After watching the World Baseball Classic for nearly three weeks, we couldn’t help but make an observation about the spectators. The noise of an authentically engaged crowd as fans drummed, chanted or serenaded their teams reverberated through ballparks, and it compared quite favorably to the piped-in music and video scoreboards with their cookie-cutter urges to “clap, clap, clap your hands” found at Major League Baseball stadiums during the regular season.
Even peering into the dugouts to see who ran these elite national squads left a distinct and refreshing impression. Whereas the 2017 season opened this week with only one Latino manager – Mexican-American Rick Rentería of the Chicago White Sox – Latin Americans directed seven WBC teams: Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
And if you looked more carefully into the dugouts, you saw even more Latinos serving as bench coaches and in other coaching roles, in numbers much greater than typically seen on a major-league staff, many of whom also aspire to manage in the bigs one day.
An impossible dream
Sadly, for Latinos up to now that’s been close to impossible. Cuban Miguel Ángel González, a catcher and first baseman for 17 seasons before becoming a coach, was the first Latino dirigente in MLB history, getting the chance twice on an interim basis, in 1938 and 1940, when the St. Louis Cardinals fired their manager in-season.
Since then, over a span of nearly eight decades, only 16 other Latinos have managed in the major leagues.
And of these 17 Latino managers, only 11 were hired out of team searches. The other six served as interim managers without getting a chance to stay on permanently.
Given the long legacy of baseball in Latin America and the large number of Latinos in the majors today, these totals are simply distressing, if not damning. That’s 17 men out of the 699 who have served as managers in MLB history, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
González won 14 pennants in Cuba as a manager and was inducted into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame. But he was never offered a permanent position in the majors and finished with a career record of 9-13. Every Latino manager that followed him was also an interim until 1968, when the expansion San Diego Padres named another Cuban, Preston Gómez, the first full-time Latino pilot.
Gómez went 180-316 in four seasons with the Padres and later managed the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs. Given a second and third chance, Gómez would prove more the exception than the rule when it came to Latino managers.
A long wait
Nearly 20 years elapsed before the next Latino would be hired full-time. In 1992, the Montreal Expos promoted Felipe Aloú, a pioneering outfielder from the Dominican Republic who persevered for nearly two decades as a minor-league coach before returning to the big leagues to manage.
Aloú enjoyed the longest run of any Latino manager while north of the border. He piloted the Expos from 1992 through 2001, going 691-717, and was voted the National League Manager of the Year in the strike-shortened 1994 season. Aloú had an even better stretch with the San Francisco Giants, finishing first in the West Division in 2003 and compiling a 342-304 record over four seasons.
And then there was the brash Venezuelan, Oswaldo “Ozzie” Guillén, who cajoled the 2005 Chicago White Sox to a World Series championship. Guillén did well during most of his eight seasons with the White Sox, finishing in first place twice and in second place twice with an overall 678-617 record. His brief tenure afterward with the Miami Marlins proved much less successful and more turbulent, but like Aloú and Gómez before him, at least he received a second chance.
Today, there is absolutely no shortage of Latinos looking for a chance to manage, starting with former player Dave Martínez, born in Brooklyn to Puerto Rican parents. He has been at Joe Maddon’s side for a decade, first in Tampa and now with the Cubs. Not too many miles away is another Puerto Rican, Sandy Alomar Jr., a stellar catcher in his day who is the first-base coach for the Cleveland Indians and who has served as an interim manager.
Yet the bilingual Rentería is the first Latino hired since 2013, when the Cubs gave him the job, only to release him unceremoniously a year later when Maddon became available.
The ironies of the Selig Rule
In 1999, MLB instituted the Selig Rule, named after then-commissioner Bud Selig. The rule required teams to interview minority candidates for open manager positions, as well as for GM and other front office positions. But unlike the Rooney Rule in the National Football League, it didn’t include sanctions, such as fines. The lack of accountability has seemingly left Martínez, Alomar and the rest stalled in their managerial ambitions.
Interestingly, in the first five seasons of the Selig Rule, five Latinos were hired as managers. But teams have since learned how to ignore the spirit of the law – chiefly, by hiring a special assistant to the owner or general manager and then later naming that person the manager. It effectively skirted the rule, since internal hires do not require a formal search or an interview of minority candidates. Each manager hired through this practice has invariably been white, such as Paul Molitor (Minnesota Twins) and Craig Counsell (Milwaukee Brewers).
After watching the WBC, you can’t help but wonder why major-league front offices do not take fuller advantage of the off-field talent that Latinos displayed. Edwin Rodríguez, the first Puerto Rican to manage in the majors when he piloted the Marlins for parts of 2010 and 2011, took #LosNuestros back to the WBC final for the second straight time, handling with aplomb a blend of flashy young talent and veteran stars while following guidelines set by MLB clubs for their pitchers.
Tony Peña, the 2003 American League Manager of the Year with Kansas City and a coach with the New York Yankees since 2006, should not have to prove anything to anyone. He has now guided the Dominican Republic to the semifinals in consecutive appearances and the WBC championship in 2013, handling postgame press conferences and questions about #PlantanoPower with ease in English and Spanish.
Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, the first player from the former Netherlands Antilles to make it to the major leagues, has managed the Netherlands to two straight WBC semifinals. The hitting coach of the San Francisco Giants and part of three World Series championship teams under the tutelage of manager Bruce Bochy, you would think that he’s ready for the next step.
Often interviewed, rarely hired. Unfortunately, that seems to be the pattern. But the good news is a new generation is forging ahead, demanding to be given a chance. Venezuela’s Omar Vizquel, one of the best shortstops of his era, managed for the first time at the WBC, taking his country to the second round. A coach with the Detroit Tigers, he took the post not because it was an easy job after ending his playing career, but because he is determined to reach the next level in his baseball life.
“It’s something I want to do, not something I might want to do, and I’m preparing for it,” Vizquel told reporters in advance of the WBC, adding to MLB.com columnist Barry Bloom, “I think that I’m ready to take a major-league team and guide it to a championship. It’s something that I’ve been working for ever since I retired. I’ve been learning from the best. The Detroit Tigers have some great people.”
Is any team out there listening?
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