The Arizona Diamondbacks' choice of Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen to run their baseball operations department gives them the most progressive-thinking GM in franchise history and the right person and resume to retool a department that, over the last two years, became the most backward in the industry. I detailed some of the many missteps of the Dave Stewart/Tony La Russa era in an August column, with the bulk of these mistakes the result of the lack of experience of the people tasked with running baseball ops. (Among the additional stories I heard after that column ran: When coach Andy Green, who was responsible for positioning defenders while with Arizona, left to be the Padres' manager, the Diamondbacks had no one ready to replace him, a major reason they went from 12th in the majors defensive efficiency in 2015 to dead last in 2016.)
Hazen is the exemplar of the modern GM hire, bringing tangible baseball experience in player development and scouting (working in pro and briefly overseeing amateur) while also spending his entire career with teams on the forefront of using statistical analysis in baseball-operations decisions. Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick specifically cited Hazen's "impeccable" reputation within MLB circles, and in my experience, that is accurate. Hazen is widely respected for his baseball acumen and his leadership skills, and given his experience in Cleveland and Boston, he is the right kind of GM to run a department that is loaded with traditional baseball people while also building an analytics department capable of keeping up with the other 29 teams. Arizona faces a payroll crunch with a third or more of its likely 2017 budget going to just two players and little or nothing coming from the system to help next season. So the immediate task in front of Hazen is difficult, but he has some valuable major league assets to work with and a team that could probably win 85 games if some of its underperforming arms return to form.
But Hazen's hiring also continues a recent trend toward teams hiring GMs and team presidents from a specific demographic: young, white, male (of course) executives with degrees from expensive private colleges. Eleven of the 28 current GMs have Ivy League backgrounds, as does new Minnesota president of baseball operations Derek Falvey. Five teams have GMs or presidents who worked for Cleveland at some point: Hazen, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins (Toronto), David Stearns (Milwaukee), Neal Huntington (Pirates) and Falvey, not including Cleveland's current GM Mike Chernoff and president Chris Antonetti. (Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto was drafted by Cleveland in 1989, but that probably shouldn't count.) The trend of hiring folks from what appears to be the Preppy GM Factory has raised concerns that MLB, which has openly discussed its efforts to improve minority representation in visible executive positions, is heading in the wrong direction.
The league hired corporate-recruiting firm Korn Ferry more than a year ago to help identify and develop candidates of color for GM and manager positions, but when teams began hiring Korn Ferry -- whose sports practice head, Jed Hughes, is a friend of Shapiro's -- to consult for them on such hires, the advisory role had to end due to the perceived conflict of interest. MLB instead hired Tyrone Brooks, longtime Pittsburgh and Cleveland executive and scout, to head up the Pipeline Program, an initiative to develop candidates for the most visible positions of GM, assistant GM and field manager. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said earlier this month that this program is "a long-term investment" and that teams need "to do a better job" finding minority candidates for entry-level positions.
The long view is the correct one, but the short-term results haven't been promising. In the last 13 months, seven MLB teams hired general managers from outside of their organizations and the Twins hired Falvey from outside their organization. All eight hires are white; five went to expensive, private universities; and four previously worked for Cleveland. There's a prototype here that works against MLB's goal of increasing minority hiring in these executive chairs. Forcing teams to interview candidates of color obviously isn't the solution, because that's been going on in one form or another for years, and teams either skirt the rules or simply engage in token interviewing to comply with the letter of the law but not the spirit.
The solution is to level the playing field before the hiring process begins -- ensuring that baseball has a representative pool of black, Latino, female or otherwise diverse employees. Teams aren't hiring enough diversity candidates in positions that can eventually lead to director-level jobs or creating career paths that will entice quality candidates to choose baseball over other opportunities. That includes scouting and player development jobs as well as analytics positions, and it is a major reason MLB should ban teams from utilizing unpaid internships. Candidates who can afford to work for free or below-market wages are generally the same kids from privileged backgrounds and expensive private schools who seem to be receiving an undue share of the upper-level jobs in baseball. With 29 teams majority-owned by white men, and nearly every baseball operations department run by white men, MLB has to do more from the top to ensure equal access for all candidates.
The Diamondbacks did the right thing for their franchise, hiring one of the most qualified candidates for their open GM job -- someone who can undo the damage done in the last 24 months and perhaps make the major league team competitive again in 2017. But what's right for any individual team is not optimal for MLB as a whole, and it’s going to fall on the commissioner's office to fix this at a more fundamental level, ensuring that potential minority candidates choose to pursue careers in baseball. And that they only face the same obstacles their white, male colleagues face as well.