The last week has been a whirlwind of negative publicity for MLB. The Astros’ sign-stealing scandal has overtaken all other stories with the repercussions affecting multiple teams outside of Houston as well. It has also highlighted yet another systemic issue in the game.
While I hate to throw more timber on an already roaring fire, the three managerial vacancies, and the ‘lead’ candidates (for the record, far as we know, no one has been interviewed yet) profiled thus far, bring up the point that baseball has a ‘revolving door’ problem. It seems that although there are 30 managerial spots to fill, there are only ~40-or-so mostly white men who are considered to fill them.
The Astros, Red Sox, and Mets are all manager-less, despite being only about a month away from Spring Training. The Astros and Red Sox have both been implicated in scandals where they’ll need to rehabilitate their reputations, which is perhaps the best time to think outside-the-box when it comes to leadership.
While we don’t know the exact inner-workings of the search for these teams next manager, so far the names linked to the vacancies are household names, including former managers Buck Showalter, John Gibbons, and Ron Roenicke. Bruch Bochy retired after last season, and even he’s been linked to the search, although he’s been adamant in keeping to his original retirement plan.
Not to cast aspersions on these well-known ‘baseball men’, but between Showalter, Gibbons, and Roenicke, the three managers have over 30 years of managerial experience in the 2000s, with a grand total of three first place finishes, and no World Series appearances. We’re not talking about managers with a track-record of turning around teams and cultures, and instituting a winning environment on day-one, we’re talking about safe, household names, wnes where the fan-base nods because they are familiar with a name, and where the front-office knows exactly what to expect.
This same-name merry-go-round has happened forever in MLB, though the situation isn’t only limited to baseball. The situation was identical in the NFL, and led to the institution of the Rooney Rule, which if nothing else, has given candidates of color a shot to make their case (whether or not it’s working with regards to hiring is another story, but at least there’s a conversation to be had).
Systemic change seems to be the only way to fix the idea that once you’re in the club, you’re in the club, and will always be considered for interesting roles, irrespective of a unique perspective, background, or operating process.
The perception problem culminates from the fact that MLB managerial positions are publicly-facing. The manager of a team is on television at least 162 times a year, they are interviewed, profiles, and serve as one of the chief representatives of the teams they lead. With such a public-facing role, it would behoove MLB to have those faces represent the game more broadly.
An unfortunate consequence of the Astros cheating is the implications that MLB has lost two of just a handful of minority managers in the game. While this particular situation is anomalous, the structural framework for interviewing, hiring, and basic consideration for a managerial position puts outsiders at a distinct disadvantage.
‘Outsiders’ in this case include not only people of color, who are disproportionately represented in management, but also includes minor league coaches and managers, independent league coaches and managers, and individuals affiliated with college baseball. Former players are already ‘in the club’, though interestingly enough, by-and-large, it’s been mostly white players who have interviewed for positions.
Additionally, there is the obvious barrier for women in the game, who at this point in 2020, would never even get a look at a position as high-up in the organization as Manager. Despite all the progress made in society, we can count the number of females in MLB, including front offices, on coaching staff, and in any way involved at a strategic or operational level on one hand. Even those in current roles, such as Jessica Mendoza and Alyssa Nakkan only ascended to those positions recently, Nakkan being named the first female coach in MLB history just this week!
Baseball fans need to demand more out of their team not only for the sake of fairness, but because innovative and new thinking will put teams at an advantage. For all the ‘moneyball’ aspects of gaining the slightest edge here-or-there, change and innovation is driven from the top-down through any organization—any expert in organizational leadership will tell you this—and a significant edge could be gained through new thinking. Whether or not leadership ultimately decides to hire the known-name over the new idea will vary, but at the moment, these outsiders are not even getting a fair shot.
Rather than trying to gain an edge by banging on garbage cans like neanderthals, perhaps teams should become enlightened enough to rethink the way they hire their managers and their executives.