As the Orioles pursued a new manager yesterday, Major League Baseball said sternly that Baltimore and the other 29 teams must not ignore a directive requiring teams to consider minority candidates.
"The policy has been in place for eight years, and the commissioner takes this issue very seriously and expects clubs to comply," MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said.
The directive, issued by commissioner Bud Selig in 1999, doesn't specifically say teams must interview minority candidates. Rather, it requires that minorities appear on clubs' lists of potential hires for manager, general manager and several other executive posts.
"If a club has an opening in any of these positions, the club owner must notify me personally," Selig wrote in the directive. "In addition, your list of candidates must be provided to me. I expect the list to include minority candidates whom you and your staff have identified."
MLB suggested yesterday there is flexibility in the process. Baseball wants clubs to have discretion in hiring, it said. The key, MLB indicated, is that there must be dialogue between the commissioner and the teams, and that Selig must be convinced that minority candidates aren't unfairly denied an opportunity to compete.
In late 1999, the Detroit Tigers hired Phil Garner as manager without interviewing minority candidates. Selig registered his disapproval but did not issue a fine.
The club said shortly afterward that it was taking new steps - supported by Selig - to reach out to minorities.
It isn't clear whether the Orioles have adhered to the policy, but as of last night, the club hadn't hired a new manager.
Selig's directive helped change the face of the game, said Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.
"I think Selig's decision to do that, followed by the Rooney rule in football, have been dynamic forces of change," Lapchick said.
The 2002 Rooney rule - named for Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney - requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for a coaching opening.
Some former baseball and football players have complained that although the rules require minorities to be considered, there is no guarantee that interviews will be meaningful.
Lapchick said the rules give minority candidates needed exposure.
"I don't think there is any question there have been bogus interviews to meet the standards," he said. But he added that the requirements provide opportunities "to people who otherwise wouldn't have been there."
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat who has studied the hiring of minority coaches, said the Rooney rule should be expanded to include front-office posts.
"There is a strong talent pool [of minorities] to compete for jobs at the management level," Rush said. "I think the NFL certainly has made progress, but there is a lot of work to be done."
Major League Baseball received a B-plus grade from the institute last year for diversity in hiring. The number of minority managers in the past few seasons has ranged from five to seven.
The NFL got a B-plus in 2005.
The NBA has the best record among the major men's professional sports leagues in hiring minorities, Lapchick's group said. A dozen teams, 40 percent, had African-American head coaches at the beginning of last season. The league also has an African-American majority owner, Robert Johnson of the Charlotte Bobcats.