A reader submitted this New York Times article on how managers are hired, focusing particularly on the sham interviews minority candidates receive due to Selig’s mandate that all teams interview at least one.
It has a lot of interesting information on the Mariners hiring of Hargrove, and how Jerry Manuel feels he wasn’t seriously considered, in particular because his lunch meeting wasn’t long enough.
And while I’m sympathetic to his concern generally… maybe it was that he wasn’t doing so well. If I was interviewing managerial candidates, it’s almost certain that the more suitable I found them, the more I’d want to talk to them and get their thoughts on other aspects of their philosophy and managerial approach.
If the team sat down with someone and said “how do you deal with difficult personalities?” and (say) Terry Collins responded “I’m an aggressive guy, I’ll ride them pretty hard in the dugout, I’ll fight them in the clubhouse before the press came in…” that’s when the team’s probably signalling for the check.
What that doesn’t address, though, is some of the larger issues, like “Is Selig’s mandate helping?”
It’s a worthy goal. Beyond baseball’s shameful racial legacy, even today front offices do not reflect the composition of its fan base or players. There are far fewer managers who aren’t white than is reasonable. It isn’t only the “people hire people they’re comfortable with, and people are comfortable with those with the same background, by which I mean race.” Part of the problem goes beyond that: because GM and managerial positions are so heavily composed of retreads, it keeps the same dudes in the canidate pool forever, and if that pool’s mostly white dudes, the managers that come from it will be mostly white dudes.
Selig’s mandate is certainly well-intentioned: by saying that teams must interview a minority candidate, he’s hoping that in consistently altering the candidate set, he’ll alter the result set. And that he’ll get these candidates experience interviewing, which will make them better candidates for the next job opening.
And yet… it’s not working. The result is that a small set of guys (which varies by position and changes by year) get interviewed and then passed up for every job that comes up, and return to the pool. When Dave Stewart was getting a lot of GM interviews, for instance, it must have been like a series of very short vacations. Fly somewhere, take someone with him, stay in a nice hotel, see the sights, spend a couple of hours talking to some people who have little interest in him — and probably already know who they want to hire — and then fly home.
That’s the problem with the state of things: if teams are convinced that they know who they want to hire before they talk to the Selig-mandated candidate, there’s no point to the process.
If MLB really wants to make the sport a better reflection of those who play in its uniform and those who watch it, there are more things they can do that might help:
Find more coaching and managing opportunities for interested minority applicants in the minor league systems. Teams should be more willing to take risks on unknown candidates at the lower levels of the minor leagues than at the top, and it’s in the actual managing where quality managers prove their worth. As teams have more diverse candidates internally, moving up in the system, they should have more diverse candidates they’re comfortable with, know well, and are organizationally happy to see succeed.
Expand the candidate pool, and alter the interview process. Many teams, faced with a vacancy, go through a process like this:
– We want Manager X
– Let’s interview some guys we kind of want
– Oh, and find some minority guy to interview too
– Interview Manager X
– Boy, he’s good, and his contract demands were quite reasonable, let’s hire him
– Oh yeah, send the mail boy out to interview those other three guys
It’s like the way the Mariners pursued players last year, and it means that someone other than Manager X has, as Manuel observes, pretty much blow them away with a song-and-dance routine that convinces the team that they were all wrong from the start. Once a team, or anyone, has made a decision, it’s extremely hard to talk them out of it. Sometimes the decision leaks before they’re through with the process, which makes it even more of a farce.
I’m against interfering with the hiring process of anyone in general, but there’s a change baseball can make here. Teams should submit a list of candidates they intend to interview to MLB, and MLB should return the list in random order. It’s lame, but it’s potentially a huge difference. If Manager X doesn’t go first, the interviews to those who go before him will open up their strengths and weaknesses for consideration. Instead of every other candidate being interviewed as not-Manager X, who already confirmed he was a dreamboat, the situation may be reversed. Manager X will face a much different interview, even if they’re still high on him. Hopefully, teams will think “We still like this guy a lot, but both the first guy had a great background working with pitchers, which we need, and the second guy’s done a lot of good work rebuilding, like we’re doing…” Manager X has to really interview for the job against the strengths of the other candidates, and maybe with the cartoon hearts out of their eyes, teams will make different decisions.
And once they’ve had honest discussions with the other candidates, those other canidates will be given more consideration for coaching opportunities or managerial positions elsewhere in the organization, which then helps them expand their experience, and changes the candidate pool for the better.