Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick remembers the 1992 World Series for the Blue Jays and their steady dismantling of his hometown Atlanta Braves.
At the time, it didn’t matter much to Kendrick that Toronto’s Cito Gaston was the first black manager to lead a team to the World Series and win it.
“I don’t know if I thought about it that much from that perspective,” Kendrick said. “I liked the Blue Jays. They had a bunch of brothers on that team. They had players that I really enjoyed watching play. I just didn’t want them to beat my Braves.”
Yet the significance of Gaston’s legacy lives on 25 years later.
Gaston is still the only black manager to have won a World Series. Dusty Baker and Ron Washington each had chances in the 2002 and 2010-11, respectively, but neither won.
So now it is up to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, the only African-American manager remaining in the majors since Baker was fired this month, to take up the mantle. The Dodgers had never hired a minority manager before Roberts, whose mother is Japanese and father is black.
If the Dodgers beat the Astros in this year’s World Series, Roberts would become the second black manager, and first of Asian decent, to lead a team to a championship in the 70 years since Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“We’ve been playing catch-up on the managerial side from the day that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier (in 1947),” Kendrick said.
Frank Robinson became the first black manager in the majors in 1975. Baseball has seen 29 other black managers, including Roberts.
It will become increasingly difficult for that number to climb as long as the population of African Americans playing baseball remains low.
In the last 70 years, according to a study by the Society for American Baseball Research, the number of black players in the majors went from fewer than 1 percent in 1947 to a high of 18.7 percent in 1981. The population plateaued around 16 to 19 percent from 1972-96.
That percentage has fluctuated between 6 and 8 percent since 2009.
“That’s the thing that is the biggest hindrance now,” Kendrick said. “That pool, when it shrinks on the playing field, it ultimately is going to shrink in the ranks of those who become coaches, who become scouts in our game. It has kind of a universal effect across all levels.”
Still, Kendrick remains optimistic that Major League Baseball, with its emphasis on developing youth programs aimed at increasing diversity in participation, will climb out of the rut. He was encouraged that the top two 2017 MLB Draft picks were African-American teenagers, and was glad to see Alex Cora, Houston’s bench coach who has been hired by the Boston Red Sox, join the Chicago White Sox’s Rick Renteria as another manager of color in the big leagues.
But as baseball fixes its diversity problem on the field, it may be a while before a resolution emerges on the managerial end, even with vacancies in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Until then, the asterisk by Gaston’s name will remain as a physical manifestation of baseball’s failings in hiring minority managers.
“If it’s going to take that long to get black players into our sport, and you’ve only get a handful of guys who would be considered for managerial jobs, I think it’s going to make it difficult to dramatically change that,” Kendrick said. “It’s a really interesting dynamic but, again, hopefully we can expand that pool of those who are interested in becoming managers and create real situations where they can compete for these managerial jobs.”