Frank Robinson was the first manager to be fired. A few days later, so went Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou. Almost three weeks after the regular season ended, Major League Baseball has three minority managers, only one of which is African-American, the Mets' Willie Randolph.
"We got up to 10; now we're at three," commissioner Bud Selig said. "Am I happy where we are? No. We've got to do better. But I know clubs are interviewing minority candidates. I'm confident that we will add more minority managers, and well we should. I can't tell the clubs whom to hire. All I can tell them to do is increase the pool. And they have. When I look at the Mets and see [general manager] Omar [Minaya] and Willie, it proves what we're doing is right. But we've got to do better."
The Nationals, Giants, A's and Rangers have managerial openings. The Nationals have interviewed three minorities for the vacancy created by Robinson's firing. Terry Pendleton, the Braves' hitting coach, is considered one of the leading candidates. Astros hitting coach Cecil Cooper did very well in his interview, a source said. White Sox coach Joey Cora did well in his, also. Everyone knows what a smart baseball guy he is.
The A's have just begun the process to replace Ken Macha. A's bench coach Bob Geren might be the early leader, but veteran A's coach Ron Washington, an African-American, is being considered for that job. He also is up for the job with the Rangers, who fired Buck Showalter. Mets third-base coach Manny Acta, who managed the Dominican team in the World Baseball Classic, is to interview with the Giants and Rangers after the playoffs.
Mets bench coach Jerry Manuel is watching closely. Manuel managed the White Sox from 1998 to 2003, and he and Kenny Williams were the first African-American manager/general manager duo in major league history. Manuel chooses his words carefully when discussing minority hiring.
"On the one hand, it's a good thing: being hired and fired based on your worth, and what you mean to an organization, whether you're a minority or not," he said. "I'm not against the overall scheme, but my selfishness allows me to think that things don't look quite right."
Manuel wants to manage again in the big leagues.
"Where we are in society, this shouldn't be an issue," Manuel said. "The big picture is, 'Is it fair? Did you do a job?' Don't grade me on how I did as a black manager; grade me how I did as the manager of the White Sox. When society gets away from that, the better it will be. But it still hides in the belly of men."
Fair? Was it fair for the Nationals to fire Robinson? That is debatable. They have new ownership, and they're trying to rebuild with younger players. And they did send him off in a very classy way with a ceremony on the field the final day of the season.
The Cubs fired Baker after four years. Each year, the record got worse, and the last season, it was the worst record in the National League. But it's ridiculous to blame him for the fall of 2006, given the number of injuries the Cubs endured.
Alou was considering retiring when the Giants fired him. Before 2004, Major League Baseball had never had two 70-year-old managers working at the same time. In 2005, it had three: Alou, Robinson and Jack McKeon. The players in the game are getting younger, and maybe some teams wanted to move ahead with younger managers. Yet the Cubs recently hired 63-year-old Lou Piniella to replace Baker.
Baseball having only one African-American manager might be part of a bigger issue: Only 8.5 percent of major league players were African-American according to the last racial and gender report card on baseball. Would hiring more African-American managers perhaps attract more black players to the game?
"No," said Cardinals hitting coach Hal McRae, an African-American and a former manager of the Kansas City Royals. "Kids today are determining in high school what sport they're going to play long term. It has nothing to do with managers in the major leagues."
Maybe he's right. But maybe Pendleton will get a job managing the Nationals. Maybe Washington will get the job in Oakland or Texas. Maybe Baker will manage somewhere this coming season, or the one after that at the latest. Selig sure is hoping so. But after this latest round of firings, getting back to 10 minority managers is going to take some time.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.