‘It hurts:’ After vowing change, Black candidates shut out again of MLB front office jobs

It was supposed to be different this time around.

Major League Baseball embraced the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, and pledged diversity in their front-office hirings this winter.

In the end, there were eight president of baseball operation and GM jobs filled this winter, and not a single job went to an African-American. Kim Ng was the only minority hired when she became the first woman and first person of East Asian decent to be the GM of a MLB franchise with the Miami Marlins.

The New York Mets hired two white men — Sandy Alderson and Jared Porter — to become their president and GM, respectively.

The Philadelphia Phillies hired a white man, Dave Dombrowski, to become their president of baseball operations.

There were new white GMs in Texas (Chris Young) and Anaheim (Perry Minasian).

There were three white males who were promoted to president or GM with the Chicago Cubs (Jed Hoyer), Cincinnati Reds (Nick Krall) and Milwaukee Brewers (Matt Arnold).

“I had fooled myself into feeling that by seeing people march on streets on our behalf, and that all people matter,” Chicago White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams told USA TODAY Sports, “there was going to be some change. I really thought that.

“I won’t make that mistake again.”

Williams, 56, is the lone Black man in charge of baseball operations for any of major-league club. He was hired as the White Sox’s GM 20 years ago, and during the past two decades, the only other Black GMs hired throughout baseball were Tony Reagins of the Los Angeles Angels, Michael Hill of the Miami Marlins and Dave Stewart of the Arizona Diamondbacks. They have yet to get another opportunity. The only active minority GMs are Al Avila of the Detroit Tigers, Farhan Zaidi of the San Francisco Giants and Ng.

Ken Williams is the lone African-American in charge of baseball operations for any of the major-league club.

Given the national dialogue on race and equality this year, there was reason to believe things would change in baseball. Even Theo Epstein, then the president of the Cubs, ridiculed his hiring practices and called on all of MLB to improve. 

While Black executives were job candidates, not a single one was promoted into a high-ranking leadership role.

Hill, who was vice president of baseball operations for the Marlins since 2013 until this winter and has a degree from Harvard, interviewed for the Mets and Phillies. Billy Owens, assistant general manager/director of player personnel for the Oakland A’s, interviewed with the Mets and Angels. And De Jon Watson, Washington Nationals special assistant who has been an assistant GM, scouting director, farm director, and a two-time World Series champion, inexplicably did not even get a single interview.

“It hurts, man, it (expletive) hurts,’’ Williams said, his voice cracking. “It hurts to see guys achieve things in this game, and it hurts to see these guys are so damn good at what they do, and they continue to get bypassed over and over again. It physically hurts.

“I can’t stand in front of some of the young aspiring executives in the game and tell them with a straight face and tell them they have opportunity for advancement. It would be completely insincere for me to do such a thing.

“I know some people don’t want to hear what I have to say, but I’m just being honest with you.’’

The anger and frustration in baseball’s Black community is deafening.

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There were promises baseball’s hiring would be different this winter. Commissioner Rob Manfred delivered a statement before the June 10 Draft on racial equality, vowing that MLB would use its platform to actively push for social change.

Baseball executives committed more than $310,000 to five organizations that fight for racial justice with the Commissioner’s Office matching the donations.

Epstein was widely praised for speaking out against systemic racism in the game, saying that he and every other GM needs to look themselves in the mirror about their hiring practices.

“I’ve hired a Black scouting director, farm director in the past,’’ Epstein said, “but the majority of people that I’ve hired, if I’m being honest, have similar backgrounds as me and look a lot like me. That’s something I need to ask myself why.

“The system doesn’t fix itself. You have to stand up and take some action. …I think we all have to admit that we’re all part of the problem and we all have to be better to become part of the solution.’’

Here we are six months later, and there are still only three Black farm and scouting directors in the game, with Jared Banner in the running for a job with the Cubs.

“I’m shocked what’s going on and how some of these guys aren’t getting hired,”said Steve Ontiveros, Kansas City Royals assistant scouting director. “You know they’re qualified. Everyone knows that, but they can’t get an opportunity.”

Teams are required to identify and interview at least one minority candidate for every leadership vacancy, a rule established by former Commissioner Bud Selig. Owners will tell you that Manfred has openly stressed the importance of diversity in their private meetings leadership, even pleading with teams.

Yet, he is powerless to mandate the hiring of anyone outside of his own Commissioner’s office, and recently hired Michele Meyer-Shipp to evaluate and re-image MLB’s programs and policies.

“Improving the diversity of our clubs’ baseball operations and on-field leadership positions remains a top priority for our industry,’’ Manfred said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “Through the Selig Rule, diverse candidates were considered for each of the five open club baseball operations positions.  While the hiring of Marlins General Manager Kim Ng was a historic moment in professional sports, we need to continue our efforts to recruit, develop and advance underrepresented talent across the league. … We remain committed to building a sustainable pipeline of quality candidates and opportunities for the near and long-term future.”

The trouble is that the pipeline is filled full of white Ivy League graduates. There’s a scarcity of minorities even among entry level internships. Why, even those with Ivy League educations, such Pittsburgh Pirates assistant GM Kevin Graves, a 2003 graduate of Dartmouth, did not receive a single interview this winter.

Certainly, it’s no indictment on the new GMs who were hired this winter, with all receiving high accolades among their peers.

“I don’t want this to sound like these other people are not qualified or deserving in their own right,’’ Williams said. “That’s not for me to decide. But I’m looking at it in its entirety and totality. I’m looking at all of the years, not just 2020. And I keep saying the same thing.’’

Maybe it’s time for MLB to make policy changes, steal a page out of the NFL playbook where teams may be rewarded with a higher draft pick if a minority from their own organization is hired and promoted by another team’s front office. It could provide incentive for teams to at least start filling their own pipeline with minority candidates.

“I remember going to Howard University a couple of years ago to talk to 50 college students about their post-graduate possibilities,’’ said Milwaukee Brewers president Rick Schlesinger. “I asked how many would be interested in going into a baseball front office for a potential career. Only one raised their hand.’’

Schlesinger, who recently helped create the Equity League with the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Bucks and Microsoft, to increase investment in businesses started by Black and Latinx entrepreneurs, was stunned by the lack of interest.

“It was astounding, and troubling,’’ Schlesinger said, “that these future leaders had no interest in our industry. We have to do a better job promoting our industry. We have to market ourselves better.

“We get so any resumes and applicants for jobs, but we are not getting the resumes and interest from African Americans, and that has to change. That’s on us.’’

Yet, with Black players comprising only 7.8% of last year’s opening-day rosters, and the few executives in front offices, it’s almost as if the doors are already closed. Baseball has done an abysmal job retaining former players.

It’s time for drastic change, perhaps an incentive plan to help influence hiring decisions, knowing that despite all of the promises for change this summer, the status quo is suffocating the sport’s aspirations of genuine diversity.

“I can’t even tell my own son (Ken Williams Jr.), who’s our assistant player development director,’’ Williams said, “to stay in the game because I don’t know if there will be an opportunity for him. No matter how good he gets, will there be an opportunity for him ahead? I can’t say that. What evidence is there this will be the case?

“And I can’t begin to tell you how much that hurts.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

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