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Nightengale: MLB Finds Diversity it Seeks Elusive

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Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. Photo: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Major League Baseball, frustrated that their managerial and GM vacancies this winter were filled without a single minority hired from outside an organization, revealed Thursday that it has dumped Korn Ferry as their leadership search firm.

They now are taking matters into their own hands.

Oh, and is it ever time.

There were so many conflicts of interest with Korn Ferry as baseball’s search firm that it resulted in nothing more than friends hiring friends. Mostly all the hires had backgrounds with the Cleveland Indians, or had a relationship with Toronto Blue Jayspresident Mark Shapiro, the Indians’ former president and GM.

“The Korn Ferry relationship on minority hiring, we’ve really shifted,’’ Commissioner Rob Manfred said at the owners’  meetings. “Their involvement at the industry level is going to be curtailed on these types of projects because, as we went along in the process, we came to realize there’s a potential for conflicts when they’re doing searches and doing work for us centrally.’’

Indeed, the idea that Korn Ferry would assist in minorities being identified, and eventually hired, was a farce.

The Minnesota Twins hired Derek Falvey, who never has led a department and had only one year of experience as the Indians’ assistant GM, as their club president. They brought in Thad Levine from Texas to be their GM. And they interviewed only one minority, Chicago Cubs vice president Jason McLeod and former Arizona senior VP of baseball operations Dejon Watson, for each position.

The Diamondbacks interviewed two minority candidates, Kim Ng and Peter Woodfork for their vacant GM position, before turning to Mike Hazen of the Boston Red Sox, who also started in the Cleveland organization.

The Colorado Rockies, Atlanta Braves, Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox all hired managers this winter, but the only minority hired was Rick Renteria, who simply was promoted from White Sox bench coach to manager.

Why, no Major League Baseball club has hired a minority general manager from outside the organization since Arizona hired Dave Stewart on Sept. 25, 2014. And he was fired two years later, along with his assistant, Watson, also an African-American.

Manfred spent considerable time at the MLB owners’ meetings in Chicago imploring clubs that changes need to be made, creating a more diverse front office and managerial pool, even generating new front-office jobs.

There are currently only three minority GMs in baseball, Mike Hill of the Miami Marlins, Farhan Zaidi of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Al Avila of the Detroit Tigers. Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox is the lone minority president. And Dusty Baker, Dave Roberts and Renteria are the only minority managers.

“My life would be easier if the demographics of those hired were different,’’ Manfred said. “And when people have concerns about an industry-wide issue – which is what this hiring issue is – you have to have a plan for dealing with it and you have to accept responsibility for progress or lack of progress. …

“I am encouraged by the fact that I think in a lot of places clubs undertook not only a Plan A but a Plan B, in an effort to make sure we make progress on the minority hiring front. I think Atlanta’s a great example of that.’’

The Braves interviewed four minority candidates for their managerial opening – Bo Porter, Ron Washington, Terry Pendleton and Eddie Perez – but still promoted interim Brian Snitker to the full-time job. Yet, Pendleton and Perez remained on the coaching staff, Washington was hired as their third-base coach and Porter was promoted to special assistant to GM John Coppolella.

“They made the selection they felt was the best qualified person,’’ Manfred said, “but a number of those candidates then surfaced not only on their field staff but in the front office. That’s a good outcome from my perspective. I find that to be encouraging.”

Still, it’s hardly the kind of diversity baseball is looking for, and Manfred reminded the owners to comply with the Selig Rule, requiring every team to interview minority candidates for key positions. They also plan to develop a project to help identify candidates.

“We’re going to take some high profile baseball operations positions, starting with field manager,’’ Manfred said, “and try to do a study about qualifications and characteristics that may be predictive of success. I think a little science in that area may be helpful to us in terms of identifying candidates who will be particularly appealing to clubs.

“The idea is that it’s not uncommon in business for people who have a job title that’s important to them to try to determine exactly what qualifications and traits are predictive of success. It’s something we haven’t done on an industry basis and I just think it might be a useful experiment for us.”

Hey, the current system certainly isn’t working, so why not try something different?

Manfred even stepped into Kansas City last weekend, conveying his plan to the Buck O’Neil Professional Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association, telling them to keep the faith.

“The awareness to be diverse has definitely been more heightened,’’ said Tyrone Brooks, senior director of MLB’s front office and field staff diversity pipeline program. “The guys had a lot of questions. But he was very forthright talking about the industry, where we are headed, and the steps that can be taken to increase their value to clubs.’’

Meanwhile, with baseball still buoyed by a vibrant postseason, Manfred is optimistic baseball and the players union will have a new labor agreement by Dec. 1, when the current five-year deal expires. One of the stumbling blocks appears to be the owners’ hopes for an international draft, while the union remains opposed, but there’s no looming obstacle that is causing great concern, let alone threats of a work stoppage.

And, oh, yes, baseball was reminded that its popularity still remains quite strong in the two weeks since the World Series. That was evidenced Wednesday night when model/actress Kate Upton crudely criticized the Baseball Writers Association of America for voting Boston Red Sox starter Rick Porcello as the Cy Young award winner instead of her fiancée, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.

“The particular content of the tweet,’’ Manfred said, laughing, “I’m not going to comment on. I do think that engagement on social media by players and people close to players is important in today’s world. It brings attention to the sport at a point during the year when it’s the offseason and we have less going on.

“I think social media is a form of fan engagement that can be useful in terms of growing the sport.

“But, I’m not going to comment on the particular substance of that tweet.”

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale

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