Cito Gaston Retires, Dusty Baker Signs an Extension; There Are Still Too Few African-American Managers
Last night was Cito Gaston’s last home game in Toronto, after nearly three decades with the organization. Today, Dusty Baker — Gaston’s teammate with the 1975 Braves, and a fellow protege of Henry Aaron — reportedly agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds. The 61-year-old Baker and 66-year-old Gaston are, respectively, the first- and third-winningest African-American managers in baseball’s history, with 2293 wins, three pennants, and two World Championships between them. And yet, in the 35 years since Frank Robinson was named the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball’s history, they’re two of the only African-Americans ever to sit in the manager’s chair.
It is probably not a coincidence that two of the most successful African-American managers ever were both teammates of Henry Aaron’s, and both men have consistently credited Henry Aaron as a mentor. It’s also not a coincidence that both men are in their 60s, and no other active African-American managers are even close to their win total. The second-winningest African-American manager is Frank Robinson himself, a contemporary of Aaron’s. According to a list compiled earlier this year by Gary Norris Gray of the Black Athlete Sports Network, there have been 14 African-American managers in the past 40 years. It’s not a perfect list — he mistakenly put Jerry Manuel in his list of Latino and Hispanic managers, for example — but it’s reasonably comprehensive: Don Baylor, Cecil Cooper, Larry Doby, Davey Lopes (who is descended from Cape Verde, an island off the coast of West Africa), Hal McRae, Lloyd McClendon, Willie Randolph, Jerry Royster, Ron Washington, Maury Wills, Manuel, Robinson, Gaston, and Baker. Of those 14, only 11 ever managed a full season — Royster, Doby, and Wills were midseason replacements who were canned before they ever got a chance to manage their 162nd game — and just nine ever won as many as 200 games, a total reached by 250 other managers in history.
Gaston remains the only African-American manager ever to win a World Series. And yet he had to wait more than a decade, from 1997 to 2008, to be given another managing job — of the 22 managers who have won multiple World Series, he’s the only one that has happened to, with the exception of two former player-managers more than 70 years ago (Bill Carrigan and Billy Southworth). He recently raised eyebrows by comparing himself to Tony La Russa, because they both have two World Series rings, but it probably goes without saying: Tony La Russa wouldn’t have had to wait a decade for another managing job. Gaston isn’t that good, but you can’t win two World Series completely by accident, either. His visibility may have been hurt by all those years he spent in Canada, but that seems like an insufficient explanation for his unprecedented decade in the wilderness. (Interestingly, Frank Robinson had a similar layoff between managerial posts, between his 1991 Baltimore Orioles and 2002 Montreal Expos.)
There are four African-American managers in baseball right now: Washington (58 years old), Manuel (56), Baker (61), and Gaston (66). Gaston is retiring, and Manuel is likely on the chopping block. There are no young African-American managers in baseball, and few active players who are seen as likely managers when they retire. (An exception is Terry Pendleton, who is a strong internal candidate to replace the retiring Bobby Cox. Pendleton is currently Bobby Cox’s hitting coach, as Gaston once was.) Major League Baseball has long acknowledged its desire to improve baseball’s appeal to young African-American players with its RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program, but it hasn’t done much of anything to improve its own track record with regard to the front office.
It’s been 35 years since Frank Robinson integrated baseball’s managerial fraternity, and still too little progress has been made. The departure of one of the most successful black managers ever only highlights just how much work is yet to be done.
UPDATE: The above list is not comprehensive. Other African-American managers include Dave Clark, who managed the Astros for 13 games in 2009, as reader timmy! points out.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.