At a time when Major League Baseball’s ongoing problems with diversity and inclusion are regularly examined, a great thing happened last week that gave them a much needed boost in that area. Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker became just the 12th manager in league history and the first Black one to reach the coveted 2,000 win mark as the Astros defeated the Seattle Mariners 4-0.
Only one of the previous 11 managers to reach that milestone hasn’t been voted into the Hall of Fame, and that’s because Brcce Bochy, who retired in 2019, is still years away from being eligible. Once he is, it’s only a formality that he’ll be voted into the Hall. Yet interestingly, Baker is only three wins away from tying Bochy and just eight from the number 10 spot. He has an excellent shot at ending the year in ninth place with 2,040 wins.
Baker also had a distinguished playing career, lasting 19 years as an everyday player. He was on a world championship team as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he looks back with more pride on the years he was in the outfield of the Atlanta Braves along with the great Hank Aaron. Aaron was a mentor and idol to Baker, and he credits Aaron with helping him learn what it took to succeed at the big league level.
Baker has won three Manager of the Year awards. He’s won division titles with five different teams. He remains aware of MLB’s less than stellar record regarding Black hiring, and he cites those who came before as evidence that Blacks can succeed as managers if only given the opportunity.
“My dad, Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson, Cito Gaston – the guys who were minority managers ahead of me,” Baker said when asked who were influences on him as he began managing in 1992. At 72, the truly sad news is that when he began managing at that time MLB had hired only six Blacks as managers in the sport’s history.
This season there are just TWO Black managers in MLB, Dave Roberts of the Dodgers and Baker. Black participation in the game is at 7.8 percent, roughly half of what it was back in the ‘70s.The sport continues trying all sorts of things to attract more Black players and fans, but these efforts don’t always bear fruit.
One new thing that they’ve introduced this season concerns partnerships with HBCUs that have baseball teams. Former big league outfield Curtis Granderson talked last week during a nationally televised game about his organization’s efforts at identifying potential big league talent in high schools and convincing them to attend college.
None of this is a new conversation. The sport needs to market young stars period, regardless of background, and they also need to have a presence in HBCUs and urban schools and communities. Black involvement in Little League isn’t exactly at high levels, while the new travel ball phenomenon of players going around the country during the spring and summer playing organized events is a costly process.
Meanwhile Baker, while aware of his status and keenly interested in getting more Blacks in baseball, realizes that his job depends ultimately on wins and losses. The one goal that has eluded Baker throughout his career is winning a World Series title. He’s aware of his importance as a symbol of Black achievement and stature, but he also has other goals in mind.
“It (being the first Black manager to win 2,000 games) means extra to the culture. It means extra to society. It means extra to my race, and it means extra hopefully for others to get an opportunity (so) I’m not the last.”
But, he concluded, “I’ve got work to do.”