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.