Baseball teams making a mockery of Selig Rule

Jeff PassanMLB columnist

The Selig Rule is a sham, a mandatory decree to promote minority hiring that conveniently ignores the mandate part, and the active disregard of it by Major League Baseball teams reached its nadir Monday when the Miami Marlins followed the path of their brethren and hired another white guy with zero managerial experience without bothering to interview another candidate.

That the Marlins were involved in a farce of one variety or another came as no surprise. By naming general manager Dan Jennings their field manager, they copied the trend pervading baseball: handing important jobs to novice candidates while the commissioner’s office continues to rubber-stamp a systemic snuffing-out of minorities.

New Marlins manager Dan Jennings speaks during his introductory news conference Monday. (AP)
New Marlins manager Dan Jennings speaks during his introductory news conference Monday. (AP)
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With every trip to White Guys ‘R’ Us, baseball reinforces a dangerous idea that, even if not rooted in truth, lives understandably in the subconscious of every minority inside the game: The glass ceiling still exists, and it seems to get lower by the hire. Used to be the fear was not getting the job or being a sham candidate. Now, teams don’t even bother with an interview process, and baseball somehow finds this acceptable.

Such railroading would be problematic in any other industry. For baseball, which champions itself as a bastion of diversity, markets itself through the prism of Jackie Robinson’s legacy and hails its place in history, it’s disingenuous bordering on hypocritical. When Selig sent a memo in 1999 requiring teams to interview a minority candidate for top positions in baseball operations and on the bench, he sought 12 years after Al Campanis to prove baseball a post-racial profession that complements its on-field talent with management that resembles it.

Nearly 30 percent of major league players are Latino. Three percent of managers – Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez, all alone – are the same. As scant as African-American players are these days, at just 8.3 percent, the percentage of black managers is even lower. Seattle’s Lloyd McClendon is the one and only. Among executives, the numbers aren’t much better. There are two black presidents of baseball operations (the Marlins’ Mike Hill and the Chicago White Sox’s Kenny Williams) and four minority GMs: Farhan Zaidi, Dave Stewart, Jeff Luhnow and Ruben Amaro Jr.

This is not a call for teams to hire minorities just to hire minorities. That would be counterproductive and wrong. It is a reminder that whether intentional or unintentional, baseball’s actions in allowing teams to subvert the intent of the Selig Rule scream exclusion. Baseball’s audience already skews far too white for its tastes. What sort of message does it send to minorities grinding their way through the game, or considering pursuing a post-playing career in the sport, when front offices settle on a candidate and weasel their way out of the interview process with loopholes that keep getting exploited?

The Jennings hire is getting blasted for a number of reasons, most of them rational, chief among them: The last time he managed was for a Mobile, Ala., high school three decades ago. Though, truth be told, this is just the latest extension of something that happened almost 15 years ago, when the Boston Red Sox hired Theo Epstein with limited front-office experience to run the organization. That birthed the Jon Daniels hire, which validated the Andrew Friedman hire, and all three of them, while somewhat versed in front-office dynamics, didn’t know the full breadth of their jobs or responsibilities therein and survived on guile, instinct and intelligence.

It’s possible to do that as a manager, too, and the Marlins are banking on Jennings’ knowledge of the organization to help in that manner, same as the Milwaukee Brewers did when they hired Craig Counsell. If anything, Counsell’s ascent was an even more egregious breach of the Selig Rule than Jennings’. At least Jennings had a hand in the actual shaping of the Marlins’ franchise through player-personnel acquisitions. No special assistant job, as Counsell had, could properly equip him for the rigors of a job managing a team.

Craig Counsell went from a special assistant role to managing the Brewers. (AP)
Craig Counsell went from a special assistant role to managing the Brewers. (AP)

His hire prompted MLB to send out a memo reminding teams to consider minority candidates … which was promptly ignored upon the next managerial opening. The Marlins have perhaps the best history among all current teams of hiring minorities to manage – Gonzalez, Edwin Rodriguez, Ozzie Guillen – but that doesn’t excuse them from skipping over the pool this time because they opted for an internal hire.

That’s the dirty way teams get around this: by hiring someone on the inside, as if that’s a compelling enough reason to look past an institutional flaw. Baseball should know better than to trot that cockamamie excuse out like it’s rightful. Familiarity does not absolve you from doing what’s right.

The Selig Rule, when enforced, is right. While every team should hire the best possible candidate for its managing job, regardless of skin color, the interview process serves both the candidates and the league well. Not only does it open up the possibility of an unexpected candidate blowing away the team and giving it options, the act of interviewing helps legitimize an entire new pool of managerial candidates. Baseball’s radar widens that way – and considering the number of teams willing to hire first-time managers, the sport needs that.

“It’s an awful candidate pool,” said one GM who in recent years hired a new manager. “Real stars get jobs fast.”

In the Marlins’ case, they didn’t hire a star. They went safe and easy and cheap, which ought to be their slogan. They went with a guy who most of his adult life has been a scout and executive, and they didn’t even bother to talk with Bo Porter, a major league manager who once coached in their organization, or Rick Renteria, a major league manager who once played and coached in their organization. Porter is black. Renteria is Latino. Though past experience doesn’t necessarily qualify someone for a job – the original intent of the Selig Rule was to stem the hiring of retread white guys – each by dint of his experience looks like a far better candidate than the one Miami hired.

MLB did nothing about it. If the league insists on keeping the Selig Rule in place, it must start enforcing it or run the risk of further alienating minorities who wonder when – not if – their ascent will stagnate. The glass ceiling is real, and until baseball gives the Selig Rule some teeth and ends the farce, too many good baseball men will bang their heads unnecessarily.

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