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Baseball COLOR IT UNCHANGED : Thirteen Teams Replaced Managers This Year, and All but One Choice Was White. More Than 4 1/2 Years Since Al Campanis' Statements, Some Say the Sport Still Is Dragging Its Feet. : Hiring: Though minority employment is up significantly, the number of minorities remains static in high-profile, decision-making positions.

December 08, 1991|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI BEACH — Baseball's winter meetings don't have much color. The halls of power, for the most part, remain basic white.

"The last couple of years, baseball has gone back to business as usual," said Frank Robinson, who wasn't referring to trade talks or free-agent signings.

It is the view of Robinson and others in baseball that their sport has abandoned the minority hiring movement that followed an appearance by then-Dodger vice president Al Campanis on the television show, "Nightline," in April of 1987.

Helping to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of baseball's color barrier, Campanis lost his job and stimulated an affirmative action drive when he said blacks lacked the "necessities" to manage in the major leagues.

Now, more than 4 1/2 years later, minority employment is up significantly in baseball, but it has remained static at the high-profile, decision-making levels of field manager, general manager and other key front-office positions.

Bias? Prejudice? Racism? Frank Robinson, who broke the managerial color barrier at Cleveland in 1974, later managed in San Francisco and Baltimore and is now an assistant general manager with the Orioles, refused to employ the harshest of characterizations but said: "If you ask why is it the way it is in baseball, you have to ask why is it the way it is in society?

"You can't force it or fight it when there's no pressure for change. Some clubs have been aggressive, but baseball is generally dragging its feet again. It's as if some owners said, 'Let's weather this storm (that followed Campanis' comments) and we can go back to the way it has always been.' They have their nice little circle in which they feel very comfortable."

Said Reggie Smith, who felt the stings of racist fans while playing in Boston and is now a respected batting instructor in the Dodgers' farm system: "The only time something significant is done is when there is enough noise made, and that, in effect, suggests bias. I said at the time (of the Campanis incident) that I was concerned it would all die down and go back to the way it was, and that's what has happened.

"I've found my own niche and am very happy teaching at the minor league level, but I've reduced the number of excuses and explanations down to the point that I feel others haven't been hired just because they are black. I don't know what else to believe."

A string of 1991 hirings brought the issue sharply into focus again.

There have been fourteen managerial openings among 13 clubs--the Cubs changed managers twice--since last Jan. 1. Only one minority member was hired: Hal McRae by the Kansas City Royals.

A total of 46 managerial jobs have changed hands since that "Nightline" program was shown. Only four other minority members have been hired in that span--Cito Gaston by the Toronto Blue Jays, Nick Leyva by the Philadelphia Phillies, Cookie Rojas by the Angels and Frank Robinson by the Orioles--and only two remain at those positions, Gaston and McRae.

In addition, there have been eight general managers hired this year, and there is still no minority member among the 28 in the major leagues, including those with the two expansion franchises.

There is only one minority member serving as a scouting or farm director, Reggie Waller of the San Diego Padres.

Said Henry Aaron, a vice president of the Atlanta Braves: "It's better than it was five or 10 years ago, and certainly better than it was when I played, but being better doesn't make it good. In fact, it almost looks worse because of all the changes this year (and the fact that virtually no minority members were hired to fill them)."

Aaron is largely considered a figurehead with the Braves.

There are only three black assistant general managers with decision-making input--Robinson with the Orioles, Bob Watson with the Houston Astros and Elaine Weddington, an attorney specializing in contract issues, with the Boston Red Sox.

Bill White is president of the National League, the only black in any major sport to preside over a league, but White has been an anonymous leader, barely visible or reachable for the most part. He did not respond to interview requests for this story.

White recently criticized the Denver and Miami expansion clubs for failing to hire more minority members, but that comment seemed premature because both are still hiring at all levels.

The Miami franchise, in particular, has demonstrated recognition of its Latino environment in hirings for the field and in the front office. Thus far, five of the nine people hired for minor league managing and coaching positions with the club are Latino. Rojas, the former Angel manager, has been hired to work with General Manager David Dombrowski as a special-assignment scout. Angel Vazquez will supervise the Latin American scouting department.

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