PEORIA, Ariz. -- Lloyd McClendon is a baseball lifer at heart more than a crusader for racial advancement within the sport. His journey began in Gary, Indiana, where he led his team to the Little League World Series final in 1971. His career path carried him through eight seasons as a utility player with the Reds, Cubs and Pirates, and included a lengthy stretch in Detroit as a coach under one of the game's managerial masters, Jim Leyland.
At age 56 and entering his second season as manager of the Seattle Mariners, McClendon has reached the pinnacle of his profession. But when the managers of all 30 teams gathered for their group photo session at the winter meetings in December, he was keenly aware that he's a member of a fraternity of one.
This season, McClendon is the game's only African-American manager. "Obviously, it's hard not to think about it in my surroundings and my culture,'' McClendon said. "It stares you in the face every day that you're the only African-American manager in baseball. But I don't take my job description that way. I think I'm a pretty good manager and that's why I was hired -- not because I'm black. Having said that, you wish there were more opportunities for African-Americans out there. And hopefully there will be in the very near future.''
Although increased minority participation in baseball front offices, on the field and in the dugout was a cause near and dear to former commissioner Bud Selig's heart, MLB is moving backward in the managerial realm. Cincinnati fired Dusty Baker shortly after losing the 2013 NL wild-card game. Houston parted ways with Bo Porter in September, and Texas manager Ron Washington resigned near the end of the season because of personal issues.
That leaves McClendon, who managed the Pirates for five seasons before being fired on Sept. 6, 2005, then waited eight years to get a second chance with Seattle. He earned positive reviews for his leadership in 2014, when he kept the Mariners in contention for a wild-card spot until the final day of the regular season. In November, he finished fourth in AL Manager of the Year balloting.
The lack of African-American managers parallels a shortage of black players on the field. African-American representation on big league rosters peaked at 19 percent in 1986 and fell to 8.13 percent last season. St. Louis, Arizona and San Francisco did not have an African-American player on the roster when MLB celebrated Jackie Robinson Day last April.
New commissioner Rob Manfred intends to address this issue. "While Major League Baseball has become an enormously diverse institution, with players coming from all over the world, we want to improve the representation of African-American personnel on the field, in the dugout and in the front office,'' Manfred said in a written statement to ESPN.com. "This is a complex situation that poses challenges that are not easy to solve quickly.'' In 1999, MLB mandated that minority candidates be considered for all managerial openings through its Equal Employment Opportunity policy.
I'm carrying the torch, and hopefully it's a torch that will light a lot of fires.
"-- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon
In addition to reiterating the significance of that leaguewide mandate, Manfred said he is committed to exploring new ways to increase African-American participation and involvement in baseball at every level. "I also believe that we have a number of talented African-American coaches, minor league managers and former Major League managers who will be managerial candidates in the near future,'' Manfred said. "I am confident that our policy will facilitate the strong consideration they deserve and that our number will show increases again.''
McClendon cites former big league managers Willie Randolph and Davey Lopes, Detroit third-base coach Dave Clark and Toronto bench coach DeMarlo Hale as African-Americans with the requisite managerial qualifications. McClendon says he will always feel a debt of gratitude to Baker, who won three Manager of the Year awards in 20 seasons with San Francisco, Cincinnati and the Cubs. "Dusty is on a different level,'' McClendon said.
Baseball actually fares better in the front office than the dugout when it comes to diversity. Kenny Williams is executive vice president of the Chicago White Sox and Michael Hill is president of baseball operations in Miami. The Diamondbacks have been very aggressive in hiring minorities under chief baseball officer Tony La Russa, adding Dave Stewart as general manager, De Jon Watson (VP of baseball operations) and Joe Carter (assistant GM) to the staff since September.
Stewart is convinced that hiring patterns run in cycles and that the landscape could easily be different in a few years. "Baseball needs to do better,'' he said. "I've always said that, and will continue to say it. The tough thing with upper management is, the commissioner's office doesn't own the team. You're not going to be able to force an owner to hire somebody they're not comfortable with. That will always be a problem.''
The Mariners interviewed 12 candidates before naming McClendon to replace Eric Wedge in November 2013. When McClendon visited Seattle for his second interview, top executives Howard Lincoln, John Ellis and Chuck Armstrong joined general manager Jack Zduriencik in the room. They all came away impressed with McClendon's preparation, baseball knowledge and soft-spoken-yet-authoritative demeanor.
"In Lloyd's case -- and I feel strongly about this -- he got this job and owned the interview because of his work on the field as a previous manager and longtime hitting guy under Jim [Leyland],'' Zduriencik said. "He clearly was the best candidate during the interview process. That's why he got this job.''
McClendon helped the Mariners improve from 71 to 87 wins in his first year on the job. He recalls a heartfelt and gratifying meeting with Selig in September, when the commissioner passed through Seattle in the final stages of his farewell tour. "I had a wonderful conversation with him,'' McClendon said. "It was very frank, and I was very touched. He told me he was very proud of me and how I went about my business and turned the club around. I'm carrying the torch, and hopefully it's a torch that will light a lot of fires.
"I'm not naive. I know the cameras are on me every day and people are watching. Do I have a certain responsibility? Absolutely. I have a responsibility to my organization, my players, my family and my race. I get it. I understand it and I welcome it. I try to uphold those values and do the best I can every day.''