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Driving Toward Diversity


Baseball has a problem. It's not new, and it's not a secret. Lacking diversity throughout the game manifests in numerous ways, but the underrepresentation of African-Americans is a plainly evident one.

 

In their continuing efforts to acknowledge and address this issue, the Minnesota Twins held their first Front Office Diversity Roundtable via Zoom on Tuesday night.A few years back, Jay Caspian Kang wrote about the "unbearable whiteness of baseball" for New York Times Magazine, noting among other things that just over 8% of major-league players were Black at the time. That number has since dropped even further – in 2019, Black players comprised just 7.7% of MLB rosters.

 

This troubling disparity is reflected in the managerial ranks (there are only two African-American managers in MLB) and especially in front office leadership (there have been five African-American general managers in baseball history).

 

It's no coincidence, then, that the disparity also reflects in the sport's audience – a 2014 study found that 9% of pro baseball's television viewership was Black, compared to 83% white.

 

Why is baseball failing to resonate with, recruit, and elevate African-Americans? It's a complicated and largely theoretical question that I won't delve into here. What's important now is to alter this imbalance, and bring more racial equality to the game's demographics.

 

The simplest step in that direction is to highlight Black people currently succeeding in professional baseball roles, let them share their stories, and encourage others to follow in their footsteps. On Tuesday, the Twins did just that.

 

Noah Croom, General Counsel & Partner for Beautiful Game LLC, curated a panel that featured four members of Minnesota's front office operation:

  • Sean Johnson - Director, Amateur Scouting
  • Deron Johnson - Senior Advisor, Scouting
  • Navery Moore - Fellow, Pro Scouting
  • Josh Ruffin - Analyst in Advanced Scouting
Twins general manager Thad Levine kicked off the discussion with a firm statement before going off-screen to follow as a viewer: "It is our belief that the hiring practice of Major League Baseball and the Minnesota Twins has been flawed." He cited complacency as a primary cause, hinting at a similar sentiment to the one shared recently by a fellow white male executive, Theo Epstein of the Chicago Cubs.

 

"I've hired a Black scouting director, [and] farm director in the past, but the majority of people that I've hired, if I'm being honest, have similar backgrounds as me and look a lot like me," Epstein said on a conference call last month. "That's something I need to ask myself why. I need to question my own assumptions, my own attitudes. I need to find a way to be better."

 

The Twins have their own ignominious history on this front. Former owner Calvin Griffith, who brought the team to Minnesota in the 1960s, made horribly racist remarks in 1978 that have echoed through the decades. The Twins are one of only three MLB teams that has never hired a minority to be a manager or general manager. During a conversation earlier this summer with The Athletic, Torii Hunter shared a story about an unnamed member of the Twins organization calling players the n-word.

 

But history is just that. As we turn focus to the present, the organization's commitment to condemning racism and promoting equality is now on the leading edge, and I personally couldn't be prouder. The person referenced by Hunter was promptly jettisoned by Derek Falvey. The statue for Calvin Griffith that once stood outside Target Field has come down. The Pohlad family committed $25 million to racial justice causes in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder.

 

And while I can't speak to the relative prevalence of Black employees in Minnesota's front office, I can say that four very bright ones stepped up during the diversity roundtable to speak thoughtfully about this critical subject. Panelists answered questions from Croom on a variety of topics, ranging from their paths to their current positions, to the value of mentorship, to the reasons for a lack of Black athletes entering the sport, and much more.

 

In efforts to create more interest and opportunity for underrepresented minorities, the Twins announced they have launched a Diversity Mentorship Program, through which individuals from these groups can engage Twins employees during office hours for career advice, project feedback, résumé tips and more. Signing up is easy; just click on the link and fill out a quick form.

 

At one point in the roundtable, Croom asked whether panelists felt that the Floyd tragedy, and the resulting rise in awareness and attention directed toward systemic racism throughout our society, might serve as a tipping point as baseball seeks to turn around its age-old problem.

 

Deron Johnson admitted that it's hard to judge at this moment, due to widespread hiring freezes stemming from the pandemic, but expressed genuine optimism.

 

“This is a time where people can get into the game, or at least get their names out there. I do believe that.”

 

Sean Johnson, who credited Deron (not related) as a mentor that helped pave his way, followed by voicing agreement. "Hopefully this is the moment we need to put us in a place where we put an end to all this stuff."

 

Amen, Sean.

 

(During the event, the Twins announced an upcoming second installment of the Front Office Diversity Roundtable series, which will feature women in the organization. Stay tuned for details, as we'll be sure to share them here.)

 

A WORD FROM TWINS DAILY

Diversity and inclusion have been weighing heavily on our minds here lately, with many ownership discussions taking place. Twins Daily is run by five white men, and it's not lost on us that an overwhelming majority of our site's writers and readers fall into the same category. While this can be partially attributed to the aforementioned overall demographics of baseball, to crutch on that as an excuse is a cop-out. We know it. We're not running away from it.

 

Bringing more diversity to our site's community will be an emphatic focus going forward. When more voices, viewpoints, and backgrounds are represented, we all benefit. I can't say at this moment what exactly our efforts will look like, but one simple thing you can expect is a lessened tolerance for any language deemed hateful, intolerant, or non-inclusive – even if it might be presented in an ostensibly "respectful" manner. Our commitment to letting everyone speak their minds remains firm, but it is of the utmost importance to us that everyone who arrives at Twins Daily feels comfortable and welcome.

 

We expect every single one of you to hold us accountable and help us along the way on this path forward to a better Minnesota.

 

Thank you as always for visiting, engaging, and supporting. We can't wait to enjoy this wild and wacky 2020 season with all of you, and hopefully plenty of newcomers to the community.

 

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Big fan of diversity but I'm a bigger fan of hiring the best person for the job. Skin color shouldn't be a factor.

The entire point of this article is that skin color, whether we want to admit it or not, *is* a factor. How else could you explain the Twins (and baseball) having so few front office BIPOC executives?

 

And that's something we need to actively work to change.

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13% of Americans are black and half of them are women and 100% of women are not on a baseball roster. So, yeah, roughly 8% is an accurate representation to the American population.

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Those moments when you realize you're math is off... minus 50% is still going to give roughly 13% of the player population... I swear, math has never been my strongest subject.

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13% of Americans are Black

If this is to be used as a benchmark, then only the percentage of American-born players who are Black should be considered. For one thing, there are more Asian players in MLB now than 20 years ago. Even considering this, however, could lower the percentage because many players from Latin America are Black.

Another factor that I think should be considered is the percentage of Black American-born players in the NBA and the NFL. What is the percentage of American-born Black players in all three sports as a whole? I'm going to guess (and it's only a guess) that this will point to an issue that Black American athletes are choosing football and basketball over baseball.

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"I'm going to guess (and it's only a guess) that this will point to an issue that Black American athletes are choosing football and basketball over baseball." - THIS!  Why not dig into that instead of blaming the whites and other non-blacks in baseball?  Baseball is the most diverse of the major sports, especially among the players.  "Diversity" does NOT equal "black", it means ALL.  Why the influx of Asians and Latinos in the game is never included boggles my mind.  

 

Also, why is Mr. Falvey talking about the Twins' failings in hiring?  Who will really say that Rocco Baldelli is not the right man to manage the team with his record so far?  Is he not the right person only because of his skin color?  

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Those moments when you realize you're math is off... minus 50% is still going to give roughly 13% of the player population... I swear, math has never been my strongest subject.

Half of the white population is also female, hence your math is off.

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The issue of front office makeups and player populations are two different issues. The barriers are far different. Front offices are about who is given opportunity. Player percentages is about the talent flowing into baseball. That is a completely different set of circumstances. 

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Big fan of diversity but I'm a bigger fan of hiring the best person for the job. Skin color shouldn't be a factor.

This is a good bumper sticker, but it's mostly naive about how humans and biases work. Throughout sports there is significant under representation of minorities in leadership positions. Coaches, administrators, front office, and any other example you want to give. Professional or Ammy. This isn't unique to baseball (or even sports) but is a real thing. The sentiment you express would be a great one to have in some utopia in which people truly did hire the best person for the job, but in reality that isn't the case for a number of reasons.

 

The best, maybe only, solution to that problem is to call attention to it so people are consciously aware of their biases and we can start to change that reality.

 

It's especially important for a sport that has an ever diminishing player base of black players and fans. Baseball hides behind profit margins to ignore deep systemic problems that are threatening to push it into a niche category while most of the 50 year old white dudes who make up their average fan are still alive to see it. Calling attention to these issues, no matter how unpopular with utopian thinkers, is necessary.

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I'm so glad the Twins organized this panel discussion. I think the lack of diversity in front (and back) office positions is the most glaring discrepancy, as Epstein of the Cubs said.

 

Appeal to the prominence of Black payers in other pro sports doesn't really address the issue. In the NFL, where a large number of players are Black, front and back office personnel are overwhelmingly not.

 

Was the panel discussion recorded so that it's available to be watched by those of us who couldn't follow it live?

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Normally I would not read stuff like this, but since it is opening day kinda I will. So what if 83% of the fans watching baseball are white? Everyone is being put in a "category" in the past 2 months and it's getting old. Hiring any person simply based on their race is insulting. If I apply for a job I don't want to feel like I was hired to fill a category. Best qualified gets the job. Twins execs are not winning any fans by their pandering. Just my opinion and everyone still gets to have one in America.

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THIS!  Why not dig into that instead of blaming the whites and other non-blacks in baseball?  Baseball is the most diverse of the major sports, especially among the players.  "Diversity" does NOT equal "black", it means ALL.  Why the influx of Asians and Latinos in the game is never included boggles my mind.  

Lance, I thought this was very obvious but apparently not: the panel was about bringing more Black diversity to baseball, specifically. And there's also a much larger conversation going on in our country about Black inequality, stemming from events that took place in our own city. So that's what we're talking about. Make sense?

 

 

Also, why is Mr. Falvey talking about the Twins' failings in hiring?  Who will really say that Rocco Baldelli is not the right man to manage the team with his record so far?  Is he not the right person only because of his skin color?  

First of all it was Levine, not Falvey. Second of all, that's a lazy strawman. The Twins have never in history hired a minority for a manager or GM role. MLB front offices in general are disproportionately white. This doesn't strike you as problematic? Even if white people do tend to be the best person applying for the job, why is that happening? How can we create more diversity in the qualified candidate pool? That's the topic here. There is zero need to get defensive about it. 

 

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Normally I would not read stuff like this, but since it is opening day kinda I will. So what if 83% of the fans watching baseball are white? Everyone is being put in a "category" in the past 2 months and it's getting old. 

Boy, if you think being categorized by race for a period of two months is getting old, you should talk to someone about the experience of being Black in America for their entire life. Might open your eyes.

 

I'm not trying to be snarky (ok maybe a little) but in all honesty please try to step outside of your own personal worldview and understand why this topic matters, and why the Twins are placing such a major focus on it. 

 

(To answer your question about why it matters that 85% of baseball fans are white ... changing this equation is critical to the game's future. Viewership is dropping and new fan pipelines are needed. America is becoming more diverse and baseball needs to follow suit if it is to maintain popularity long-term. Here's a good read.)

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"I'm going to guess (and it's only a guess) that this will point to an issue that Black American athletes are choosing football and basketball over baseball." - THIS!  Why not dig into that instead of blaming the whites and other non-blacks in baseball?  Baseball is the most diverse of the major sports, especially among the players.  "Diversity" does NOT equal "black", it means ALL.  Why the influx of Asians and Latinos in the game is never included boggles my mind.  

 

Also, why is Mr. Falvey talking about the Twins' failings in hiring?  Who will really say that Rocco Baldelli is not the right man to manage the team with his record so far?  Is he not the right person only because of his skin color?  

Let's reframe this conversation a little.

 

If Twins' leadership questioned their own baseball decisions in an attempt to improve the ballclub in literally any other way (scouting, prioritization of player type, front office structure, communication, development, et al), it's likely you would applaud their open mindedness and ability to challenge themselves to build a better Twins organization.

 

Yet you respond this way when they consider the very same problem in regards to race.

 

Why?

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I thought Derek Jeter's comment about him not being a good spokesperson for this issue because he was the "lightest Brother out there" was eye opening. Define Black. Where do you draw that line? And that line is getting fuzzier.

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Even though people in the baseball world dance around it, I have to think a genuinely easy way to get more people of all races/ethnicities excited about playing baseball is to actually pay minor leaguers. Take Kyler Murray for example. Was very highly thought of in both sports coming out of high school and college, but ended up choosing football. Why? You get your second contract MUCH quicker, and you don't have to play for basically peasant wages to slowly work your way up through the system.

 

The minors are a lot like unpaid internships. For those who can actually afford to take one and not have their life particularly disrupted by the fact that you're either being paid very little or not at all, it can open a lot of doors for you. But that's not always an option for a lot of people, and that can close a lot more doors than people think.

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Even though people in the baseball world dance around it, I have to think a genuinely easy way to get more people of all races/ethnicities excited about playing baseball is to actually pay minor leaguers. Take Kyler Murray for example. Was very highly thought of in both sports coming out of high school and college, but ended up choosing football. Why? You get your second contract MUCH quicker, and you don't have to play for basically peasant wages to slowly work your way up through the system.

 

The minors are a lot like unpaid internships. For those who can actually afford to take one and not have their life particularly disrupted by the fact that you're either being paid very little or not at all, it can open a lot of doors for you. But that's not always an option for a lot of people, and that can close a lot more doors than people think.

I cannot like this post enough. Fixing the minor league pay structure costs so little and fixes so many problems in one fell swoop.

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I would argue that baseball really needs to re-invest in the inner cities of this country as well as youth programs all over the country. The path to getting to the majors is much harder in professional baseball and its popularity with the youth continues to dive... that to me is a much larger problem but would also make headway here. 

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I would argue that baseball really needs to re-invest in the inner cities of this country as well as youth programs all over the country. The path to getting to the majors is much harder in professional baseball and its popularity with the youth continues to dive... that to me is a much larger problem but would also make headway here. 

Absolutely. The RBI program is a nice start but it's quite old now and doesn't appear to be effective. 

 

In their own best interest, MLB should be doubling down on those types of programs... but we all know how short-sighted MLB owners tend to be on pretty much everything.

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I would argue that baseball really needs to re-invest in the inner cities of this country as well as youth programs all over the country. The path to getting to the majors is much harder in professional baseball and its popularity with the youth continues to dive... that to me is a much larger problem but would also make headway here. 

Not taking a side, in In 2016, baseball spent approximately $30 million on youth development for underserved communities, according to league officials.

 

In March 2015, Manfred appointed former Angels general manager Tony Reagins, an African-American, as the league’s senior vice-president for youth programs.

 

In the past five drafts, 20.2% of the first-round picks were African-American. Five of those 34 selections (Marcus Stroman, Touki Toussaint, Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate and Justin Dunn) were pitchers. (from an article in 2017)

 

The Dream Series, established in 2017, is operated by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball. This event will host a diverse group of more than 60 high school pitchers and catchers from across the country, in a special development camp atmosphere as well as a showcase for professional scouts and collegiate recruiters.

 

If the Twins care about diversity (they sure seem to by the way they talk, create some new upper level postilions and hire BIPOC people for them, or fire some of the ones they have and hire new.

Not meant for you, but quit blaming the fans that have no say in who gets hired and put the blame where it belongs, I am pretty sure 99% of Twins fans don't care about the color of someone's skin who get hired, they only care about winning.

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The entire point of this article is that skin color, whether we want to admit it or not, *is* a factor. How else could you explain the Twins (and baseball) having so few front office BIPOC executives?

 

And that's something we need to actively work to change.

What is the percentage of BIPOC people that work at TD? Don't mean any offense just asking an honest question?

 

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Appeal to the prominence of Black payers in other pro sports doesn't really address the issue. In the NFL, where a large number of players are Black, front and back office personnel are overwhelmingly not.

Not sure where you are going with this (should the people in charge be the same percentage as players or society?)But this pdf shows the NFL

https://43530132-36e9-4f52-811a-182c7a91933b.filesusr.com/ugd/3844fb_1478b405e58e42608f1ed2223437d398.pdf

 

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 Here's a good read.)

 

 

Nick, I've been singing this very song on TD for quite a few years now. 

 

I've spent a life time working with demographics and the obvious conclusion is:  Baseball's current demo's are not sustainable for the long run, the sport will age out unless significant changes are made. 

 

The game needs to become more appealing to a wider demographic range for the future and it has to start ASAP.

 

They can start by eliminating of Grandpa's stoic unwritten rules, that are still enforced today. Let players express themselves and have FUN out there instead of getting a bean ball for a bat flip. This move alone will increase youth interest across the board. There are many things the sport can do to increase youth interest. 

 

Old Grandpa rules used to be that ex-ball players were the ones qualified for coaching and front office positions and if you are hiring ex-ball players, the actual demographics of ball players will play a role in your coaching and front office numbers in the years to follow.

 

However, the recent trend of Ivy league front offices have blown that old grandpa convention out of the water. Front office personnel who never played the game are all over the place now and if front office personnel who have never played the game are running things today and they are... Past and future baseball player demographics don't matter anymore. 

 

Meaning, we have qualified black candidates who can be hired today for advancement to the big chairs and there are qualified female candidates for the big chairs.

 

And let's not forget about the females. There is absolutely no reason why a female couldn't do what Dick Bremer does or what Derek Falvey does.

 

It is systemic. Baseball has a demographic problem because it has stubbornly clung to it's traditions and we have all read the history books to know what was happening when those traditions were set in stone. 

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