PHOENIX — While Brian Flores explosive and courageous class-action lawsuit against the NFL this past week drew everyone’s attention, his powerful claims could easily be shifted to another major sport, too.
Yes, deplorable hiring practices are just as bad in Major League Baseball.
Blatant racism and discrimination in hiring practices? Check.
Scarcity of Black coaches? Check
Scarcity of Black GMs? Check.
Scarcity of Black vice presidents and presidents? Check.
Flawed and ineffective rule that produces nothing more than sham interviews? Check.
“The things very clear in baseball is that nothing is being done to change the process,” former GM Dave Stewart told USA TODAY Sports. “I think baseball is getting worse. The baseball practices are much worse.”
There have been 17 managerial openings in the past two off-seasons since Major League Baseball publicly vowed change in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
None of the jobs were filled by a Black candidate.
There have been 15 general manager and head of baseball operation openings since MLB’s GMs stood in front of the cameras holding “Black Lives Matter” signs on draft day in 2020.
None have been filled by a Black executive.
There are only two Black managers in Major League Baseball: Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros and Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers. No other Black manager has been hired since Lloyd McClendon in 2013.
There is only one African-American in charge of baseball operations: Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox. No other Black executive has been hired as a GM or head of baseball operations since Stewart in 2014, and only three others since Williams’ promotion in 2000.
No wonder baseball’s Black community can totally relate to Flores’ lawsuit.
Several Black executives privately shared their own stories with USA TODAY Sports this week, relaying the times they interviewed for jobs knowing they were being used only to satisfy the rule that requires teams to interview minorities in key front office and managerial positions.
“The NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and General Managers,” Flores said in his suit. “Over the years, the NFL and it’s 32-member organizations have been given every chance to do the right thing. Rules have been implemented, promises made – but nothing has changed. In fact, the racial discrimination has only made worse by the NFL’s disingenuous commitment to social equity.”
Might as well be talking about Major League Baseball.
“The sport is not moving forward,” Stewart says. “We had the George Floyd murder two years ago, and when all of that was happening, MLB was standing front and center, talking about all the changes they would make. They had of the GMs holding up signs, talking about change. Nothing at all changed.
“I said it then, and will say it now, change is only on the minds of the decision makers at the moment. Something major has to happen, and it’s usually something tragic that has to happen to make change necessary. If you don’t seize it at the moment, within 6 months or a year it’s back to doing business like they’ve always done it.”
Stewart, the four-time 20-game winner, is hoping to make a difference. He’s taking a more active role with the Nashville Stars, the expansion team hopeful that envisions having a primarily Black or minority ownership group. The club, named after the former Negro League franchise, has Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick among other dignitaries as part of its group.
The Stars are hoping that baseball announces that it will expand within the next five years and commissioner Rob Manfred has publicly said he wants baseball to expand to 32 teams.
“That’s the only way change is going to happen,” Stewart says, “especially if you’re primarily a Black ownership group. It opens the door to really having good practices across the board. Having good people on the advisory board calls for diversity and the leadership will have diverse practices.
“We have Magic Johnson, Derek Jeter and LeBron James as small percentage owners of their teams, but the real advancement will be when there’s at least 51% black ownership.
“Hopefully, baseball understands that it’s time for Black ownership in the sport. We’re ready.”
Trial over Tyler Skaggs’ death begins
The epicenter of baseball drama this week will be in Fort Worth, Texas, when the federal trial begins for former Angels’ communications director Eric Kay. He faces two felony counts of distributing a controlled substance and distribution of a controlled substance that resulted in the fatal overdose of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs in 2019.
The government’s potential witnesses are seven former Angels players: Matt Harvey, Andrew Heaney, C.J. Cron, Garrett Richards, Cam Bedrosian, Blake Parker and Mike Morin. The government said that most of the players are expected to testify about their knowledge of Kay distributing oxycodone to players. Also scheduled to testify is former Hall of Fame president Tim Mead, who was vice president in charge of communications during most of Kay’s tenure, Angels traveling secretary Tom Taylor and communications director Adam Chodzko.
Kay has pleaded not guilty to the charges of distributing a controlled substance (fentanyl) that led to Skaggs’ death and for conspiracy to “possess with the intent to distribute” the opioid. Several prosecutors believe that Kay faces a stiff uphill battle to avoid a prison sentence that could last 20 years.
“The deck is stacked against Eric Kay if he wants to make the case that he didn’t know the opioids he gave Staggs contained fentanyl or even that he tried to obtain drugs without any fentanyl in them,” said Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, who’s a former assistant U.S. attorney. “Under federal law, it doesn’t matter. As long as you know what you’re dealing is an illegal drug, the exact contents of the drug are basically irrelevant.
“Kay is looking at some very serious time if he’s convicted of distributing a controlled substance resulting in death. That carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. His best shot at a defense would be to say that he gave Skaggs certain pills, but not the dose that killed the pitcher. That would be consistent with what he told the Angels during their internal investigation. It would mean admitting one crime but trying to protect against being convicted of the more serious offense, in the hopes of receiving a split verdict or a compromised verdict. Alternatively, Kay may swing for the fences and deny everything, but that would probably be a fool’s errand in this trial.”
Robert Swafford, founder of Strike for Cause Jury Consulting, was even more pessimistic about Kay avoiding jail time.
“Just about any jury in the conservative northern district of Texas, faced with a case such as this one, is likely to side with prosecutors and make a finding that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Swafford said. “Kay was allegedly a drug dealer who was dealing something that can kill people, and he is alleged to have done it on a regular basis. The panel is going to look at the defense’s argument and say, ‘We don’t care, let’s get him off the street.’”
The movement: ‘It’s our game’
They are talking about free agency, bonus pools, minimum salaries, arbitration structure, luxury taxes, draft lotteries, service-time manipulation, draft pick compensation and even uniform patches.
What MLB and the players union aren’t talking about during their heated labor talks is the game itself, and how to fix it.
Whenever they reach a new collective bargaining agreement, the pay structures for young players may be vastly different, with mechanisms to assure that teams won’t intentionally lose to collect high draft picks, but the game on the field is staying the same.
There will be no pitch clock. No banning of the shift. Nothing to create more action. There won’t be any fundamental change at all except for a universal DH.
It’s enough to make former minor-leaguer Kevin Gallagher, former major-leaguer Jeff Frye, and the folks at Save the Game scream.
They’re trying to make their voices heard by collecting one million signatures on their petition, and marching to the MLB offices in New York to command an audience.
“Baseball may be MLB’s business,” Gallagher says, “but it’s our game, the fans. They are killing the future.
“We want to bring change to baseball and make sure the game stays relevant.”
Gallagher has spoken to more than 100 former players and current and former executives who are privately backing him on the project. They’re disgusted by the same thing they’re seeing:
Youth participation is down.
Attendance is plummeting.
TV viewership is dreadful.
“The kids aren’t playing because they changed the fundamentals of the game,” Gallagher says. “We have a generation of parents that don’t have a connection to baseball because their kids aren’t playing. Instead of see the ball, hit the ball, it’s all about shifting the game to the power game where there’s little action with all of the launch angles and dynamics.
“So instead of playing baseball or watching it, they’re going to the NFL, NBA, video games, UFC, MMA, Netflix. They go to where the action is, and it’s not baseball.”
Around the bases
– Now that it’s become clear that spring training will not start on time on Feb. 16, the biggest concern is whether the season will open on March 31?
And if the season doesn’t start on time, will those lost games be made up or will baseball have a shortened season?
MLB insists they don’t want the season ending in mid-November, and has no interest in making up the lost games with doubleheaders.
The season must be at least 145 games, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations, without the owners losing money promised to their local TV rightsholders to make up for the lost games during the pandemic-shortened 60-game season in 2020.
– The Angels also could be involved in another trial, this one involving former clubhouse manager Brian “Bubba’’ Harkins’ defamation complaint against MLB and the Angels. It was originally thrown out, but the Orange County 4th District Court of Appeals reversed a Superior Court decision to dismiss his case.
Harkins, who spent nearly four decades with the Angels, was fired in March, 2020, after team officials learned that he was providing illegal foreign substances to visiting pitchers, as well as their own, to help their grip and increase their spin rate.
– It’s wonderful that the YES Network hired Carlos Beltran as a part-time analyst this season, and it will be absolutely fascinating if he addresses the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal.
The scandal, after all, cost him his job as manager of the New York Mets two years ago.
Buck Showalter, the Mets’ new manager, expressed interested in hiring him as their bench coach but the idea was nixed by those above him.
It’s strictly his call, but by talking about his role with the cheating scheme would not only enhance his chances of becoming a manager or front-office executive, but his own Hall of Fame candidacy.
He’ll be on the Hall of Fame ballot in December, and he’ll have no chance of ever being elected if he doesn’t at least come clean.
– The Angels quietly have made a sensational hire in legendary hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, 71, who will be a hitting consultant in the organization. Jaramillo, the Texas Rangers’ hitting coach for 13 years before joining the Chicago Cubs, helped the Rangers produce 17 Silver Slugger winners, four MVPs, three home run champions and a batting champion.
– Pretty cool seeing Jasmine Dunston, the 31-year-old daughter of Cubs shortstop great Shawon Dunston, become the White Sox’s new director of minor-league operations.
She came to the Sox with an impressive résumé, having received a masters degree in sports administration from Valparaiso, interning for All Pro Sports & Entertainment in Denver, working for the Raiders of the NFL and as a law clerk. She landed her first baseball job as a specialist in the Reds’ player development department a year ago.
– Sure, teams modernize their ballparks all of the time, but it was awful to see the reasoning by the Cubs for the Billy Williams and Ron Santo statues to be temporarily removed from Wrigley Field.
They revealed they are moving the statues to make room for a sports betting site at the corner of Addison and Sheffield.
The statues will now be refurbished before being moved to an area outside the ballpark known as Gallagher Way, the future site for all their statues.
The gambling money trumps tradition.
– Baltimore Orioles All-Star center fielder Cedric Mullins revealed to the MLB Players Media that he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in November, 2020, after undergoing colon surgery in which 10 to 15 centimeters of his intestine was surgically removed. He wound up with an infection that needed to be drained, and lost 20 pounds in the process.
He became their starting center fielder four months later, made the All-Star team, and wound up hitting .291 with 30 homers and 30 stolen bases.
Quite the comeback story.
– Cincinnati Reds stars Jonathan India and Nick Senzel have already secured their Super Bowl tickets in Los Angeles next Sunday, agent Scott Boras says, where they will be wildly cheering on the Cincinnati Bengals.
– Veteran broadcaster Jose Mota, the son of legendary Dodgers’ pinch-hitter Manny Mota, announced he is leaving the Angels after 20 years.
It would seem only natural that the Dodgers would hire him for their broadcast booth, particularly with Hall of Fame Jaime Jarrin retiring after the 2022 season.
– Remember Kumar Rocker, a first-round draft pick by the New York Mets who never received an offer because of medical concerns during his physical?
Well, he’s healthy and working out in California and Tennessee, says Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, and could be pitching for an independent league team this summer.
– Peter Bourjos, who was so talented defensively that he was the Angels center fielder, and not Mike Trout, is now the outfield and baserunning coordinator for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He was previously the Colorado Rockies’ advance pro scout.
– Patrick Leyland, the son of longtime major-league manager Jim Leyland who is best friends with White Sox manager Tony La Russa, has been hired to manage the White Sox’s Arizona Complex League team.
– Kudos to the Kansas City Royals for covering the cost of admission for anyone who visits the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum throughout the month of February in honor of Black History Month.
“We are thrilled to help our fans hear this important story,” Royals owner John Sherman said in a prepared statement. “The Royals are proud of our connection with the Museum and the rich history of the Monarchs. The Negro Leagues story is about baseball, but it transcends baseball. It’s about American history and our struggles and progress in civil rights, and the Museum presents that story like nowhere else.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB: Brian Flores lawsuit vs. NFL could just as well be about baseball