This story is also posted in Spanish.
When he was hired by the White Sox this offseason, manager Rick Rentería became the only Latino boss in a sport in which almost a third of its players are Latino. Rentería, who was born in Los Angeles, spoke about what that means for the sport, how he's kept his parents' Mexican heritage alive, and what it meant to manage Team Mexico at the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Why do you think you are the only Latino manager in MLB?
That's a good question. There are a lot of qualified candidates out there. Maybe it's just us needing to continue to get exposure, talk to the right people; meet the right people. There's a fit with the candidates and the organizations and what they're looking for and what they need. Obviously the Latin population in baseball is growing. I know I am the only one right now, but I would hope that as we are moving forward in the future there are more coaches of Latin descent and managers moving in that direction.
What can MLB do?
I don't know how it could be done. I am sure that maybe [if] we just continue to search out more of the candidates, maybe be more proactive to get to know more of the coaches that are in the game at the present time. I think if we continue to search out we might actually see that there are qualified candidates out there capable of holding major league positions.
Fredi González told me that he felt pressure to perform [when he was the only Latino manager]. Do you feel you need to be better not only to keep your job but also to open the door to other Latinos?
Those are kind of things out of my hand. What I feel is that I got to do the best I can do. I think what I can control is what I do in those clubhouses, out on the field and I take everything as challenge to be honest. So I am not really too concerned about it. I will let people judge what I am or what I am not and I'll let it stand at that. If people want to take pride in that I am here, absolutely. I appreciate the support and the value that people give it, but I have to do a job. That's what I focus on doing.
I want to be a manager that happens to be Hispanic as opposed to be a Hispanic who is a manager. I think that we all can do a good job. As I've said earlier, there are people out there that I believe can attain and do this job and probably do it really well. I am just very fortunate to be in the situation that I am in right now.
You played in both MLB and in Mexico. What are the differences between US and Mexico clubhouses?
Actually, they're kind of growing together a little. There's a lot of music, a lot of joy in most Latin clubhouses. And I think we're experiencing that here. When those guys play their music, it could go from country to salsa to merengue to pop, whatever the case may be, rock, metal ... it changes. But I think that they understand they all bring their little bit to the table, it brings them together. I know that any great organization has to do the best they can to help players become a family across cultural lines, understand each other, know each other, love each other as brothers because you're going out there with one common goal, which is to give yourselves a chance to win.
Terry Francona told us recently that maybe the world can be better if they learned from MLB clubhouses...
Guys are getting to know each other, know where they're from. As they get together, they know the communities they're come from, what they're about, how many people live there, where would you want to go eat, what would you do. In baseball now people coming from Cuba or Mexico or the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, wherever, and just dropping them here in the United States and having to assimilate and make that transition. Imagine if you drop someone from the United States into a foreign country -- it is not as easy as people might think.
But if you put yourself in other people's shoes, you might understand that it behooves us the ones that are here to make sure that the ones coming in feel welcomed and feel the opportunity to become a part of something special. Baseball clubhouses have the ability to do that because you forge friendships to the extent that you almost feel like family through this whole process. Even once you leave the game you are still in contact with all these people and you share experiences that are bonding beyond the baseball field. And yeah, the world could learn a little bit more about how to get along the way we do in a clubhouse.
How can your own experiences help Latino players assimilate to American culture, or is that a personal journey?
It is a personal journey, but I think that when you are speaking to players, both sides, culturally-speaking, have misconceptions of each other. Sometimes you have to be a person who is able to tie them together and describe and explain in clearer terms that we are probably more similar than we think. Huge commonalities: Everybody likes music. Everybody likes to eat. Most of these guys like to dress up nicely. Half those guys, if not more, use different types of colognes, hair products. They all have a lot of things in common.
You got to help them understand that there are a lot of these things that seem to be similar in terms of the outward appearance, but the similarities are that most of them come from decent families, people that want to help their families. They sit at the table. They eat together. They bond. I think everybody is very similar. I might eat a taco and they might eat a hamburger. But if they taste my taco, and I taste their hamburger, I might like, they might like it, before you know it, everybody is mixing in a lot of different things. Just talking to players, helping them understand that I understand both sides of it. I can speak both in English and Spanish. I've been in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, I've been around. Obviously all Hispanics have different nuances to them. I think we have a lot of commonalities.
How does a manager handle today's political climate, in terms of players speaking out about politics in social media?
Everyone has to remember that you represent an organization first, which is your club. I am a White Sox. I am not going to use this particular platform as a bench for me to speak. The climate is changing and it is always evolving. But it will never return to those that were ultimately that were in the past. It won't happen. There are too many people that are secure in their belief that we've moved past that and are better than that. Those who remained locked in that particular mentality, I feel bad for them, I feel sorry for them. It is a sad way to live your life because it is a miserable existence when you think that you are better than somebody else because you have to hold on to that and there is a lot of anger usually involved in that.
Being a manager in a major market and being Mexican American, what does one say to those who would like you to address things like 'Trump building a wall'? Should you not get involved because you wear the Sox uniform?
I am not going to answer a political question while I am wearing a uniform. It doesn't mean that in my private life I can't deal with things in a certain way, but I am still cognizant of the fact that as long as I am a person that is involved in a larger scale organization that my focus once I am here is baseball. I am not a political pundit. I am not seeking office. But when I am speaking to large groups of people in my private moments, I express myself and I share with them my beliefs from my ideas.
I get it. I understand it. My parents are both from Mexico. My brothers are from Mexico. All came here to the States. My parents (became) citizens. I have a son in the Navy. I have a nephew in the Marines. We're serving this country. We're serving this country well. We're representing our people. But I am an American and so as an American I have also the right to say what I want to in terms of encouraging people not to fall into the trap of some of the things that I think are the minority now. It won't take over. We just have to be strong, fearless and persistent in how we go about our lives.
Does that conversation remain private, even with players?
Yeah, there is a time and a place for everyone to speak to certain things. I know people that have used their place in a position of speech. I am not against it (the "stick to sports" belief). Everybody here has to represent, as a club; we still have to represent the organization. If someone asked me I would say you know what, as a private citizen, do what you need to do. I am not going to hold that against anybody.
If a player wants to speak out, you would remind him they represent the White Sox organization. But they can still make that choice?
That is their choice. Ultimately every human being has the right to voice their opinion. All of us do (have to be careful). None of us speak, I don't think in anything, without understanding that there are pros and cons to the conversations. The question is the platform that we use the right platform and is it going to significantly impact whatever it is that you are trying to help change. I feel like you get more into the community and do things and that helps more than just speaking.
Growing up did you feel more Mexican, American or Mexican American, is there an in-between?
Well, I remember my mom speaking to us in Spanish and my dad speaking to us in English. Our community was a mixed community. I knew I was Mexican, I mean that was easy. But when you're living in America you're assimilating. I can speak Spanish, and obviously, I went to school and spoke English. My brothers probably had a tougher time because they came over (from Mexico). So they were speaking Spanish to come over. That's a little more difficult. But for me I was born here. So I just assimilated. Then cultures are different. Our parents were a little stricter. It seemed like anyways. But all in all I think we're still the same.
Still always had that Mexican pride?
Yeah. I think that is who I am. I can't deny who I am. I am Mexican. My parents were both from Mexico. They came here. They gave us an opportunity. I was born here. So I had an opportunity to do what I did.
What were your parents' reactions when you became Mexico's manager for the WBC in 2013?
My mom and dad were pretty happy about that. I think everybody was probably pretty excited, from brothers to sisters to uncles to aunts, because I still have a lot of family over there. It was a proud moment. For me it was a proud moment because maybe in the end I haven't spoken about this very much, but it's a culmination of representing your parents and your family to a certain extent.
Was that the proudest moment for your family, and your dad, who is no longer with us?
Yeah, it was pretty cool. I remember when I told him he was pretty proud. Obviously that was a few years ago.
Did he give you some tips?
You know it's funny, my dad, even when I was coaching in the minor leagues, he would always tell me I was going to manage in the big leagues. He said 'you're going to be a big league manager one day.' It ended up happening. They were always encouraging us. All of us have our different takes. All of us that have large families have their different take on their mom and dad. For me it was always good.