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Revisiting the Managerial Color Line

A year later, Major League Baseball seems to be doing better in its hiring practices, and giving more consideration to candidates of color.

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Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

So that’s it. With the hiring of Bud Black in Colorado over the weekend, all the managerial openings in Major League Baseball have been filled. The Diamondbacks chose perpetual bridesmaid Torey Lovullo and the Braves decided to retain interim manager Brian Snitker on a more permanent basis. The White Sox finally moved on from Robin Ventura and chose former Cubs manager Rick Renteria. Everyone else stood pat, leaving the beleaguered Brad Ausmus seemingly safe for now.

Last year, prior to the hirings of Dave Roberts and Dusty Baker in Los Angeles and Washington respectively, I noted that we were in danger of having fewer managers of color in the game than any time since 1988. Those two, however, joined Fredi Gonzalez, then of the Braves in that small fraternity.

It was improvement, albeit a small one. In a league where 40 percent of the players are non-white, it simply boggled the mind that only 10 percent of the managers were people of color. After all, we’ve seen black and Latino managers win the World Series and Manager of the Year. We’ve leaped so many hurdles. It was strange to see the league losing ground in this regard, and welcome to see them start to reverse a troubling decline.

At the time, I noted, “I wish we could declare victory for fairness and equality and go home for the day. Unfortunately, the world is more complicated than that. The truth is we are going to need to have this conversation next year as well. And probably the year after that. The turnover of MLB managers is a slow process, and we won’t know if things have gotten better for non-white managers, and particularly Latino managers, for another couple of years.”

So this is that conversation. This is our check-in. Where do we stand? How have we done? Are we getting better?

Gonzalez was canned by the Braves in May, and rightfully so. While the players he was given to work with were largely terrible, Fredi had generally been awful. His replacement, Snitker, a longtime minor league manager in the organization, is white. It’s pretty difficult to criticize the Braves’ decision then or this winter, when they rewarded Snitker with a one year deal with a club option after his club finished with a winning record after the All Star Break. The other finalists for this job were the aforementioned Bud Black and former Rangers manager Ron Washington, an African-American. Washington was hired as the third base coach, and will likely be elevated to manager if Snitker can’t duplicate his success.

The Diamondbacks fired Chip Hale immediately after the season ended, at the same time they let go of General Manager Dave Stewart. They were connected by the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro to Lovullo, who would eventually get the job, Phil Nevin, David Bell, Don Wakamatsu, and Alex Cora. Wakamatsu is an Asian-American and Cora is Puerto Rican. The finalists for the job were reportedly Lovullo and Nevin, both of whom are white.

The Rockies did not retain Walt Weiss as manager after the season ended, and went to work finding a new skipper. We know that Rockies Triple-A manager Glenallen Hill was considered, as was Marlins coach Tim Wallach. Dave Martinez and Ron Roenicke were also connected to the gig. Hill is African-American and Martinez is a Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican. Black was reportedly hired yesterday.

And finally, there’s the White Sox. The Sox were reportedly planning to come back with Robin Ventura as late as September 28, but they canned him less than a week later and immediately elevated bench coach Rick Renteria without a formal search process. Renteria, who is from California, is Mexican-American.

All told, a person of color was hired for one of four managerial openings. Four more were very seriously considered for a job, and one (Martinez) was connected to a job, but there’s no real sense how close he came. Going into 2016, again, there will be three managers of color in Major League Baseball.

Is this progress? While it’s impossible to know for certain, I think it is. Last year, several teams seemingly ignored the usual search processes as new GMs hired their buddies who “spoke the same language” as they did. It was an unfortunate, and fairly revealing, turn of phrase. This year, there was only one such hiring, and that hiring targeted a Mexican-American as the best candidate. That, frankly, is a very good sign.

Still, vigilance remains important, and this conversation is essential every year for those of us who want a league that fairly considers people of all races (and in some cases genders) for its leadership positions. The road toward equality in Major League Baseball is not going to be measured solely in raw numbers. There are only a few managerial openings in any given season, so that progress is going to be slow, and it’s going to come in fits and starts. It’s more important to judge the game by the opportunities given and an improved process that will eventually lead us toward a league whose leaders reflect those who play the game. And for those who play the game to better reflect our society as a whole.