Why this matters
Updated Global Sport Institute Field Studies data show more Black managers left Major League Baseball and fewer were hired from 1995-2021, while more White managers began to get hired without playing experience and/or less managerial experience. Black former players increasingly do not see managing as a fruitful career path.
In the 1970s and 80s, Black representation in MLB flourished, peaking in 1981 when the league was made up of nearly 19% Black players.
But in the dugout, it had been just six years since MLB hired its first Black manager, Frank Robinson, in 1975.
While baseball’s addition of the Selig Rule in 1999 has helped ensure that more candidates of Color are interviewed for managerial and front-office positions, the rule hasn’t succeeded in diversifying the league as much as former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was hoping for several reasons.
A recent update to Arizona State University’s Global Sport Institute MLB field study documents the league’s managerial hiring and dismissal patterns over 26 years from 1995-2021.
Over this time, the study shows that:
- 10.3% of outgoing managers were Black, while only 8.6% of managers hired were Black. The percentages of outgoing and hired White managers were roughly equivalent to each other.
- 17% of White managers entered their managerial roles with no prior coaching experience. Of the 26 managers of Color hired, all of them had prior coaching experience.
- White managers were hired nearly a full year younger than managers of Color. The youngest White manager hired was 35. The youngest manager of Color was 38.
- Incoming White managers had less coaching experience by half a year upon hiring compared to incoming managers of Color.
- 40% of incoming White managers were former catchers, while only 16% of managers of Color were catchers.
- Managers of Color were dismissed more quickly than their White colleagues, with managers of Color being dismissed after 4.08 years, and White managers after 4.93 years.
- Managers of Color were dismissed by firing 10% more often than their White colleagues.
- Between 1995-1999, 32 White managers were hired. One manager of Color, who was Black, was hired. Between 2000-2008, 50 White managers were hired. 20 managers of Color were hired, 11 of them were Black. Between 2009-2021, 121 White managers were hired. 16 managers of Color were hired, 4 of them were Black.
Watching the Goalposts Move
Between 1995-2021, only three managers of Color have had the opportunity to lead with no prior coaching experience. None of them were Black.
Curtis Granderson, who had a 15-year career in the majors before becoming a baseball analyst, has seen this play out firsthand.
“There are a lot of Black coaches I’ve been around in the game that had coaching experience — had managerial experience, not just coaching experience — and aren’t interviewed, aren’t even in the final three, and you just keep scratching your head,” he said.
Doug Glanville, a former major leaguer turned baseball analyst and writer, explained that not everyone’s definition of experience is linear across candidates.
“Who is defining this experience? The narrative around being ‘qualified’ hinged on experience,” Glanville said. “Experience in this context, it’s sort of a lazy, throwaway word to say why you're not granting an opportunity to somebody.”
After the Selig Rule, Glanville said that the sudden surge of managerial hirings that did not require experience at all felt insulting to candidates of Color, who had been told that working for several years at lower levels and in lesser positions of the sport was the foundation of success.
“Experience is whatever you decide it to be when you’re in power,” Glanville said. “I think that the insulting component was [the] decades that certain people were not getting the opportunities because of ‘experience,’ then there was a wave of hiring that required zero experience, like none, and none of the beneficiaries of that wave were Black.”
Glanville remembers what he felt like after the 2015 hiring of Dan Jennings, the Miami Marlins 54-year-old general manager, whose only coaching experience was with a high school team in the 80s.
“It’s hard to underestimate what that felt like because it wasn’t that I was trying to be a manager, but I'm watching this [happen],” said Glanville.
“People did what they were supposed to do, they got the experience, they’ve been around the game a long time, but they’re not getting the opportunities in the same way.”
Adrian Burgos Jr., a historian of Latino studies and baseball at the University of Illinois, brought up the story of Milwaukee Braves shortstop Alvin Dark, a White player who was traded to the San Francisco Giants at the end of the 1960 season. Dark was not acquired to become the Giants’ new shortstop, but rather to be the team’s manager, immediately signing a two-year contract.
“They made him the manager of the team, which was at that point the most diverse team of Black, Brown, and Latino players … with zero managerial experience,” Burgos Jr. said. “And looking at the data shows that not a single African-American individual, no matter how well liked, how beloved, [had] that kind of opportunity.”
The Analytics Factor
Over the last decade, advanced analytics have gained a strong toehold within baseball, and sparked a wave of Ivy League graduate hires that often come with that particular knowledge.
“People were browbeating these minority candidates for not having the experience, and then when they got the experience, it became something else,” Glanville said. “Analytics has kind of become that thing.”
Burgos Jr. pointed out that many of the younger, smarter front-office hires aren’t leading the charge to diversify baseball. After all, they are the ones doing the managerial hiring.
“In the last 20 years, who’s in the front office has changed in terms of the shift toward analytics, towards more Ivy League-graduating individuals, even younger than previously,” Burgos Jr said. “These young guys are not showing themselves to be any more willing to hire African-American managers, Some have shown themselves to be willing to hire Latino managers. … But I would say the record is still out on the analytics generation.”
Granderson echoed Glanville, saying that the meaning of “qualified” in baseball has evolved to signify the ability to use analytics.
“If you don’t know the numbers, then you’re not even going to get an interview … or you’re not going to be one of our final candidates,” Granderson said. “So [that] moved some players and coaches out of the pile. … Front offices are changing that way and they value statistical numbers and analytics so much that you have to at least speak the language to get in the door.”
Granderson said some candidates have expressed worry about their lack of analytics savvy when going into interviews and that some candidates may begin using interview tutorials in order to gather cursory knowledge before interviewing for managerial and coaching positions.
“I remember coaches going, ‘I’m being interviewed, but I don’t know this stuff. I know how to get players to hit … but … these numbers and this percentage and that, I don’t know that stuff right now,’” Granderson said.
Searching for Patterns
In September 2014, Ron Washington, one of the few Black managers in MLB across a seven-year stint with the Rangers, announced his resignation, citing personal issues. Washington had been the focus of several off-field incidents related to substance abuse and infidelity while managing the Rangers, and was taking time to be with his family.
In 2016, Washington was a finalist to manage the Atlanta Braves in a hiring process that ultimately ended with the Braves hiring their interim manager Brian Snitker full time. Washington was hired as the team’s third base coach.
“I've heard that there’s been more talks about him possibly getting a chance,” said Granderson of Washington, who was reportedly interviewed by the Chicago White Sox before they hired Pedro Grifol.
“Yes, he had some off-the-field stuff, but his off-the-field stuff shouldn’t trump some of the on-field issues that certain managers had that required suspensions and firings,” said Granderson.
Granderson noticed a pattern among the job prospects for dismissed managers of Color.
“You'll see it’s not record-wise, because you’ll see other managers with bad records get another managerial job. It’s not experience, because you’ll see someone that had a similar amount of experience get another managerial job,” said Granderson. “To echo the point, it's not off-field issues, [because] you’ll see managers who have had scandals and issues get another managerial job that are not Black.”
When discussing managerial firings and circuitous careers, nobody comes up more often than Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker.
Baker had an 18-year playing career before he became a manager. He managed four teams from 1993-2017, all of whom either declined to renew his managerial contract or fired him.
Baker took three of those teams to the playoffs eight times in total before topping off his legendary career by winning the World Series in 2022. His lengthy list of managerial accomplishments includes being the first Black manager to win 2,000 games.
“Dusty Baker is the prime example of [prejudicial firing], [almost] everywhere he’s gone, he’s won … yet he’s been fired three or four times,” Granderson said. “Not only is he getting fired after a winning season, he’s getting fired after his team makes the playoffs, and you go, ‘All right, what’s going on there? No one’s saying ‘he’s a bad communicator, he’s bad with the players, I didn’t like him.’”
Burgos Jr. remembered Baker being asked his thoughts about the post-scandal Houston Astros, who called him in 2020 to offer him the vacant managerial job. It had been three years since he was fired by the Washington Nationals, and Baker responded that he was happy anyone called.
“And there you have the person with the longest resumé of African-American prospects for being hired,” Burgos Jr. said.
Managerial candidates of Color are often offered particularly difficult positions compared to White candidates, according to Glanville.
“Dusty Baker talked about it … a while back about how you get these bad jobs,” Glanville said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get teams [that were] like 80 games out the year before.’ You’re the turn-around guy, you’re cleaning up the Astros, one of the worst scandals in 100 years [of] baseball, that’s the job you’re getting.”
Burgos Jr. noted that managers of Color are typically hired at an older age than their White colleagues. Baker was 44 years old when he was first hired as a manager in 1993, seven years after retiring.
“Even the youngest manager of Color is older than the youngest White manager,” Burgos Jr. said. “Which means that the opportunity to learn on the job and then later get rehired [is lower], which is another thing that African-American and Latino candidates talk about, even if you get the first job, [will] you get a second opportunity?”
While Glanville has no interest in becoming a manager, he pointed out that certain hiring opportunities don’t often present themselves to Black candidates the same way they do White candidates.
“It would be a big moment if, like, Doug Glanville [is] sitting at his desk right now, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, some highly resourced team that wins just about every year … call and are like ‘We’re going to give you the managerial job,’” Glanville said. “Those are the kind of out of left field situations that have happened, and I don’t think they’ve happened very often to a Black manager, if at all.”
The Catcher Pipeline
According to data from the Society of American Baseball Research from 1901-1981, nearly 22% of players who went on to manage after their playing career were catchers.
Between 1995-2021, 40% of managers hired who had been catchers were White. Only 16% hired were managers of Color. None of them were Black, and there are currently no active Black catchers in the sport today.
“Catching is a leadership position,” Glanville explained. “When you start to see no representation at the position, it can racialize very quickly.”
Catchers are seen as the backbone of a baseball team. They work with pitchers on the mound to call pitches, they’re responsible for holding runners on base, and often move on to become managers because of their in-depth knowledge of how to control the game.
Glanville said Black athletes are not getting enough opportunities to become skilled catchers during their careers because they’re often told that they’re too fast, too athletic, or too valuable to be in a position that is considered extremely taxing on the body.
‘re not getting the opportunity to lead, or there’s already the perception that you can’t lead, or that you shouldn’t lead, that stops that opportunity because now you’re only in the outfield or at first base,” Glanville said. “So you have to look at positions as job opportunities beyond the game.”
Glanville observed that in 2018, one-third of team managers had been catchers during their career.
During his playing days, Granderson remembered hearing conversations about how certain players would make great managers after their careers ended, and most often, those players were catchers.
“It was said so frequently that I never gave it any thought, I was just wondering why they [would] say that,” Granderson said. “Then you sit back and think, well the catcher [is] probably sitting closest to the pitching coach, bench coach, manager for a majority of the game, but I never gave it any thought outside of that world.”
Granderson said that during his high school and college years, he would ask to catch, but was often eschewed for many of the same reasons Glanville explained: He was too fast, too athletic to catch, and coaches didn’t want the wear on his knees.
“So, a lot of times it goes ‘Well, you're too athletic to be restricted to just catching, so we’re going to put you in a more athletic position’ – still a position of control in terms of commanding the team, but not behind the plate,” Granderson said. “So if for some reason that seems to be the recipe for who falls into managerial candidates — catchers — well then yeah, we’re going to be underrepresented there.”
Baseball’s last Black catcher, Charles Johnson, retired in 2005 after playing 12 seasons for six teams. During that time, Johnson was a two-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, a World Series champion, and is considered to be one of the game’s greatest defensive catchers, holding the 16th-best fielding percentage of all time at the position. But as Burgos Jr. pointed out, Johnson never became a manager.
“No organization said, ‘Hey, Charles, we understand your career is coming to a close, but you had a rocket arm, you’re a great defensive catcher, you’re a leader for the Marlins, have you thought about managing?’” Burgos Jr. said.
Granderson added that often, there is a perception that catchers must begin crafting their skill at the beginning of their career in order to be successful at the position.
“If this player has started playing at the age of 6, and now they’re 21 … you’re now looking at 15-plus years where I was not in that position,” Granderson said. “If you were to compare the player who’s never caught to the player who’s caught and say, ‘OK, we’re thinking about switching some things up,’ there might be just a lack of experience.”
But with a bit of repetition, Granderson believes that players can succeed as catchers later in their careers.
“The one thing about athletes in general, especially baseball players, [they’re] very adaptable,” Granderson said. “If we don’t know something … we’ll figure it out, and we’ll be successful at figuring it out because of our competitive nature.”
From the Dugout to the Studio
Granderson noted that many players of Color may no longer see managing as the highly sought-after post-playing career that it once was, with pay for these positions often aligning with the amount of previous experience you bring to the role.
“If you look at who was managing or getting a coaching job, it was a player who had a solid career, but may not have been a superstar, highest paid player,” Granderson said of the early-2000s hiring data. “So to jump into a role that financially was going to pay managerial salary, whatever the number is, seven figures … was very valuable to that individual.”
Granderson explained that a lot of the newly hired managers with little-to-no experience often don’t make more than league minimum, around $700,000. While that is still a solid income, it is a considerable downtick for a former player who might have made hundreds of millions in their playing career. And word gets around about salaries, meaning players can sense if they’re being underpaid.
Another post-playing career that former players of Color pursue is the baseball analyst role, a route both Glanville and Granderson took after retirement.
“I think part of what we’re seeing is that the number of African-Americans who potentially could become managers are… given their awareness [that the] likelihood of achieving that goal is diminishing, perhaps [put] their efforts elsewhere,” Burgos Jr. said. “As an African-American, if you’re young, smart, your MLB career is ending at 32, they’re going into broadcasting, they’ll go be an analyst.”
Glanville explained that the volatility of being a manager doesn’t just put your livelihood at risk, it also affects your family.
“It's one thing to go to the field and talk to players,” Glanville said of his job in media. “It’s another thing to go to field, set a lineup and know that if you start off 20-30, your family that you've just moved to wherever is also now impacted.”
“It’s a rough life to be on the road like that, pretty much just getting hired to be fired.”
Glanville pointed out that lacking diversity, whether in the front office or on the field, can hurt everyone.
“If you don’t have representation at all levels, you’re missing out on not just diversity, because you’re doing color by numbers, but diversity of thought,” Glanville said. “You’re [not] in a room where you’re getting expanded ideas on things.”
Glanville may not have chosen to pursue a managerial career, but has drawn attention to racial disparities in baseball through his writing, and continues to advocate for change through his work.
“The heart of why I say, write, and take on what I do, [is] because I want the game to continue to open its arms wider and embrace more and more people,” said Glanville. “When [baseball] falls short or when it’s getting in its own way … I think that I can at least try to tap some of my experiences and open up more dialog and conversations about it.”