Manuel Learns The ABCs Of White World Of Sports

By Off the BASN Sports Wire
Updated: November 16, 2004

Jerry Manuel

CHICAGO — When Willie Randolph was named the New York Mets’ manager earlier this month, he said he was just happy for the opportunity. But Randolph has become the first black manager in the history of either of New York’s baseball teams. Naturally, the subject of race came up.

Randolph, who calls himself a student of black history, thanked some old-timers who helped pave the way for him. “Warriors like Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson [and] Cool Papa Bell,” Randolph said. Randolph called the subject of race, “a legitimate question.” But he added that, for him, “It’s all about bringing players together” for “the common good.”

Randolph, who spent 11 seasons as a New York Yankees coach, and last season served as Joe Torre’s bench coach, estimated he interviewed unsuccessfully for 11 or 12 managerial openings in the past. Which brings up another legitimate question: How many of those interviews were token interviews? Most of them, I’d wager. But we’ll never know for sure.

Now that the Mets have given him a chance, Randolph joins the Cubs’ Dusty Baker, Pittsburgh’s Lloyd McClendon and Montreal’s Frank Robinson as baseball’s four current black managers. Chicago’s baseball teams have been remarkably progressive when it comes to their managerial hiring practices. Baker’s predecessor, Don Baylor, is black. The White Sox’ Ozzie Guillen is one of only three Latino managers in the major leagues. (Tony Pena of the Kansas City Royals and Felipe Alou of the San Francisco Giants are the others.) And Jerry Manuel, Guillen’s predecessor, is black.

Backman instead of a black man

That the hiring of a minority manager remains remarkable is a sad comment on baseball. Chicago is doing its part, but the rest of the league lags far behind. This offseason, the Arizona Diamondbacks filled their manager vacancy with two non-minorities, first Wally Backman, then Bob Melvin. The Houston Astros removed the interim label from Phil Garner, a non-minority, without interviewing anyone else. Openings in Philadelphia and Seattle also went to white guys, as the Phillies hired Charlie Manuel and the Mariners hired Mike Hargrove. In baseball, white guys get recycled.

You may have heard that Jerry Manuel was named one of four finalists for the Mariners’ opening. Manuel was the only minority in the group. Well, the Mariners might have considered Manuel a finalist, but Manuel told Murray Chass of the New York Times that he wasn’t actually interviewed for the job.

Manuel said he had lunch in Los Angeles with Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi and a couple of Bavasi’s assistants. But Manuel did not consider the lunch an interview.

In remarks published in Sunday’s New York Times, Manuel said, “I think they had someone in mind before the lunch. I’ve noticed in the process most of the people have someone in mind, and unless you have a philosophy that knocks them over, that you pretty much don’t have a shot. I haven’t seen it as being open.”

Manuel’s sham ‘interview’

Manuel said he couldn’t recall the exact term the Mariners used.

“They said, ‘We’re going to ask you questions even though it isn’t an interview, but it is an interview,”’ he told the Times. “The way it was expressed to me was: ‘We’d like to get to know you. This is a get-to-know-you lunch. We’ve already done our research.”’

I hoped to talk to Manuel about his experience, but he declined. Bavasi had expressed outrage to the Times over Manuel’s comments, and true to his character, Manuel does not want to become embroiled in a controversy. Like Randolph, who waited patiently for his first chance, Manuel will continue to wait patiently for his second chance. He has no other choice. When you’re a minority, talking openly about the hiring process will ensure that you’ll never get another interview, genuine or sham.

This is progress?

Commissioner Bud Selig mandated in 1999 that teams filling openings for managers (and general managers) must interview at least one minority candidate. You might think the situation for minorities would have improved some since then. But it hasn’t. There is always a way to get around the rules.

Manuel was fired after his 2003 Sox team finished 10 games over .500, but four games back of the division-winning Minnesota Twins. That record looks pretty good compared to the Sox’ effort under Guillen in 2004: a record of 83-79, nine games behind the Twins. Surely Manuel has earned another chance to manage a major-league club.

But second chances come easy for some, harder for others.