Since it is April 15th, it means it is time for the annual tradition of Jackie Robinson Day throughout Major League Baseball. Most baseball fans know Jackie Robinson made his Major League Baseball debut on April 15, 1947. He started out as a first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. I was fortunate enough to get to know Jackie’s former teammate Spider Jorgensen when he was an area scout during the twilight of his life. We bonded over baseball history. Spider shared with me the little known fact Jackie borrowed Spider’s first baseman glove when he made his debut with the Dodgers because, as we would later find out, Jackie was a second baseman. He would regale me with me stories about how Jackie was a class act all of the way.
Now this isn’t about my two degrees of separation from Jackie Robinson. This date makes me wonder how Jackie would view the state of the game today. As Jackie was leaving the game he championed for more prominent roles for minorities in the game of baseball, and society at large. Frank Robinson (no relation) was the first black manager in MLB history when he was named player/manager of Cleveland in 1975. It isn’t as if a minority manager can’t win, given Cito Gaston won two titles with the Toronto Blue Jays, Ozzie Guillen won a title leading the Chicago White Sox, and the current World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers are managed by Dave Roberts. There are currently five minorities managing in Major League Baseball (Roberts, Dusty Baker, Alex Cora, Luis Rojas, and Dave Martinez), with none hired this past off-season. I feel confident in saying this isn’t the sort of progress Jackie Robinson was hoping for.
It can be easy to dismiss this as “not my problem” or the “the owner can hire who he wants”, but when there is only one minority principal owner (Arte Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels) it can easy to fall into the trap of not considering all types of candidates for managerial and front office openings. This isn’t to castigate all MLB ownership as I have to commend the Miami Marlins hiring of Kim Ng as their general manager. Hiring an Asian-American woman should be celebrated, but we should also question why it took so long for her to be given an opportunity her resume should have earned her over a decade ago. I hope she is not the last woman hired to lead a baseball operations department. Baseball has been run by groups of Ivy League educated guys for almost a generation now, and I do think the game is suffering from sameness brought on by an overly analytical approach to field management and roster construction. We can thank this hyper focus on optimization for the three true outcomes approach of the hitters which is a primary cause for the lack of action in baseball.
Diversity of thoughts and opinions will be a good thing for the game of baseball as a whole. Major League Baseball loves to tout itself as a leader of diversity, but leaves the part about the players in league being 7.6% African-American, and 28.1% Latino out of the press release. The game needs to better reflect society as a whole. Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants should not be the only female coach in a Major League dugout. Jackie Robinson was a shining example of how we can all be better when we diversify, and having the players all wear #42 today is a nice touch, however it can do more. I truly do believe baseball is a game for everyone, so let’s push for a more inclusive version at all levels and all roles.