Did the “Selig Rule” retire with its namesake?

Last week, in writing about my idea for teams to stop retiring numbers, I told the story of Jim Gilliam, the only non-Hall of Famer to have his number retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers. One of the aspects of Gilliam’s career that I mentioned was that he was a finalist for the job as Dodgers manager in 1976, a job that ultimately went to Tommy Lasorda.

A reader named Jake Holman commented on that article, saying:

Poor Jim Gilliam never had the slightest chance of becoming the Dodgers manager. The GM for the Dodgers from 1968-87 was Al Campanis, who was fired after remarking in an interview with Ted Koppel on ABC that blacks “lacked some of the necessities” to become a manager. (He also said that blacks were poor swimmers because they “weren’t buoyant enough”).

Gilliam was a man of great dignity, loyalty, and intelligence. Too bad he never got the opportunity to manage.

I don’t know what was in Al Campanis’s heart any more than Jake does. I do know that Campanis later said that the “necessities” he was referring to were related to experience level, not innate capabilities. I am inclined to give Campanis the benefit of the doubt, partly because the people who knew him best — including Dusty Baker, Manny Mota, and the widow of Roy Campanella — insisted that what he said did not accurately reflect him as a person. His track record as an outspokenly supportive teammate of Jackie Robinson and as an executive who signed Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente and Dodger legends Willie Davis and Tommy Davis, among others, carries more weight with me than one bad interview. (On the other hand, I have known plenty of kind, gentle old men whose views on minorities would probably get them fired if they were broadcast over national television.)

But whether Campanis meant what he said is mostly beside the point of this article, which is that since Bud Selig retired as commissioner, three white men have been hired to manage teams with zero other candidates — minority or otherwise — considered for those jobs.

On April 14, 1999, as Selig began his first full year as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball (after six years as Acting Commissioner), he issued a memo to all 30 teams mandating that they consider minority candidates “for all general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development and director of scouting positions.” In addition, the memo directed teams to supply Selig with a list of all openings along with candidates, including minorities, whom they would be interviewing.

Nothing works perfectly, of course, but since the time that memo was issued, managerial jobs have gone to (by my count) 20 minority candidates: Bo Porter, Carlos Tosca, Cecil Cooper, Davey Lopes, Don Wakamatsu, Dusty Baker, Edwin Rodriguez, Felipe Alou, Frank RobinsonFredi Gonzalez, Jerry Manuel, Jerry Royster, Lloyd McClendon, Luis Pujols, Manny Acta, Ozzie Guillen, Rick Renteria, Ron Washington, Tony Pena, and Willie Randolph. (Qualifying someone as a manager is a bit of an inexact science, so I included anyone who served as manager for the majority of a full season. That includes both Royster and Pujols, who each managed nearly a full slate as in-season replacements but were not back the next year — Pujols replaced Phil Garner for the 2002 Detroit Tigers after an 0-6 start, while Royster replaced Lopes a couple weeks later after the Milwaukee Brewers started the season 3-12.)

By comparison, in the 20 years before the “Selig Rule,” as it came to be known, there were only nine minorities hired to manage MLB teams: Cito Gaston, Don Baylor, Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou, Frank Robinson, Hal McRae, Jerry Manuel, Maury Wills, and Tony Perez.

So whether because of the Selig Rule or as a natural extension of an existing trend in that direction (all but Wills were hired between 1989 and 1998), the hiring of minority candidates to fill managerial openings has increased greatly since 1999. Teams are interviewing a more racially diverse pool of candidates, which naturally leads to more jobs going to racial minorities.

Major League Baseball was serious about the rule, too. When the Tigers hired Garner in 1999 without interviewing any minority candidates, they escaped a penalty only when they agreed to develop a community program for minorities. When the Los Angeles Dodgers wanted to hire Joe Torre in 2007, they requested an exemption from the league that was granted mostly because their track record of hiring minorities was so good.

Well, Selig is gone now. Like most men his age, he is retired and living on a fixed income (a scant $6 million per year), but his legacy in Major League Baseball lives on. We have interleague play, the All-Star Game determines home-field advantage for the World Series, and Alex Rodriguez is on pace to hit 40 homers. Everywhere you look, there is evidence of Selig’s influence on the game.

Except in the hiring of managers, apparently. There were six new managers hired this past offseason: A.J. Hinch, Chip Hale, Jeff Banister, Joe Maddon, Kevin Cash, and Paul Molitor. All six are white, but five of them were hired after lengthy searches that presumably included a wide range of candidates. In the other case, the Chicago Cubs actually fired a minority (Renteria) just so they could hire Maddon, but there are plenty of more interesting topics there before you even get to race.

The two new managers hired since the season began are a different story. When the Brewers fired Ron Roenicke on May 3, they scheduled a press conference for the next morning at which they announced the hiring of Craig Counsell.

Coincidentally — or perhaps not, as it turns out — MLB had issued a memo just hours before Roenicke was fired reminding teams about its minority consideration policy. They had planned to issue the memo on Monday, May 4, but when they heard about the Brewers’ plans to promote Counsell from within the organization without interviewing anyone else — minority or otherwise — they issued the memo a day early to avoid looking like it was a reaction to the Brewers. (Call it a “preaction,” I guess.)

The MLB memo included this statement:

Baseball recognizes that in certain instances the pull of a candidate is so strong that an extensive search effectively would amount to a sham.

It is unclear whether that sentence was in the originally scheduled memo or whether it was added when Commissioner Rob Manfred heard about the Brewers’ plans. Either way, according to Ken Rosenthal, the Brewers did not violate the Selig Rule because teams are allowed to promote from within without considering other candidates.

Emboldened by the Brewers’ skirting of the rules and threading of the loopholes, the Miami Marlins two weeks later fired their manager, Mike Redmond, and scheduled a press conference to announce his already-hired replacement. Once again, it was a white man from within the organization. This time, it was an insane choice: general manager Dan Jennings, the first manager in decades to have never played or coached in any level of professional baseball. He did coach high school baseball back before 80 percent of the players on his current roster were born, though.

Did the Marlins break the Selig Rule? It is not clear that going from general manager to field manager is a promotion — in fact considering that the GM hires the manager, it’s pretty clearly not — but I don’t know if Rosenthal was just paraphrasing the policy because it never crossed his mind that a team might do something as stupid as what the Marlins did. Perhaps all internal hires are exempt from the Selig Rule?

Either way, this looks bad for baseball. It is not the first time Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has done something that gives the league a black eye, and based on past experience it won’t be the last.

The Selig Rule exists for a reason. Either the reason is a good one and the rule should remain, or it is a bad one and the rule should be abolished. But if it is going to remain, it should not be so easily violated. Exceptions are understandable, but they should be rare.

Simply put, it does not look good that three of the four managers hired on Manfred’s watch have been white men who fell under “exceptions” so no other candidates were considered.

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