MLB is taking prominent action to expand and inspire front office and field diversity with a new fellowship program.
Major League Baseball has long been a champion of change. From 1947 when Jackie Robinson took first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field to break the color barrier, to Frank Robinson’s debut as the first African-American manager for the Cleveland Indians in 1975, continued diversity in MLB has remained a steadfast hot topic.
While a portion of these milestones reflect on-the-field advancements, there have also been efforts to diversify the talent off-the-field, such as Omar Minaya’s position as the first Latino General Manager with the Montreal Expos in 2002. The mission continues as a multi-million dollar investment by MLB, launched by the Diversity and Inclusion Department, is proactively recruiting some of the world’s best young minds to contribute to additional baseball operations positions.
The appropriately titled inaugural ’Diversity Fellowship Program’ is designed to support front office and field diversity by offering an exclusive opportunity to people of color and women who are recent college graduates. The Office of the Commissioner is looking to place 23 candidates in coveted roles on what many describe as “a golden ticket’ to a long career in baseball.
I asked Renée Tirado (no relation), MLB’s Vice President of Talent Acquisition, Diversity & Inclusion, about the driving force behind these increasing efforts:
“Competitiveadvantage. Business. MLB has always been a dominant economic force in the world of sports and entertainment. As we continue to expand ourglobal reach and to strive to be the sport of choice for all people everywhere,we understand to reach those goals we need to recruit, retain and develop thebrightest and most innovative workforce possible. That requires diversityof thought and experiences in all facets of our business only attainable byproactively diversifying our workforce. Our business and leadership mustreflect the fan base we intend to engage so we can ensure that we always meetour number one priority – to provide the best and most exciting sportsexperience on the field for old and new fans alike.”
The league, however, is not immune to its share of criticism regarding its diversity efforts. Attention to a disparity among coaches and executives remains on the minds of many around the league. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts and Rick Renteria of the Chicago White Sox were two of only three minority managers out of all 30 clubs. Dusty Baker, the third, with his recent departure from the Washington Nationals, raises even more questions regarding managerial diversity in a game where 42.5 percent of players are non-white. Only four teams have a minority general manager or president, prompting even players to voice their concern:
“Baseball is a white man’s sport.” - Adam Jones, outfielder - Baltimore Orioles
Renée offers a differing perspective to Jones’ assertion, stating:
“While I understand the point of view of some of the players, it’s a one dimensional view of diversity. Baseball has never been a white man’s sport. The legacy of African Americans, Latinos and Asians in our sport is strong. There is no denying there has been a shift in fandom but that can be attributed to a variety of factors including the competitive entertainment landscape, the rise of mobile and digital recreational outlets, online gaming, etc.”
Renée, who has put forth strong efforts to widen the scope of diversity not only within the sports industry, but throughout the global corporate world with her prior role leading the global diversity and inclusion agenda for AIG, remains dedicated to continuing those trailblazing efforts through an extension of MLB’s longstanding initiatives:
“MLB has had a long history and commitment to diversity and inclusion. We were the first to integrate sports. We are the first sport to have a dedicated diversity and inclusion department. We have a very successful supplier diversity program that has invested over $1 billion in diverse owned businesses around the country. That said we recognize that our business needs to stay relevant to the broadest array of people possible [and] diversity and inclusion will remain a crucial part of our growth strategy.”
The fellowship is not only in pursuit of the talented minds of people of color, but it is gender-inclusive as well. Earlier this year, MLB and USA Baseball introduced another inaugural series with a three-day girls’ baseball tournament in conjunction with Jackie Robinson Day. Representing 20 states, D.C., and Canada were approximately 100 girls, ages 16 and under in the first-of-its-kind tournament on the 70 year anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Commissioner Rob Manfred was quoted as saying: “It is our honor to support trailblazing young women who will be outstanding representatives of their communities.”
When asked about women and girls who are looking to penetrate this proverbial threshold many consider a “boys club” in relation to front-office opportunities, Renée provided crucial advice:
“First and foremost, don’t stop trying. The opportunity will come and you have to be and stay in the race if you want to win. It will be frustrating and may be slow but if it is your dream and passion, you have to keep pushing through the obstacles to get there.
Second, keep honing your skills at every single opportunity so you are ready when the door does open up. Right or wrong, there will always be naysayers who will use and rely on the gender card to disqualify you. The only way you negate that is by being the best at what you do and being the best means you study, practice, and execute repeatedly. Just when you believe you know it all and there’s nothing left to do, stop, assume you know nothing and start over again. Be so good at what you do, you make it impossible for you to be denied.
Third, do not let the boys club intimidate you. Network, network, network among them whenever as much as possible. Try to recruit one of them to be a mentor. It may be challenging in the beginning but being seen and establishing your credibility and brand in this community will serve you well in the long haul.
Lastly, share your passion with other young women and girls. Encourage them to pursue umpiring. The more women we get prepared to compete in the industry the more potential there is for us to succeed.”
For those who are looking for the gateway to success within baseball operations, it is evident that this is the quintessential opportunity. “All degrees and disciplines are encouraged to apply,” admits Renée, adding “Our Clubs want smart, motivated and passionate people above all else. And, if you want [and] are willing to work hard and learn about our game, this is the right place for any interested and qualified candidates.”
The end of the 2017 season is fast-approaching and clubs have long been looking to expand their workforce. With this expansion is the overwhelming desire to “engage generational and intellectual diversity in their business model.” It is clear that America’s favorite past-time is on the path to continue its legacy as an advocate for equality and inclusion that is so vital to the game today.
For more information on the fellowship, visit https://www.mlb.com/diversity-fellowship-program/about/
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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