Craig Counsell and the Selig Rule

I’€™m not willing to say that Bud Selig did a lot of things while serving as Commissioner of Baseball. Let’€™s instead say that a lot of things happened during Selig’€™s tenure. Since it’€™s not at all clear, not yet anyway, what exactly was Selig’€™s role in all those things.

But if there’€™s one thing we’€™ve got to attribute to Bud Selig, it’€™s the rule saying teams have to interview minority candidates when there’€™s a big opening. Because it’€™s called the Selig Rule.

Which was obviously ignored when the Brewers fired Ron Roenicke and immediately hired Craig Counsell. Which drew the attention of Jack Moore, writing over at Vice Sports.

Moore’€™s piece is headlined HOW MLB STAYS WHITE, which is obviously clickbait. You know, like most headlines! Within, he’€™s careful to avoid categorizing Major League Baseball the organization, or any particular individuals, as racist:

Again, I want to be clear: there’s no evidence that MLB teams are overtly racist. The sport is long removed from the bigoted era of owners like Tom Yawkey and Bob Carpenter, whose Red Sox and Phillies didn’t integrate until over a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. I don’t believe that Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin was out to perpetuate racial injustice when he saw Counsell and thought, "this is my manager of the future," nor do I think that suspect motives were behind the Cardinals tabbing Matheny or the Rockies selecting Weiss. However, I do think that baseball’s past influences its present; that the Campanis generation mentored the mentors of today’s executives; and that a long history of lily-white front offices and baseball culture seeing minorities as second-rate minds has placed Latino and African-American managerial candidates at a systemic disadvantage. In baseball terms, they’re looking at two strikes, while their white peers are starting on second base. That’s the inequity the Selig Rule seeks to redress, and that’s why following it to a "T" — even when you’re absolutely, positively going to hire Craig Counsell anyway — €”is so important.

I think Moore’€™s on the right track, but not quite all the way there. Or maybe he is, but could have chosen his words a bit more carefully (something with which I’ve got long experience). I don’€™t really doubt that 30 or 40 years ago, many and perhaps most members of those lily-white front offices did think of black and Latino ex-players (and other potential employees) as second-rate minds. But one might read the above and think that’€™s still the case. Or that Moore thinks that’€™s the case. Which he probably doesn’€™t. In my experience, it’€™s not the case.

What is the case, alas, is that humans are highly subject to deep-seated, subconscious impulses and emotions. When you’€™re in a cafeteria at a college, do you see students of different ethnicities mixing much? Not as much as we’€™d like. I’ve noticed over the years that white basketball coaches tend to have more white assistants than black, and that black coaches tend to have more black assistants than white.

Is this racism? Not in the way we usually think about racism. Moore makes a good point here:

Counsell joins a group of recently retired white players who were hired as managers despite no previous managing or coaching experience, a group that includes Detroit’s Brad Ausmus, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash, Minnesota’s Paul Molitor, Washington’s Matt Williams, St. Louis’s Mike Matheny and Colorado’s Walt Weiss.

Like Counsell, most of those men occupied "special adviser"-type roles in their respective organizations before being entrusted with lineup cards. They were placed on the track toward positions of power, sometimes before the ink had even dried on their retirement papers. By contrast, Black and Latino managers often must work through the various levels of the minor leagues before even receiving a big league job interview.

How do all those white guys get those "€œspecial adviser"-type roles? Usually it’€™s because they became personally close, while they were still playing, with people in the organization. Well, that’€™s part of it, anyway. And it’€™s easier to become close to people who share your cultural background.

Which I think is Moore’€™s real point here. Alas, not much to be done about culture in the short term. Which is where the Selig Rule comes into play. Moore’€™s big finish:

Baseball’s history, culture and demographics essentially guarantee that whites will have access to managerial jobs. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But if MLB truly wants to be diverse, it will make sure that teams like the Brewers give minority candidates a chance in the interview room, too. The Selig Rule isn’t an end; it’s a means. A tool. Like a hammer. Put it in the hands of the right candidate … and they’ll nail the rest.

Yes … but I think now we’€™re just arguing about arguable details. Moore says the Brewers should have interviewed minority candidates for the manager’€™s job, even though they were absolutely not going to hire anyone except Craig Counsell.

This is not a crazy argument. Maybe they interview someone who gets added to the list of candidates to replace Counsell someday. Maybe they interview someone who learns so much from the process that he nails the next interview and gets hired.

But this isn’€™t a crazy argument, either: "€œBaseball recognizes that in certain instances the pull of a candidate is so strong that an extensive search effectively would amount to a sham."

In my experience, just about everybody here is pulling on the same rope. Some are pulling harder than others, and some are pulling from different spots. But the people who work in front offices now are intensely performance-driven and hyper-competitive and about as color-blind as you’€™re going to find. I haven’€™t met anyone lately who doesn’€™t want to see more black and Latino managers, and more women milling around at the Winter Meetings.

The hearts have largely been won, I think. The minds, too. At least consciously. But it seems the desired results are a lot trickier than everybody figured, or hoped.

In the larger world, Major League Baseball is LIGHT YEARS ahead of nearly every part of American society. At least almost everyone in baseball is pulling the rope in the same direction. All you need to do is watch the news, or read a story like this, to be reminded just how far off the rest of the country is.