From outside, Frank Robinson still sees plenty of locked doors AN AMERICAN HERO


Fifty years after Jackie Robinson, you need only four fingers to count the number of minority managers in major-league baseball. Not embarrassing enough?

Fifty years after Jackie Robinson, you also can count the number of minority general managers, farm directors and scouting directors on one hand.

If baseball truly wants to honor Robinson's memory, it should state its sins before President Clinton tonight at Shea Stadium, and confess to the minority-hiring "achievements" of its 30 major-league clubs.

One general manager.

Three farm directors.

One scouting director.

If baseball wants to talk about Jackie's legacy, let's talk about Jackie's legacy.

Let's talk about the doors that are still closed.

Fifty years later, six of the game's eight highest-paid players are minorities. But another Robinson sits home in Los Angeles, unable to find a meaningful job in baseball.

If Jackie Robinson is a symbol of the game's progress, then Frank Robinson has become a symbol of its failures.

He was a Hall of Fame player who became the first black manager and wanted to be the first black GM. But he hasn't worked in baseball since the Orioles fired him as their assistant GM in December 1995.

Maybe it's his age - Robinson is 61.

Maybe it's his strong personality.

Maybe he just wasn't in the right place at the right time.

None of the above, all of the above, it really doesn't matter.

When you're a minority aspiring to a decision-making position in baseball, it's almost always something.

"On the field, I have no quarrels about that, as far as the players," Frank Robinson said. "But they're still dragging their feet as far as the managers and coaches. And let's not even go to the front office, my goodness.

"It's awful. It's terrible. It's the way it used to be on the field, as far as coaches and managers."

Even in those positions, the numbers are leveling off - 22 percent of major-league managers, trainers, scouts, coaches and instructors are minorities, compared with 20 percent in 1989, according to the 1995-96 report of the Major-League Baseball Equal Opportunity Committee.

Narrowing it down to just managers, the number has dropped from 19 percent to 14 percent since 1992. That's a difference of one job, but the percentage could drop further if the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays hire a white, as the Arizona Diamondbacks already have.

And the front offices?

Frank Robinson is right.

They're even worse.

The 1995-96 report said that minorities comprise 18 percent of all front-office employees, but Robinson recalls discussing such figures with former commissioner Peter Ueberroth and telling him they lied.

"The percentages, they're misleading," Robinson said. "I told them, 'Don't give me percentages. Give me numbers, titles people hold in the organizations they're in. Let me know if the Baltimore Orioles general manager is a minority, if the Angels have three or four minorities in their front office.'

"But the percentages, they include people working in the front office who are not in decision-making positions. They count switchboard operators, mailroom people. They count everyone and say, 'We have this percentage of minorities.' Don't give me that. There aren't a significant number of minorities in decision-making positions."

Baseball would respond that 11 percent of all executives and department heads are minorities - up from 7 percent in 1990. But again, here are the relevant facts:

One general manager.

Three farm directors.

And one scouting director.

Oh, Hank Aaron is a senior vice president in Atlanta, and Kirby Puckett is an executive vice president in Minnesota. Doc Rodgers is assistant GM in Cincinnati, Willie Stargell is assistant to the GM in Pittsburgh and Dave Stewart holds the same position in San Diego.

Still, none is a decision maker.

And Frank Robinson is sitting in Los Angeles.

He's so eager to return to baseball, he spoke with Anaheim and Boston last winter about their managerial openings - even though he has been fired three times as a manager.

"Really, it would be just to get back in the game," he said. "It doesn't look like anything is going to happen on the front-office end of it."

But what if he had been a white player who had hit 586 home runs?

Would he have fulfilled his goal of becoming a GM then?

"Yes," Robinson said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Heck, it has all but happened for others.

"I'm not taking a shot at this individual when I bring up his name," Robinson said. "But George Brett steps out of playing, right? What did Kansas City make him? Vice president of baseball, right? OK. This is what I'm saying."

These are not simply the words of a man who is bitter over losing a job and frustrated that he can't find another one. Robinson said much the same things when he held a front-office position. He said them in response to Al Campanis and Marge Schott. He has been saying them for years.

"Know what I'd like to see baseball do? Acknowledge the problem and do something about it before there's a crisis," he said. "Baseball seems to respond to a crisis. When something happens, when something is blown up, they say, 'We've got to do something about it.' As soon as it dies down, it's business as usual.

"Understand something is there, and do something about it. Baseball says, 'We are. We are.' But where is it? It's not there. And there are two more clubs coming in. They've already got their general managers in place, and they're not minorities."

He sits in Los Angeles, one of baseball's all-time greats, unable to find work in the sport he loves. If you want to talk about Jackie Robinson, let's talk about Frank Robinson. Let's talk about minority hiring. Let's talk about all that is still wrong.

! Pub Date: 4/15/97

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad