More than 70 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, diversity remains an issue for those in charge of MLB teams. Behemoths like Dusty Baker and Frank Robinson had long, successful careers as baseball managers. However, the MLB’s overall landscape remains predominantly white compared to representation on the field.
Before Jackie Robinson took the field, any Black prospect who wanted to make it to the big leagues had to look at the segregated “Negro leagues.” These leagues did not have the financing to compete with the majors. However, it made stars out of Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and several other prominent names in the sport’s far-reaching history.
Since then, the league’s representation problems have improved but remain a long way from where they need to be. Other players, like Hank Aaron, started in these leagues before they made it to the major leagues. According to Sports Illustrated, the Boston Red Sox was the last team to sign a Black player, acquiring Pumpsie Green in 1959.
Black players have become the norm since then. Black Latino baseball players remain in high demand while African American interest in baseball steadily pales compared to baseball and football. Plus, Japan’s embrace of the sport paved the way for other non-white superstars. When it comes to those in charge, however, the league has a long way to go.
Black managers and the MLB
As ESPN noted at the time of his death, it took almost 30 years for another Robinson, Frank Robinson, to break the league’s color barrier when it came to player management. According to Britannica, the former MVP was asked by the Cleveland Indians to pull double-duty as a player-manager. For the next 30 years, Frank was in and out of managerial positions both with teams and the front office.
Soon, Black general managers became steadily normal, albeit still underrepresented. It wasn’t until 1992, when Cito Gaston led the Toronto Blue Jays to their first World Series, that a Black manager had hoisted the World Series trophy.
According to The Undefeated, Gaston remained the only Black man to do so until Dodgers manager Dave Roberts led the team to victory in 2020. As far as Black general managers, in 1994, Bob Watson signed with the Houston Astros — the first Black person in such a powerful position.
While Frank, Roberts, Baker, and several other Black managers have entered the league, Roberts and Baker remain the only Black managers in the MLB.
How can things get better?
According to a study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports published by the Wall Street Journal, “40% of the players are people of color (mainly Hispanic or Latino), and 20% of the managers are.”
The league continues to shatter the glass ceiling in some ways. SI noted that the Miami Marlins recently hired Kim Ng as general manager — the first woman and Asian American to hold the position. According to the MLB’s website, Alyssa Nakken shattered another ceiling when the Giants hired her as a coach in 2020.
However, despite these other hurdles being cleared, the MLB has to grapple with its lack of Black representation moving forward. The league has made some progress, however. 34th Street noted the league’s progress in acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement during the tumultuous 2020 season. However, if the league wants to represent the people who watch it, more needs to be done to get Black people in as players, coaches, and managers.