MLB Is More Latin American Than Ever, So Why Is There Only One Latino Manager?

Rick Renteria of the Chicago White Sox during the Natinal Anthem before the opening day game against the Detroit Tigers on April 4, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With the MLB playoffs nearing the climax of the World Series, here are some disheartening facts: these playoffs mark the 4th year since a Latino manager appeared in the postseason;that was in 2013 with Fredi González leading to Atlanta Braves. When the Braves fired González a month-and-a-half into the 2016 season, the league had no Latino managers for the first time since 1991. After the 2016 season, the Chicago White Sox hired Rick Renteria, a Mexican-American, who became–and remains–the only Latino manager in baseball.

Since 2010, Renteria and González are the only two Latino managers hired by MLB teams. This is even more jarring when considering that, since 2010, at no time did the percentage of Latino players fall below 27% of baseball rosters. Since then, that percentage has even increased, with Latinos currently making up nearly 32 percent of the league’s players—an all-time high. But while more Latinos are playing in MLB than ever before, managerial positions aren’t available to them at the same rate.

Fredi González as manager of the Atlanta Braves in 2014. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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To further put the lack of Latino baseball managers in perspective, consider that the NBA and NFL—which along with MLB make up the 3 major United States sport leagues—each have the same number of Latino head coaches as baseball; Earl Watson and Ron Rivera, respectively. By comparison (based on the latest available statistics from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport who study and grade each league on racial and gender diversity), Latinos made up only 4.9 percent of players during the 2016-2017 NBA season and just 0.8 percent of players during the 2016 NFL season. Again, because it’s worth repeating, the MLB’s player workforce is over 30 percent Latino—over 6 times as many in the NBA and close to 40 times as many in the NFL. And yet, MLB only has one manager, like those two leagues.

Since the first professional baseball league game in 1871, there have only been 17 Latino managers in the United States. That’s 146 years of baseball and nearly 700 managers of which, only 17 have been Latino. It gets even worse when you dive in and consider that, of these 17, 6 of them–over a third–were only hired as interim managers—place-holders until they interviewed and hired someone else. For close to a century and a half, there’s only been 11 Latinos hired as full-time MLB managers.

Since the first professional baseball league game in 1871, there have only been 17 Latino managers in the United States.

The first Latino manager was Cuban-born Miguel Angel González who, in keeping with having to deny part of your heritage to play professionally, went by Mike González. With 16 games left in the 1938 season, the St. Louis Cardinals made González their interim manager. When the team hired a full-time manager the following season, González returned to his coaching duties at third base. In 1940, the Cardinals again made González their interim manager, this time, for the last 6 games. González’s MLB managing career—if you can call it that—culminated with a record of 9 wins against 13 losses. Despite the losing record, it wasn’t that González lacked the intelligence necessary to manage the nuances of the game. After coaching in the MLB, he returned to his home country and managed Habana to 13 Cuban League titles. The Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame enshrined González in 1955—clearly, the problem wasn’t that he couldn’t manage. The problem was, as it remains today for other potential Latino managers, the lack of opportunity.

For nearly 3 decades after Mike González, every Latino who headed a baseball team was an interim manager–that is, until 1969 when an MLB team hired its first full-time Latino manager: Preston Gómez, also from Cuba, took the reins of the San Diego Padres that year. After Gómez, close to 2 decades passed before the Montreal Expos gave another Latino, the Dominican Felipe Alou, an opportunity to manage full-time. Alou and Lou Piniella–who is of Cuban descent–are the two Latino managers who’ve had the most long-term success. They’ve each managed several teams, won Manager of the Year awards, and Piniella managed the Cincinnati Reds to a World Series title in 1990.

Lou Pinella as manager of the Chicago Cubs in 2008. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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Venezuelan controversy magnet Ozzie Guillén has been the most successful Latino manager in recent memory, winning the World Series with the 2005 Chicago White Sox. In 2012, after managing the Florida Marlins for one season, the team fired Guillén. It didn’t help that, besides finishing in last-place during a year with high expectations, Guillén alienated many among the Miami fan base after making pro-Fidel Castro comments. Since then, Guillén has expressed his desire to return to the MLB, but as that opportunity has yet to present itself, he spent last season managing in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League. He, like so many other qualified Latino managing candidates, wait for an opportunity.

MLB recognizes its lack of diversity problem within its managerial positions and in baseball operations, as a whole. An earlier attempt to fix this problem produced the Selig Rule in 1999, which required teams to consider minorities “for all general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development and director of scouting positions.” But with no consequences for those that didn’t comply, the rule’s become useless as teams have increasingly  skirted the spirit of the rule.

Ozzie Guillen as manager of the Chicago White Sox in 2011. Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr
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Still, attempting to address their problem, MLB recently launched its Diversity Fellowship Program to expand the talent pool for entry-level roles within baseball teams and in the league’s Central Office—positions historically held by white men. “The fellowship is specific to creating a career in baseball [operations] for people of color and women who historically have been underrepresented in this space,” says Renée Tirado, Vice President of Talent Acquisition & Head of MLB’s Diversity & Inclusion department.

“The idea is to create a pool of young talent,” Tirado explained, “that can continue to cultivate and develop and also help establish their brand within the industry and front offices. So when future opportunities open up for senior roles such as directors of scouting, [assistant general managers, general managers], and presidents of organizations, there is a pool of diverse talent that have some pedigree and history with MLB…that’ll be strongly eligible to lead next generation of baseball.”

Baseball’s history and aura as the country’s national pastime makes Tirado’s proposed goals that much more remarkable, even daunting.

Related to on-field Latino managers, Tirado noted that while the Diversity Fellowship Program will, ideally, diversify the leadership so that there’s different perspectives “on what talent looks like,” MLB also intends to create a dedicated program focusing on on-the-field roles. “This is 1.0 of what we’re doing and it started with these front office, baseball [operations] roles,” explains Tirado. “We are more than sensitive to the other component of this and on-the-field has to be a little bit of a different model. We’re in the early stages of developing that.” Baseball’s history and aura as the country’s national pastime, and how protective some are of all it’s supposed to symbolize, makes Tirado’s proposed goals that much more remarkable, even daunting.

With the complete backing of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and all 30 teams supportive of the fellowship, she’s confident a greater diversity will come to baseball—including Latino managers. “We are well on our way to shifting what baseball starts to look like,” Tirado optimistically stated. “But not at the sacrifice of talent or skill, at the end of the day we are always going to look for the best and the brightest.”

With the fellowship program placing top candidates at entry-level positions, change should become visibly clearer at a long-term level. In the immediate, with the offseason a few weeks away and multiple managing opportunities available, up to five and maybe more, it’ll be interesting to see if any other Latinos join Renteria. If not, we’ll just get further evidence for why the Diversity Fellowship Program is necessary, as we’re forced to wait to see manager demographics that are representative of those playing the game.