short list of candidates, many of whom are acknowledged because of connections the decisionmaker has with others in the sports world.

These forms of discrimination are not merely pernicious and harmful to our society; they are illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits not only intentional discrimination, but also practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals because of their race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.  The popular narrative of the "Rooney Rule" in the National Football League is that it was done for the purposes of political correctness and public relations.  In fact, the "Rooney Rule" was implemented due to the release of a report on discrimination in coach hiring in the NFL by attorneys Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Cyrus Mehri in 2002, and their announcement that they would be filing a class action suit against NFL franchises for discrimination under Title VII.  The NFL formed the Committee on Workplace Diversity, chaired by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, as a response to forestall the suit.  The NFL implemented the "Rooney Rule", and Bud Selig issued his directive to consider minority candidates for managing vacancies, because they were concerned about being held liable for breaking the law.  In both sports, these efforts have met with modest success.

Yet less than ten years since the Cochran/Mehri report, these motivations behind these policies have disappeared from the discussion about them in the sports press regarding the Orioles and their search for a permanent replacement for Dave Trembley.  The issue has instead been discussed like this by Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun:

There are several issues that have to be worked out before an offer -- and a decision -- is made. One has to do with hiring protocol and whether the Orioles have to formally interview a minority candidate to comply with the commissioner’s directive or if Samuel’s extended tryout as interim is enough.

Or, at more length in this article by the Sun's Jeff Zrebiec:

There has been a lot of talk recently about whether the Orioles need to interview a minority candidate before the expected hiring of Buck Showalter to be the team’s long-term manager.

The short answer is no. Commissioner Bud Selig’s directive, issued in 1999, doesn’t specifically say major league teams must interview minority candidates. It, however, does require that minority candidates are considered when there are job openings at certain positions, like field manager, general manager and other executive posts.

This method of reporting the issue does a disservice to readers, reducing an important attempt to remedy baseball's past and current ills to a procedural hassle, belittling an effort to comply with Federal law to a need to cater to the whim of an unpopular commissioner, and placing at least part of the blame for the lack of action in the finding of a permanent manager on affirmative action.  And considering the particularly sordid history of race, Baltimore, and the Sun, I find it particularly galling.

Despite having the largest population of free blacks of any state prior to the Civil War, in the post-war period, Maryland was one of the most enthusiastic states in passing Jim Crow laws.  Beginning in 1870, Maryland passed fifteen such laws, prohibiting everything from whites and other passengers from sharing the same seating areas on steamboats to making it illegal for a white woman to bear the child of a black or mulatto man (white women who broke the law faced 18 months to five years in prison).  In 1957, only eight years before the trade that would bring Robinson to Baltimore, a law was passed which punished persons who married someone of another race with up to ten years in prison.

But perhaps most exceptional to Baltimore was discrimination in housing.  In 1910, African-American lawyer W. Ashbie Hawkins bought a three-story rowhouse at 1834 McCulloh Street.  This caused a furor, and as a result Baltimore passed the first ever racial zoning ordinance, which quickly spread to other parts of the nation until such ordinances were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1917 in  Buchanan v. Warley (Hawkins was one of the lawyers who argued the case before the Court).  After the ordinance was struck down, Mayor James Preston appointed a Commission on Segregation in 1918, which led to the active promotion by the city of the use of racial covenants to discriminate in housing.

These racial covenants were supported by a wide variety of Baltimore institutions, but perhaps none of them were as influential as the Baltimore Sun.  An editorial published by the Sun in that era read: "The white race is the dominant and superior race, and it will, of course, maintain its supremacy.  The attitude of the Southern man and the attitude of an average Baltimorean toward colored people is one of helpfulness. He sees in them not simply wards of the nation but descendants of those whom he and his ancestors trusted and respected for their loyalty and affection."  Author Antero Pietila, whose book Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Modern American City, detailed this history of housing discrimination in Baltimore, discovered that the Sun engaged in numerous deceptions to promote housing covenants, by publishing fraudulent letters to the editor, bogus real estate ads, and even falsely claiming that Mr. Hawkins had depressed real estate values by repeatedly publishing fictional claims of how much he had paid for the McCulloh Street rowhouse.  This helped create a culture of discrimination that lasts today; Maryland is currently the fourth most segregated state in the United States, and only five years ago a Federal judge ruled against the Department of Housing and Urban Development in a suit by the Maryland ACLU, determining that HUD in Maryland failed in its duty to affirmatively further fair housing, set out in §3608 of the Fair Housing Act.

In light of this history, it is unsurprising that when Frank Robinson arrived in Baltimore in 1965, he was less than thrilled

This was 1958. I was starting my third season in the majors, and the Reds were playing our way up north near the end of spring training. That's how it was done in those days. We'd play exhibition games on the way north from Florida to Cincinnati. 

When we got to Baltimore, it was raining, and I told my roommate, Brooks Lawrence, that I was going to a movie. 

"You're going where?"

I thought he was puzzled because I was talking about going out in the rain. 

"I'm goin' to a movie," I said. "There's one just down the way."


So I walked down to the theater and got on line. 

This is 1958 now. I'm in the big leagues for a few years, remember? I put my money down. 

"One, please."

"We don't serve blacks."


"We don't allow blacks in the theater."

I take my money back, and now I'm really pissed. I go back to the hotel, open the door, and Brooks Lawrence takes one look at my face and starts laughing so hard he falls off the bed. He's just howlin'!

He knew it. He just didn't tell me. 

I got all over him. All over him. 

"Why didn't you tell me?" 

"Hey," he said, "sometimes you gotta learn the hard way."

It left a bad taste in my mouth. Seven years after that, when I learned I'd been traded to Baltimore, that moment came right back to me. All I could think was, I've got to move to Baltimore, and I'm not gonna be able to go to the movies.

Robinson, who was not politically active early in his career, refused to join the Baltimore NAACP when he first arrived, but changed his mind after experiencing Baltimore's housing discrimination firsthand.  As the first minority manager of the Orioles, Robinson added to his list of "firsts" by becoming the first non-white manager to be named Manager of the Year in 1989.

Baltimore, like baseball, has a complicated and fraught racial history.  As the home of both H.L. Mencken and Thurgood Marshall, how could it not?  Peter Angelos, who has run for Mayor of Baltimore and three times for the Maryland Legislature, ought to understand that.  Andy MacPhail, himself a beneficiary of baseball's "old boy" network, ought to understand how the network that gave him a place in baseball from birth has kept other worthy people out of the game.  And the writers and editors of the Sun, serving the city with the sixth largest black population in America, where over 70% of residents are minorities, have an obligation to report the story in a manner that provides its readers with a context that explains why this is important to Major League Baseball.

That is what it is going to take for us to put the legacies of Ashbie Hawkins, Tom Yawkey, Marge Schott and Al Campanis behind us.  It is important.  Not more important than hiring the right manager, who will help our team grow and recover from the awfulness of the past 13 seasons.  But it is not a formality, not a meaningless obligation, and not something which should be casually brushed aside.  It is about who we are, where we came from, and who we want to be.