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About that MLB racial hiring practices report

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Earlier today we posted the AP story regarding the diversity hiring report card which is issued by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida each year. Every year we’ve posted it it results in a bit of a controversy, so I wanted to say a few things about it.

The report itself is based on sheer numbers. They put a grade on it, but that’s subjective. The numbers, however, are the numbers. Major League Baseball only has three managers who are either black or Latino. That’s a fact, not a judgment. The front offices are overwhelmingly white and male, and that’s a fact, not a judgment. You can feel about that however you want to feel, but you can’t argue with the fact that baseball is run, primarily, by white men.

What I’m interested in is the why of all of that. My view of it is that it’s a good example of the difference between institutional racism and what people tend to think racism looks like.

A lot of people assume racism in business/sports/whatever does not exist unless it’s guys wearing hoods or flying Confederate flags. That’s what most people think of anyway, I suspect, when they think of racism. Jim Crow. De jure segregation. Drinking fountains and the like.

Obviously, Major League Baseball does not do that. It once did, decades ago, but not anymore. If you talk to or know decision makers, you know that they are mostly good and decent people who, when asked, will tell you that they believe in equality and opportunity for all. And I believe that they believe that when they say that.

But values and practices are different things. People in positions of authority do what most people do. They hire based on familiarity, relationships and innate, sometimes unconscious preferences and comforts. Guys who went to the same colleges they went to. Who have the same backgrounds they have. Who are able to take low-paying internships like they did because they came from wealthy or privileged backgrounds like they did.

When asked, decision makers will talk about it as hiring people with whom they have a good connection or with whom they communicate well, but it’s, without question, a self-selected group based on some vague notion of comfort and familiarity, consisting of factors that select for a certain sort of people whether it’s obvious or not.

It’s mostly a matter of people relying on networks which are themselves filled with bias, some overt, some harder to discern. “I knew John from Princeton’s statistics program, and he’s a good egg, so I’ll hire him!” But how did both you and John get into that program in the first place? And what selected you two for it? And who was selected out? And, having known John over the years in baseball, who did he know and who else did you know in order to form your network? And how much of that is about merit as opposed to old boyism?

Again, this is not conscious racism in the way we often think of it, but the net effect of all of this is small biases becoming, exponentially, big rifts. A lot of decisions that are individually defensible, but which in the aggregate select for a certain group of people who share a certain group of traits. Men. White men, primarily. And that trickles down to the lower level front office hires and the managerial hires.

So this report comes out each year and it slams MLB. And it results in a discourse in which some people accuse Major League Baseball of being racist and some people deny that vehemently. Both sides are right in a lot of ways.

There are no hood-wearing, Confederate flag-flying racists or a men-only sexists in MLB anymore. Those guys are long dead and gone. But, at the same time, there are biases in place that, however benign they seem, result in a pretty homogenous MLB front office and managerial culture. A lot of white Ivy League dudes with analytical backgrounds who are comfortable with a lot of white former players who get along well with white Ivy League dudes to take the reins of a team in the dugout.

Whatever the case, it’s racism. Institutional racism. Mostly unconscious racism. With racism being a concept which is may more expansive and pernicious than how it’s popularly portrayed and thought of.

Major League Baseball has done a great job of getting rid of the overt racists and sexists over the years. But it still has to grapple with the systems and unconscious biases in place that lead it, still, in 2017, to having homogenous front offices and dugouts. That, rather than the accusations and the defensiveness which often ensue, is the proper takeaway from this annual report.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
LG Patterson/MLB via Getty Images
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: