Major League Baseball: still flailing at front office diversity


We’ve written many times about how Major League Baseball has a diversity problem in its front office and executive ranks. General managers are almost all youngish white dudes from Ivy League institutions and they have hired people in their own image for years. That, combined with astoundingly low starting salaries for entry level baseball operations employees which make it far easier for well-off young men with family money to take the jobs, has led to a profoundly homogenous group of baseball execs.

Major League Baseball has acknowledged this and, yes, appreciates that it is a problem. There have been some efforts, such as an intern program, aimed at combatting this, but that’s only one small step. The league has also hired a diversity and leadership team and an executive search firm aimed at both assessing and addressing the problem.

Earlier this week Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote an article about all of this that does not give me a lot of confidence that these people are going to be effective in cracking this nut.

Verducci talks to Jose Tamez, who is on a John Hopkins University council which has consulted with Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball and who works for an executive search firm.* Tamez says that the problem is “skill set bias,” in which teams are selecting overwhelmingly for candidates with analytics backgrounds. That’s plausible and, given the needs of a baseball front office, it’s fair to prefer candidates with those backgrounds. They need people who do analytics, so that’s who they’re hiring.

But then he says this:

Analytics is the new language of baseball. To rise to key decision-making roles you must be not just fluent in analytics but also expert in them. Seventeen of the 23 general managers hired this decade (since 2010) attended an Ivy League school or another elite private institution. This trend is where Tamez and his team found the skill-set bias, or as he said, “Another way of saying [it] is an old and true axiom—people like to hire people who are like themselves … Take all the [GMs] who went to Cornell and Dartmouth, and if you’re harvesting people from those same schools you’re not going to get quite the diversity if you pick from schools like Howard.”

What that passage is describing — preferring guys from one’s own Ivy League alma mater who are “like themselves” — is decidedly not skill set bias. That’s plain old discrimination. It’s hiring people who are like you and who know the same people you know and who, figuratively speaking, speak the same language you do because you’re more comfortable with them. The only way it would not be discrimination is if places like Howard — or any other university — did not produce graduates with analytic skill sets. And that’s, quite obviously, not true.

But it gets worse! Baseball acknowledges that the internship program is not enough to increase diversity in the executive ranks. Rather, they need to get diverse employees who are already working for clubs to stay and to advance. One way they’re doing that is an analytics training program. Great! Except it’s gonna cost the low level employees close to ten grand to take the course:

To bridge what it calls “the analytics skills gap,” the Hopkins team is developing a curriculum to offer an executive certificate in baseball analytics. It plans to offer the two-week program beginning in January 2018 to employees in professional baseball, including “managers, coaches, coordinators, player development personnel and scouts,” as well as all front office personnel “seeking additional skills related to on-field strategy, talent evaluation and compensation and emerging analytics topics.

The two-week course is expected to cost $9,600, a fee that may be daunting to most lower level baseball organization employees seeking the analytics skills to advance. The school hopes the costs eventually could be subsidized by franchises that submit attendees, as well as by corporate underwriting, especially from Major League Baseball sponsors.

If your problem is that you’re hiring mostly rich white kids with Ivy League analytics degrees who can afford to take low-paying entry level jobs, and your solution to that problem is to offer to diverse employees without those means or that background a $9,600 seminar that may or may not one day underwritten by someone else, you’re doing it exactly wrong. Indeed, you’re actually creating a new barrier for them and signaling to them even harder that they should go work someplace else.

Unless and until baseball understands that Ivy League dudes hiring other Ivy League dudes “who are like themselves” is not “skill set bias” but is, in fact, discrimination, it will continue to hire overwhelmingly white men. Unless and until it understands that paying workers peanuts for years before advancing and charging them large sums of money to acquire the skills for advancement is going to select for wealthy people, it will continue to hire wealthy people.  As long as Major League Baseball’s hiring practices favors wealthy white men, it will not solve the very diversity problem it says it cares about.

It’s that simple.

*Originally this article stated that Tamez was on “baseball’s diversity council and works for the executive search firm,” used by Major League Baseball. This was in error. Tamez is a member of a council at John Hopkins University that has consulted with Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball and works for a separate executive search firm. 


Aaron Judge ties the rookie home run record with his 49th blast

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Monday afternoon baseball that isn’t either (a) part of a doubleheader; or (b) on a holiday is always a bit unsettling, but today’s rare Monday tilt gave us a gift in the form of history: Aaron Judge hit his 49th home run, tying the rookie record.

The dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. Mark McGwire also hit 49 with the Athletics in 1987. Judge has the rest of today’s game and five more games after it to hit number 50 and claim the record for himself.


Major League Baseball wants you to look at a screen while you’re at the ballpark

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During the debate last week involving expanded netting at major league ballparks, the familiar refrain from the anti-netting crowd rung out: “hey, netting wouldn’t be necessary if you simply paid attention!” These folks get particularly upset at the idea of people looking at their phones or other electronic devices during the game, implying — or sometimes explicitly stating — that if you do that you almost deserve to be hit with a 100 mph foul ball.

The problem with that, though, is that Major League Baseball increasingly encourages fans to use their phones during games. You can order your concessions through them now. Fans are encouraged to use the Ballpark app for an increasing number of in-game features. And, of course, the video boards — always in the opposite direction of the hitter — are getting larger and larger and contain more and more information that the clubs and the league want you to see.

But it goes farther than that. Or at least it will soon. As this article from TechCrunch makes clear, in the future, Major League Baseball wants you actually watching the game action through your phone or your iPad. It’s an augmented reality feature in which you hold up your tablet and . . .

In essence, it’s a bit like watching TV broadcast in person, with information overlaid on the action as it happens in real-time. The data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool . . . Players on the field, meanwhile, get small, square popups featuring their faces that can be tapped open to offer up personalized player information

Which is kind of cool, actually. Personally I am fascinated with the possibilities of augmented reality. For me it usually comes to mind when I’m out hiking and I want to know what a certain kind of tree is or something (my natural education was sorely lacking as a child), but there are tons of other applications. Even though I probably know more about the players and what’s going on on the field than your average American, I’d still probably use such a product, at least a little bit at a game.

But, of course, there is that safety tradeoff. How can Major League Baseball continue to be hands-off about a netting policy and maintain that fans assume the risk of foul ball injuries while simultaneously encouraging the use of electronic devices that will, necessarily, distract them from directly observing on-field action? Indeed, if they do continue to maintain that paradoxical approach, I’d expect this quote from the article to be used at a trial of an injured fan suing for damages:

“People are already using their phones, and we don’t think this is all that different,” MLB Product VP Chad Evans told us at the event. Of course, in a sport where small spherical objects are regularly projected into the stands at high speeds, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the field. Perhaps popping up an alert on screen when a ball approaches would be a good start.

That last bit — not the quote, but the article’s suggestion of a warning — is comical given how quickly a ball can make it into the stands. Even fans paying rapt attention can get hurt by fast foul balls. Expecting them to process a warning and then act based on it when instinct often isn’t fast enough is ridiculous.

Cool product, for sure. Like I said, I’d probably even use it on occasion. But the more technology and the more distractions Major League Baseball pours into the game, the more responsibility it will have when those distractions contribute to fan injuries. In light of that, they simply cannot continue to be hands-off with respect to the matter.