MLB Announces New Minority Hiring Initiative

Dating back to at least 1999, Major League Baseball has made it a stated goal to increase the level of diversity in the highest levels of its teams’ front office operations. Under the so-called “Selig Rule,” MLB teams are required to consider female or minority candidates “for all general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development and director of scouting positions.”

Notably, the Selig Rule does not require that teams actually interview any female or minority candidates for these positions. Instead, teams must merely consider candidates belonging to an underrepresented group before hiring someone else to fill one of the five aforementioned positions. Along these lines, teams are required to provide the Commissioner’s office with a list of everyone that they internally considered for an applicable job.

Sixteen years later, the extent to which the Selig Rule has succeeded in increasing the level of diversity within MLB teams’ front office operations depends on one’s point of view. On the one hand, the number of female and minority employees in MLB teams’ front offices reportedly increased from around three percent in 1999 to 20 percent in 2013. On the other hand, today only two MLB teams employ a manager belonging to an underrepresented minority group – Seattle’s Lloyd McClendon and Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez – while 26 of the 30 MLB general managers are white males (the only exceptions being the Diamondbacks’ Dave Stewart, the Dodgers’ Farhan Zaidi, the Phillies’ Ruben Amaro Jr., and the Tigers’ recently hired Al Avila).

Despite this mixed success, the league is committed to continuing to increase the levels of diversity in its teams’ front office ranks. In a new initiative announced last week, MLB has hired the Korn Ferry consulting firm to help prepare minority and female candidates to interview this off-season for any of the five categories of jobs covered by the Selig Rule.

While this new initiative will undoubtedly help those candidates who are eligible to work with the consulting firm, it nevertheless seems unlikely to have a significant impact on the representation of female and minority candidates within MLB.

The Selig Rule – or, perhaps more accurately, MLB’s perceived under-enforcement of the Selig Rule – has come under criticism this year following two extremely quick, mid-season managerial searches by the Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins. In both cases, the teams hired white males for their managerial positions – Craig Counsell and Dan Jennings, respectively – without interviewing any minority candidates for the position.

While some have suggested that these hirings may have violated the Selig Rule, this isn’t actually the case, as MLB allows teams to promote internal candidates for high-level jobs without subjecting the decision-making process to the Selig Rule (as Ken Rosenthal noted at the time). Moreover, both clubs may also have at least internally considered one or more minority candidates before focusing their search on the successful candidate, thereby satisfying the Selig Rule.

Whether or not this criticism of the Selig Rule helped motivate MLB’s decision to provide additional support to female and minority candidates is unclear. In any event, MLB now appears to be the first professional sports league to offer candidates from underrepresented groups interview coaching in the hopes of increasing front office diversity.

Reasonable minds can certainly disagree regarding the fairness of affirmative action programs generally as a policy matter. But with MLB having clearly decided to take steps to increase the level of diversity in its teams’ front office ranks, one can’t help but question whether this new initiative will have much of an impact in this area.

As MLB’s press release notes, the league has only engaged Korn Ferry for purposes of assisting “qualified candidates” with “their interview preparations for key baseball operations positions.” While this is great for those candidates who are already qualified on paper to apply for an upper-level front office position, the new initiative does little to help place female and minority candidates in lower-level positions within a team’s baseball operations. As a result, the initiative will not help underrepresented, entry-level candidates accrue the requisite experience needed to qualify themselves for higher-level jobs in future years.

For instance, as Jack Moore noted earlier this year, an increasing number of recent managerial hires have been selected after serving in some sort of “special adviser”-type role within an MLB organization. Because these sorts of positions – along with most other stepping-stone jobs – are not subject to the Selig Rule, MLB is doing little to ensure that a critical mass of qualified female or minority candidates continue to work their way up through the ranks of MLB teams’ operations.

If MLB really wants to increase the representation of females and minorities in the upper echelons of its teams’ front offices, then, it should subject a greater number of positions to the Selig Rule. By requiring teams to consider candidates from traditionally underrepresented groups for lower-level positions, the league could help ensure that the pool of qualified female and minority candidates for higher-level front office jobs will continue to grow, increasing the odds that MLB’s new hiring initiative will have the desired effect.

At the same time, MLB’s new initiative will also do little to increase the representation of females and minorities within MLB’s central league office, an issue that remains the subject of an on-going federal civil rights lawsuit. As I previously discussed last December, Sylvia Lind – MLB’s director of baseball initiatives and highest-ranking Hispanic female employee – has sued the league, former Commissioner Bud Selig, and MLB’s executive vice president of baseball development, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, for gender discrimination. Lind’s suit contains a number of allegations, all of which generally boil down to the contention that she was repeatedly passed over for promotions in favor of allegedly less qualified and less experienced male candidates throughout her 19 year career at MLB.

While MLB has denied Lind’s allegations, the league’s court papers acknowledge that Robinson himself has noted that there are relatively “few people of color” working in the MLB league offices. So in the minds of at least one high-ranking MLB official, it appears that the league’s central offices may be in need of a diversity initiative as well.

Therefore, while MLB’s new initiative to increase the number of female and minority candidates hired for high-level front office positions is certainly well intentioned, greater steps are probably necessary if the league truly hopes to increase the level of diversity throughout all of its operations.

Nathaniel Grow is an Associate Professor of Business Law and Ethics and the Yormark Family Director of the Sports Industry Workshop at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. He is the author of Baseball on Trial: The Origin of Baseball's Antitrust Exemption, as well as a number of sports-related law review articles. You can follow him on Twitter @NathanielGrow. The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not express the views or opinions of Indiana University.

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8 years ago

I am going to go out on a limb and say that the large majority of applications for most of these front-office positions and others are dominated by white males. This may explain why there is such a small number of minorities? This sounds like a close cousin of Affirmative Action.

8 years ago
Reply to  horatiosky

“I am going to go out on a limb and say that the large majority of applications for most of these front-office positions and others are dominated by white males. This may explain why there is such a small number of minorities?”

Probably true for the high-level positions subject to the Selig Rule, because, as Nathaniel points out, there are few people or color or women in the entry-level positions that would prepare applicants to apply for high-level positions.

“This sounds like a close cousin of Affirmative Action.”

I think it is affirmative action, and because affirmative action is generally a good policy, so is this.

8 years ago
Reply to  Anon21

Why do you think that’s better than hiring on a merit based system?

Crackpot Theorist
8 years ago
Reply to  ehh

Well, the thing is that you’re presuming the system was meritocratic from the beginning. I’m not arguing that it isn’t, but in general, I think those who are in favour of AA-like policies such as this hold the belief that the policy is necessary specifically because hiring is NOT merit based (as you claim).

8 years ago
Reply to  ehh

hiring is NOT merit based (as you claim).

He didn’t claim that. He didn’t claim anything.