Joon Lee of ESPN reports today that, based on a study conducted by him and ESPN, the percentage of Ivy League graduates who are MLB team’s top baseball operations’ employees — be they titled GMs or Vice Presidents or whatever — has risen from just 3% in 2001 to 43% today. Meanwhile, in that same period, former players running front offices has dropped from 37% to 20%. Lee’s report, which is must-read material, doesn’t just illustrate the profound lack of diversity in big league front offices, but illustrates how that lack of diversity has developed and how it perpetuates itself.
It’s a topic we’ve covered at length here before. The short version: the analytics revolution led to the hiring of general managers who are almost all youngish white dudes from Ivy League institutions who, in turn, tend to hire people “in their own image” or “who they can relate to” for years, further populating baseball’s executive ranks with similar people. 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 has long said that it appreciates that it is a problem. There have been some efforts, such as an intern program, the creation of diversity committees, and the hiring of an executive search firm aimed at both assessing and addressing the problem, but the results have been almost non-existent.
In 2016 I interviewed a young Latinx man who had been interviewing with major league baseball clubs. His education and skills were perfectly aligned with what big league teams hire for these days. His experience with the process, however, illustrated how clubs end up hiring people who are decidedly not like him:
[At the Winter Meetings], I interviewed with three teams. Every kid/adult or whatever you wanna call them, was white. They were all white, with expensive degrees. I spoke to four guys who were interviewing with one of the teams I was and they all BRAGGED about how their parents had enough money to pay for their apartment/car/insurance and whatever comes with moving for a job.
What about me? I can’t do that. We’re living off refund checks, and McDonald’s for dinner. But who cares? I know this is going to work one way or another. I have my contacts and all that BS. But at the end of the day, will a team hire a young Latin American kid who wants to learn, wants to guarantee his fiancée a better life down the road, and wants to help his own family eventually, or will they hire the 24-year-old in a slick suit who graduated from Yale with a degree in economics and can live in the office 24 hours a day with no outside responsibilities? Easy answer. I don’t fault teams for hiring qualified candidates. But I really don’t know why they sit there and gripe about diversity problems when the answer is right in front them.
And his experience was one in which he actually got face-to-face with teams who are hiring. Many teams aren’t even going to look at candidates like the young man I interviewed because, as Lee describes in his article, they’re relying on what has been an exponentially-growing network of what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, the Ivy League Baseball Executive establishment. The generation of men who became GMs in the past decade and a half or so have spent the past several years hiring people they know who have, in turn, been hiring people they know, perpetuating a system that is already selecting for a certain type. Lee:
But pulling from a hyper-specific group of Ivy League graduates means inheriting that group’s diversity and classism problems, including the legacy admissions programs notorious in elite colleges that favor white and wealthy applicants. Yale University currently boasts four undergraduate alumni running baseball teams, tied with Harvard for the most represented school among top baseball executive undergraduate alma maters. In 2018, the acceptance rate at Yale was 6.9%, with the cost of attendance in 2020 — which includes tuition and living expenses — estimated at $78,725.
All of the Yale graduates running teams, including Epstein, Bloom, Mike Elias of the Baltimore Orioles and James Click of the Astros, who replaced Luhnow, are white men. Among the Harvard graduates — Bridich, Stearns of the Brewers, Silverman and Michael Hill of the Miami Marlins — Hill, a Cuban American, is the lone minority. White Sox GM Rick Hahn also attended Harvard Law School after graduating from the University of Michigan. According to the Harvard Law School website, the cost of attendance prices at $100,625.
Lee’s article goes on to identify a series of barriers and prejudices that have caused baseball front offices to be overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, and overwhelmingly populated by people from well-off backgrounds. It also notes MLB’s attempts to grapple with it all, but it’s quite clear that these attempts have not even begun to scratch the surface of the problem.
Baseball still likes to fancy itself as America’s pastime. Baseball, increasingly, looks less and less like America. That should bother Major League Baseball. It should bother all of us.