Double oversight of Baylor is another black day for baseball

John Steadman

October 30, 1991|By John Steadman

Major league baseball's "help wanted" sign for managers is still out, but so far black candidates continue to be ignored with a regularity that ignores all sense of fair play. It's similar, yet more subtle, to what happened when immigrants to the United States from Ireland, before the turn of the century, went job hunting. Signs in windows tersely told them:

"Irish Need Not Apply."

The game for all America, baseball, is supposed to be an equal opportunity employer. But two more positions were filled yesterday, with the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees, and a highly qualified black candidate, Don Baylor, was shunted aside.

The Mariners hired Bill Plummer; the Yankees picked Buck Showalter. Neither one has experience managing in the major leagues and both happen to be white. Baylor was mentioned for the job in both places, along with Bill Robinson, a former New York Mets coach who also is black.

Baylor is qualified. He spent 17 seasons in the American League, two years as a coach with the Milwaukee Brewers and covets the chance to operate his own team. He's a sensitive man, dependable and communicates well with players.

Stop to consider some of the rock heads in the history of baseball who were given the responsibility of managing a team. We won't mention their names in the interest of protecting their families and present employers. The "old boy" owners tell the world they aren't prejudiced but until they begin giving blacks the same consideration as whites for positions of leadership then it's merely an orchestration of lip service.

The man who is deeply alarmed, and has a right to be, over the scarcity of black managers is commissioner Fay Vincent. He has lectured and lobbied to rectify the situation, the same as one of his grand predecessors, Bowie Kuhn. Still there has been only minimal response. At times, Vincent must want to grab a fungo bat and take the owners to the woodshed.

You can count on one hand the number of black managers in the history of the majors. That's a shame and a sham. But the prerequisite for being a baseball owner, as it is in most sports, is first of all to be a colossal jerk. For the most part, they come from wealth and never had to do a good day's work in their lives.

They can't relate to the problems of the middle class much less the minorities in our midst. Are they blatantly prejudiced? No. Just arrogant and ignorant. Some were born with plantation mentalities. Affirmative action in this country is for everybody else; not them.

It was once said that white owners didn't want to hire black managers because they knew, as with whites, they would someday have to fire them. Why the resistance? Because, it was reasoned, they feared rioting in the streets or box-office boycotts. What poppycock.

Black managers have been fired in Baltimore, Seattle, Cleveland and San Francisco but it wasn't any different than if a white man had been bounced out the door. So dismiss such a radical rationale. Now there's a new dodge, a delaying device they are using for convenience sake.

The focus is suddenly placed on the so-called importance of having a minor-league background. Gene Michael, general manager of the New York Yankees, was specifically asked why more consideration wasn't given to Baylor and Robinson. He tried to explain by saying, "The fact they hadn't managed in the minor leagues got us back to in-house thinking."

Maybe he believes that, but he can't be so naive as to think the rest of us buy such nonsense. In the majors now are managers who didn't have to pay the price of going to the minors and beating their way back up. As examples we give you Jeff Torborg, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre, Art Howe, Bobby Valentine, Cito Gaston and Hal McRae (the latter two black).

They went from playing, to coaching, to managing at the major-league level without having to serve time in the minors to ostensibly learn a trade that takes nothing more definitive than basic intelligence. Barbers, shoemakers, pipe-fitters,berry-pickers and oyster shuckers work with their hands, just as ballplayers do, and some of them could manage equally as well.

When a quality man of Baylor's stature is available, he should be given the chance to rise or fall on his own merits. It's a sad reflection on major league baseball and pro football, too, that blacks, the same as whites, can be extraordinary athletes but are not offered the same degree of consideration as whites when it comes to managing and coaching.

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