When I listen to TV on the Radio or The Roots I don’t think these are black bands. I think, these are good bands. Apparently that’s not yet the case in baseball, or maybe even in life.
Forty years ago when Frank Robinson became the second Robinson to break baseball’s color barrier as its first black manager, it was a move recognized by baseball as a belated one. Then-Commissioner Bowie Kunh said as much in the spring of 1975 when Cleveland made the appointment: “I don’t think baseball should be exceptionally proud of this day. It’s been long overdue.”
Were it not for the hiring of Dave Roberts (Dodgers) and Dusty Baker (Nationals) this offseason, baseball would have been without a black manager in 2016 for the first time since 1987. Lloyd McClendon was the only black manager in MLB last year until the Seattle Mariners fired him in October after only two campaigns.
Longtime Braves bench coach Terry Pendleton seemed like a shoo-in for one of a half-dozen openings this offseason, but he doubts he’ll ever get his shot calling the shots from the top step. “I don’t have to say anything, you guys see it,” he said in an October interview. “You see all the managerial jobs out here and all the recycling of different guys getting another opportunity here or there.”
In 1999, then-Commissioner Bud Selig mandated teams interview a minority candidate for a managerial vacancy and while Pendleton has gotten a number of opportunities to put the suit on and print his resume on the double-bonded paper, he’s never sniffed a contract. He alluded to the fact that many of those interviews are perfunctory.
In the ‘70s, a black manager couldn’t be a chooser. Robinson took over an Indians club that in the words of baseball’s greatest living scribe Roger Angell was “a feeble and demoralized club. (Robinson) will have his work cut out for him, but he is qualified for the job.”
Angell said at the time the appointment “confirmed the inflexibility and down-home cronysim that still pervades most of the business side of baseball and world in which black executives and women executives are equally invisible.”
Four decades on and Angell’s words could have written last Tuesday.
If baseball hasn’t moved at all for black managers or executives, it has moved a step back for women. Kim Ng, after a decade with the Dodgers serving as Vice President and Assistant General Manager, has been scooped up by MLB as its Senior Vice-President for Baseball Operations. Ng is smart and young and could well be Commissioner one day—but it also seems like baseball conveniently trots her story out when faced with yet another sexual harassment or front-office discrimination claim.
In September, Leigh Castergine, previously the Mets’ senior vice president of ticket sales and service, filed a suit against the reigning National League champions and part-owner Jeffrey Wilpon for discrimination. Castergine, after spearheading a new ticketing strategy, was promoted and given several bonuses. Then she got pregnant. Her suit alleges, Wilpon “began to humiliate Castergine and disparage her in front of her colleagues.” He also didn’t hold back on taking a stab at her being a single mother. She complained to higher-ups and was offered a hefty severance to stay quiet. She eventually left and filed a lawsuit instead. Thirty of the remaining 31 Mets’ front office staff is men.
In an even stranger twist, last December Sylvia Lind, a Cuban American woman, filed suit against MLB alleging she was paid less and passed over more than her male colleagues for two decades.
Ironically, the suit names Bud Selig and (ready?) Frank Robinson, now the league’s EVP of baseball. The New York Post wrote Lind says she faced double discrimination as a woman and a Latina. “In an industry where nearly 40 percent of the players are foreign-born (most of whom are from the Caribbean and Latin America).” The suit alleges Selig picked Robinson to leapfrog Lind even though she was more qualified.
Lind also claims Robinson, as her superior, did not promote her because she’s a woman. “Sometimes you have to hire a man because there are places women can’t go,” he allegedly told Lind during a 2014 performance review.
So race and gender are still issues in the MLB, maybe now more so than ever. And nobody, it seems, is innocent.
Which brings us to the Dodgers’ hiring of Dave Roberts last week. I only knew of Dave Roberts as a clutch outfielder, a mentor and a great clubhouse interview from the dusk of his 10-year journeyman career with the Giants. Not Dave Roberts as being black or white or Asian. That is, until I poked around this week and found literally every major media organization keyed in on Roberts’ race in the telling of his hiring. CBS, ABC, SB Nation, ESPN and the LA Times (pointing out he is of African American and Japanese descent) all had Roberts’ ID’d as a minority in the headline or lede.
For his part, Roberts played the role of grateful
hire minority with humility and grace.
“It’s hard for me to put into words what it means to be named manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers,” Roberts said in a statement prepared by the front office. “The Dodgers are the ground-breaking franchise of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo.”
Even though they are the franchise of Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers also fired Al Campanis (more on him in a second) in 1987 for his comments that blacks may not have some of the necessities to be a manager. And then it took them almost three decades to make up for it.
And then there is the Glenn Burke story, most recently retold for 30 for 30 Shorts: The High Five. Burke, the alleged inventor of the greatest greeting of all mankind, was also the first openly gay player in MLB history. In the documentary Out: The Glenn Burke Story Revealed, Dodgers executives tried to quash rumors of his sexuality by offering him a buyout to get married.
Burke’s reaction: “I guess you mean to a woman?”
What thickens the plot even more is it was none other than team VP Al Campanis who offered Burke the bribe. Burke was traded to the A’s where his playing time was limited and manager Billy Martin openly referred to him as “the faggot.” After retiring from baseball at 26, Burke lived in San Francisco where he was hit by a car while walking across a crosswalk and fell into prescription med, then crack addiction, leading him to become homeless for a time.
He died from AIDS-related causes in 1995.
I feel like Angell’s sentiments can be updated slightly to: “Dave Roberts’ hiring confirmed the inflexibility and down-home cronysim that still pervades most of the business side of baseball world in which black executives and women executives are not only invisible—but can be just as guilty of it once they reach the inner-sanctum.”
In the end though, I think my feelings are best summed up by LA Times reader Candy Carstensen: “You just can’t stop yourself can you? Does being African American make (Roberts) more or less qualified? You published a photo of Mr. Roberts on the front page of the sports section. We can see he is African American. What’s sad is it didn’t even cross my mind that he was ‘black.’ He was simply the new Dodgers manager.”
And a good choice at that.
Photo: LA Times