MLB still has work to do in racial, gender hiring

Associated Press

Editor's note: Richard Lapchick is a human rights activist, pioneer for racial equality, expert on sports issues, scholar and author.

Like many fans, I watched the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking MLB's color barrier. I love that players wear No. 42 and that so many ceremonies took place. I loved seeing his amazing wife, Rachel, now 99, their children and grandchildren representing Jackie at various ceremonies across the nation. Jackie Robinson had a dual goal of getting more Black players on the field and having Black people run the game as managers, coaches and general managers. His legacy continues in sports and in society.

Today, our team at The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida (UCF) released the 2022 Major League Baseball Racial and Gender Report Card. Major League Baseball earned a B on for racial hiring and a C+ for gender hiring practices, bringing the overall grade to a B-.

MLB lost ground in its racial hiring record, as its racial hiring grade went from 86.8 percent in 2021 to 83.0 percent in 2022. For gender, MLB's hiring grade increased from 70.7 percent in 2021 to 75.3 percent in 2022. The combined grade of 79.1 was an increase of 1.1 percentage points from last year.

"In this the 75th year anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, Major League Baseball (MLB) continues to struggle with making diversity and inclusion a reality on and off the field," said Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. "Although the recognition of Jackie's impact has been wonderfully celebrated, it must be noted that Jackie himself would have also wanted to see more Black coaches, managers and executives throughout the sport. During one of his final messages before his passing, he passionately shared his hope that there would be more blacks in the leadership of the game. Yet here we are 50 years after his death, still trying to make progress in that area."

Jackson said the report card "provides the data and input needed to build a case for more intentional inclusion." He said Rainbow PUSH Sports and Joseph Bryant, the organization's national sports director, will "continue to engage with leaders within the sports industry to improve the lack of diversity, and work to help bring Jackie's fullest dreams to pass."

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has made some bold moves regarding race in the past two years. Notably, MLB moved the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta after Georgia enacted a restrictive new voting law.

At the 2021 All-Star Game, MLB announced a 10-year partnership with a historic financial commitment of up to $150 million to The Players Alliance, beginning in 2023. This pledge represents the largest financial commitment in MLB history toward the specific goal of improving Black diversity on the field, in managerial and coaching positions, and in front office leadership.

On the club side, one of the organizations leading the way in diversity and inclusion initiatives is the Cleveland Guardians. The club adopted a new nickname after the 2021 season, finally moving away from its previous racially insensitive name. The former nickname and its corresponding mascot, Chief Wahoo, are no longer used. The change was long overdue, as Native Americans have protested its use for nearly 25 years. The team has embraced the opportunity to be more inclusive and create a new identity with a nickname that truly reflects the city.

As of the start of the 2022 season, there were 33 women who have some level of coaching role at the major or minor league levels. That is the most in the major and minor leagues in baseball history. Early in the season, San Francisco Giants coach Alyssa Nakken became the first woman in MLB history to coach an on-field position in a regular-season game. She took the field after the ejection of first base coach Antoan Richardson. He charged that San Diego Padres' third base coach, Mike Shildt yelled an expletive at him that had "undertones of racism." Richardson is Black and Shildt is white. Progress balanced by regression.

The commissioner's office continues to diversify its senior executive positions. Among others, Ken Griffey Jr., was hired as the senior advisor to the commissioner to focus on improving diversity at amateur levels of the game through baseball operations and youth baseball development. A digital pioneer, Karin Timpone, was hired as executive vice president and chief marketing officer. She oversees global marketing to connect and engage audiences and lead initiatives to grow the next generation of MLB fans. April Brown is vice president for social responsibility. Through Brown's efforts, the Jackie Robinson Memorial was replaced after being vandalized. She has continued MLB's commitment toward Rise Against Hunger, supporting people affected by the earthquake in Haiti.

The decline of Black players still haunts MLB in spite of decades of programs aimed at increasing the percentage of Black players. On 2022 Opening Day, Black players accounted for 7.2% of rosters, down from 7.6% in 2021. This is the lowest percentage since the racial and gender report card data started being collected in 1991 when 18% of MLB players were Black or African American. In 1995, 19% of MLB players were African American.

On 2022 Opening Day, players of color represented 38% of active 30-man rosters. Latinos represented 28.5% of players. MLB players in general underline that baseball is an international game. On 2022 Opening Day rosters and inactive lists, 275 players represented 21 different countries and territories outside of the United States. In addition to monitoring who is playing, we closely watch the key positions of manager and general manager on each team. They are the decision-makers for what happens on the field and are the most recognizable faces who are not players for each club.

This season began with six (20%) managers of color. Dusty Baker, (Houston Astros) is the only Black manager. There are four Latino managers: Alex Cora (Boston Red Sox), Oliver Marmol, (St. Louis Cardinals), Dave Martinez, (Washington Nationals) and Charlie Montoyo, (Toronto Blue Jays). Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is the son of a Black father and a Japanese mother.

There were four (13.3%) people of color holding the position of either general manager, president of baseball operations or the equivalent for an MLB club. This included one Black person, one Latino person and two Asian people. Perhaps the most noteworthy baseball hire in recent years was that of Kim Ng as the GM for the Miami Marlins in late 2020. She has been serving as the first woman GM in MLB history. There have been no women as GMs in the NBA or NFL. At the start of the 2022 season, there were 13 women who held on-field coaching or player development roles in MLB. This year, a great deal of attention has been paid to Rachel Balkovec, who was hired as manager of the New York Yankees' Class A Tampa Tarpons. She is the first woman to be named a manager in affiliated baseball.

Both of these categories highlight how far the teams have to go to be truly diverse and inclusive. And leadership at the top often reflects the entire organization. This was true in the categories of team senior administration, team vice presidents and professional staff. Despite improvements, for gender, none of these categories was graded higher than a C. For race, MLB clubs earned a B- for team professional administration, a C+ for team senior administration, a C for team managers, a C- for team vice presidents, a D+ for team general manager/president of baseball operations and an F for team CEO/presidents and an F for majority ownership. Not a pretty picture.

With the new season under way, TIDES is closely monitoring the role of athlete activism. Will it turn to hiring practices on each team? That will be a powerful source for more diversity and inclusion. The money MLB has pledged to The Players Alliance will help bolster athlete activism in fighting for more front office positions.

In 2021, more than 50% of MLB's financial charitable support -- totaling $4 million -- was given to national nonprofit organizations that help close the racial equity gap among youth and adults around health, workforce readiness and education. The league and clubs continued to support social justice organizations that are key to continuing equity work launched in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd.

I wish commissioner Manfred, MLB and its players a great season in which the players not only wear No. 42 but move ahead to make Major League Baseball an industry leader with diversity initiatives and milestones.

Candace Martin, Hannah Nelson and Molly O'Halloran contributed to this column.

Richard E. Lapchick is a professor in the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of 17 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card and is the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook.