Problem not gone with Baylor hiring

KEN ROSENTHAL

October 29, 1992|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Before hailing the Don Baylor hire as another breakthrough for minorities in baseball, try answering this trivia question:

Who were the first managers of the expansion teams in Toronto and Seattle?

If you guessed Roy Hartsfield and Darrell Johnson, you've either got terrific recall, or too many old baseball cards. If you didn't, you can grasp the immense challenge facing Baylor in Colorado.

The former Oriole took this job with the risk that he will last a few years, then never be heard from again. Yet, that became his only practical option, given his pattern of rejection from established clubs.

Make no mistake, baseball is making progress in minority hiring. But please, hold off the hosannas. True equality will be reached only when outstanding minority candidates like Baylor receive fair consideration for every job.

It didn't happen last year in Milwaukee and Seattle, where club officials refused to hire Baylor for opposite reasons. It only happened in Colorado, where the expansion Rockies have nothing to lose.

Meanwhile, the old-boy network keeps recycling managers, with Rene Lachemann taking over in Florida, Bobby Valentine and Davey Johnson competing for the Cincinnati job and Lou Piniella reportedly the leading candidate in Seattle.

Chris Chambliss, anyone?

Four minority managers are a first, but that doesn't mean the game is suddenly reformed. Clubs now turn to the new-boy network as frequently as the old to get their white manager. That's how Baylor got shut out last year, after St. Louis bypassed him for Joe Torre in 1990.

The Mariners told Baylor they wanted to hire from within, so they promoted third-base coach Bill Plummer. The Brewers told Baylor they wanted a fresh start, so they hired Houston third-base coach Phil Garner.

Confused?

So was Baylor.

As the Milwaukee hitting instructor, he would have qualified for both jobs, if only the rationales were reversed. The Brewers can't argue he lacked managing experience; so did Garner. The Mariners can't argue they picked a better man; they've already fired Plummer.

Garner obviously was an excellent choice, for he just finished second in the voting for American League Manager of the Year. (( Several other young white managers are just as talented -- the Orioles' Johnny Oates and New York Yankees' Buck Showalter come immediately to mind.

It's unfair to attribute racial motives to every hire -- Kevin Kennedy, the new man in Texas, is another deserving white. But clubs rarely place blacks in positions where they can succeed. The pattern started with Frank Robinson in Cleveland 17 years ago. It continues with Baylor.

Cito Gaston, of course, is the exception -- he took over a strong Toronto club in 1989, won three division titles in four years and became the first black manager to win the World Series. But Hal McRae virtually started over in Kansas City. And Felipe Alou defied expectations in Montreal, much as Robinson did with the Orioles in '89.

Even those three were hired in large part because of strong ties to their respective clubs. Gaston spent 7 1/2 years as the Toronto hitting coach. McRae played 15 years in Kansas City. Alou managed 12 years in the Montreal farm system, and was a coach with the Expos under four different managers.

The true breakthrough will come when an established club hires a black from outside its organization, not because he's a minority, but because he's the best. The focus now will shift to Chambliss, the Triple-A manager for Atlanta. One at a time. It's always one at a time.

"We're not getting enough names into the mix," said Robinson, the Orioles' assistant general manager. "A lot of those years, every job that opened up, Frank Robinson was rumored to be involved. Then it was Maury Wills, then Don Baylor. Mark my word, Chambliss will be the one now when jobs open up."

Robinson, of course, is taking the fight to another level, trying to become the game's first minority general manager. He called the sudden increase in minority managers "a tremendous improvement." But pointing to other areas -- the third-base coaching box, for one --, he added, "There's still a way to go."

Wish Baylor luck. He's a good man with a keen mind, and he wanted this job so badly, he prepared for the interview by studying baseball magazines and familiarizing himself with the Rockies' amateur draft picks.

Now, he gets to be Roy Hartsfield.

Some call it a breakthrough.

Others, a shame.

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