MLB wants more diversity, so it fired search firm Korn Ferry

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on October 29, possibly thinking about diversity, but most likely thinking about the Reliever of the Year awards, which he was giving out. (Getty Images)
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on October 29, possibly thinking about diversity, but most likely thinking about the Reliever of the Year awards, which he was giving out. (Getty Images)

Diversity continues to be a huge issue in MLB hiring, both in front offices and in managerial positions. Commissioner Rob Manfred was so serious about it that he engaged the search firm Korn Ferry to help increase diversity in major league jobs. Even though Korn Ferry had a decent track record with the NFL, NBA, and NCAA, it failed to place a single minority in a front office job in its time working for MLB. Which is why, according to USA Today, Manfred has fired Korn Ferry as MLB’s leadership search firm.

It wasn’t just that Korn Ferry was dramatically unsuccessful at placing (or even seriously interviewing) minorities for positions in baseball. It went far, far beyond that, as USA Today’s Bob Nightengale pointed out.

There were so many conflicts of interest with Korn Ferry as baseball’s search firm that it resulted in nothing more than friends hiring friends. Mostly all the hires had backgrounds with the Cleveland Indians, or had a relationship with Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, the Indians’ former president and GM.

The examples of this are pretty clear. The Minnesota Twins hired Derek Falvey, who had extremely limited experience as a baseball executive with the Indians, as their president, and they interviewed only one minority candidate for that position. The Arizona Diamondbacks hired Mike Hazen, who started with the Indians, and interviewed just two minority candidates. Nightengale also pointed to the managerial hires this year: all but one have been white men. Rick Renteria is the only exception, and he was already part of the Chicago White Sox coaching staff when he was essentially promoted.

At the owners’ meetings in Chicago, Manfred essentially admitted that trying to implement diversity with a search firm at the industry level wasn’t the right course. He asked teams to get creative and even create new front office jobs to assist in diversity. And Manfred isn’t against using a little science, either.

“We’re going to take some high profile baseball operations positions, starting with field manager,’’ Manfred said, “and try to do a study about qualifications and characteristics that may be predictive of success. I think a little science in that area may be helpful to us in terms of identifying candidates who will be particularly appealing to clubs.”

Manfred also pointed to the Atlanta Braves as an example of what he’s looking for. The Braves interviewed four minority candidates for the managerial job that Fredi Gonzalez was fired from, and while they didn’t hire any of them for that position, all four are now in the organization at various levels.

It’s also important to note that while everyone uses the term “minority,” it’s clear that they mean ethnic and racial minorities. No one seems particularly concerned about the lack of women in MLB front offices, and that trend looks like it’s going to continue. There is only one woman who has consistently been considered for any front office position in the last five years, and that’s Kim Ng, who is currently the senior vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball. She is mentioned as a candidate for pretty much every front office job, but she’s never landed a major position with a team.

Diversity is obviously a huge, huge problem in baseball. Adam Jones, center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, sharply pointed that out during the season. It’s necessary that baseball make strides to correct it, because there are qualified candidates out there that teams don’t even bother to interview. It’ll take awhile to see any real changes, but Manfred certainly seems dedicated to making them.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

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