In the aftermath of the World Series, baseball’s most treasured event, there’s been a lot of negative chatter about how the good old boys continue to control the game and shut out minorities. Some of the editorial reporting has been downright toxic, comparing white franchise owners of behaving like former slave masters in the South, or the Spanish when they colonized the Caribbean.
Yeah, I get it, and it makes me angry too, especially in the case of brown and black Latinos. While over 30 percent of all major league players are of Hispanic descent, Fredi González of the Atlanta Braves is the only Latino who currently serves as a dugout boss. And there wasn’t a single African-American skipper employed at the conclusion of the 2015 season, although Dusty Baker was recently hired to manage the underachieving Washington Nationals. I suppose that’s a good sign, since Dusty is a blue-collar guy who speaks fluent Spanish.
There seems to be a trend in the broadcast business, however, that could help level the playing field in the future. While glued to the tube throughout the playoffs and Fall Classic, I noticed a lot of minority commentators in the spotlight. Harold Reynolds was a key fixture on Fox, along with Gary Sheffield, Doug Glanville, and Frank Thomas, otherwise known as the “Big Hurt.” Ironically, Baker was there too. On the Latino side, Pedro Martínez, Raúl Ibañez, Alex Cora, Carlos Pena, and even Alex Rodriguez were working the microphones. All these guys were making good money with these gigs, but more importantly, the exposure proved that athletes of color are knowledgeable and should be considered for management positions in the dugout or front office.
It’s well-documented that as the number of Hispanic players continues to rise in the major and minor leagues, so does the employment of Spanish-speaking coaches who are responsible for their development. These are not high-profile jobs, but offer decent pay and are extremely rewarding. Felipe Alou was the godfather of Latino managers, thanks to stints in Montreal and San Francisco. His son Moises had Hall of Fame-type numbers for 17 years in The Show. Moises, 49, currently works for the San Diego Padres as a senior instructor in the Dominican Republic, and it was rumored that he was the preferred candidate for the vacant Padres managerial position. But Alou wasn’t thrilled about the travel and potential dugout headaches, and noted that one-on-one teaching is what continues to excite him. He’s not alone. There are over 100 coaches like Alou working in the bowels of major league organizations, guiding kids who signed contracts in their mid-teens about baseball and life in general.
Dozens of other Latinos are working their way up the ladder as minor league managers. One of those men is my friend Carlos Subero, 43, who has piloted Single A and AA clubs for 15 years. This past season, Subero was in charge of the Biloxi Shuckers and led that team to the Southern League championship finals. What’s more, Carlos and his batting coach, Sandy Guerrero, have molded the career of Orlando Arcia, a shortstop and the top-ranked prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers system. In the major leagues, there are 23 Hispanic coaches on various staffs, and this is where the politics come to the forefront. Luis Oquendo of the St. Louis Cardinals is the longest-tenured third base coach in the game, and it pissed me off when he was passed over as a managerial candidate when Tony La Russa retired and moved on. Luis bleeds a cardinal shade of red and it just didn’t seem fair. But while St. Louis isn’t quite ready for a Latino at the helm, I see the door open in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I thought Rick Renteria got steamrolled by the Chicago Cubbies, but rumor has it that the former manager of Team Mexico will end up on the South side of the city with Robin Ventura and the White Sox.
Ozzie Guillén, who crashed and burned in Chicago and Miami, is probably right when he jokingly stated that he “screwed things up” for future opportunities regarding Latino managers. One former superstar with a squeaky-clean reputation, however, is Omar Vizquel, who played in the big leagues for four decades and will be a first ballot Cooperstown inductee. Vizquel, 48, is the first base and infield coach for the Detroit Tigers, and I believe the Venezuelan will take over the Tiger reigns when Brad Ausmus’ contract expires after next season. Manny Acta is a smart baseball man and people person who managed some bad teams in Washington and Cleveland. But the DR native has also done some television work recently, and his name is back in the hat with several organizations.
In the front office, Rubén Amaro, Jr. was the executive version of Guillén, and was dismissed after several rollercoaster years with the Philadelphia Phillies. That’s unfortunate, because when minorities get a unique opportunity and fail, especially as general manager, it tends to make it more difficult for the next guy to get a shot. People forget that Omar Minaya, a senior adviser with the Major League Players Association, was thought by many to be the chief architect of the Mets when he was in New York. As for the current generation who wear a suit and tie, Rolando Fernandez of the Colorado Rockies has been a mover and shaker in discovering Latino talent for 23 years. Only 48, Fernandez is loyal to a Rockies ownership group headed by Linda Alvarado, and is considered an inside candidate for a promotion.
Look, change comes slowly in a world dominated by white men (and women), and it’s no different in baseball than in any other enterprise. All I can tell you is that I have positive vibes about the future of Latinos in this sport, because we have already shaped the landscape on the field and behind the scenes. I have seen it with my own eyes. The financial clout of Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno and Alvarado with the Rockies have established strong roots, and don’t forget all those icons making waves on television. Be patient, amigos. Despite prior struggles, opportunity is in the wind.