This year’s Jackie Robinson Day (April 15), annually celebrated with each MLB player, coach and manager wearing Robinson’s number 42, was snowed out locally. However, the fact is, baseball doesn’t look that much different now than when Robinson played over seven decades ago, and that remains a concern.
Nine days before his death in October 1972, Robinson called out MLB during an appearance at that season’s World Series for its lack of Black managers. Rhiannon Walker of The Undefeated.com found in her analysis that since Robinson’s remarks, at least 224 men were hired as major league managers, but only 16 Blacks filled the position – 10 interim and 17 full-time.
For the most part, managers of color (MOCs – Blacks, Latinos or Asians) rarely got to manage clubs who finished above.500 the previous year. And only two MOCs were hired without any managerial experience.
“The lack of diversity in this key position throughout MLB is of utmost concern,” The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) Director Richard Lapchick wrote in the 2018 Major League Baseball Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC) released April 12.
Opening Day this season began with zero Black managers, three Latinos and one person of mixed race. This earned baseball a C-plus grade, up from an F in 2017. The only A earned this year for race at the team level was for coaches, an all-time high of 45.9 percent.
Minnesota has two Black coaches for the first time this century, first-year Pitching Coach Garvin Alston and second-year Hitting Coach James Rowson. Also, Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins both returned this season as two of the club’s four special assistants to baseball operations.
After years of getting poor grades from this newspaper, the Twins apparently have moved themselves near the top of the class, diversity speaking. But the class seems more like Mr. Kotter’s than Professor Kingfield’s of Welcome Back Kotter and The Paper Chase, respectively.
“It is a stated goal for us. We want to add to our staff diverse perspectives and backgrounds,” Twins Executive Vice President and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey told the MSR prior to the season. “I think we are making progress, but it still is a challenge across baseball. We need to be better at this as an industry.”
Hunter and Hawkins both “are huge contributors no matter what their race was,” Minnesota Executive Chair Jim Pohlad reiterated. “It’s nice that they are diverse.”
Asked how the Twins stack up in diversity terms with other MLB franchises, Falvey stressed, “I’m proud that we have one of the few amateur scouting directors in baseball that is African American [Sean Johnson], and Deron Johnson [no relation] is a senior voice [as senior advisor]. We’re proud of this.”
But despite an all-time high in player diversity, only 7.7 percent of all MLB players on Opening Day were Black Americans, Lapchick points out. “This is the lowest number of African American players taking the field on Opening Day. In 1991, 18 percent of all players were African Americans,” he said.
Byron Buxton is the Twins’ only Black player for the second straight year.
This year, Lapchick gave baseball an overall C-plus/B-minus grade on this year’s RGRC, including a B-plus for racial hiring and a C for gender hiring on the 71st anniversary of Robinson breaking MLB’s color barrier. “There is still a long way to go to achieve Jackie’s goal,” the TIDES director concludes.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.