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The Arizona Republic

Hispanics Knocking On Doors Of MLB's Front Offices

By Don Ketchum, The Arizona Republic

July 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. 

In some ways, Omar Minaya's background is typical of a baseball front-office executive.

Minaya, general manager of the Montreal Expos, was a highly regarded catcher in high school and played briefly in the minor leagues. He served as a scout with the Texas Rangers, where he learned from Assistant General Manager Sandy Johnson, now assistant GM of the Diamondbacks.

"He picked up things very quickly, was eager to learn and worked hard," said Johnson, who still talks to Minaya by telephone almost daily. "You could tell he would rise to a higher level some day."

In other ways, Minaya is atypical. Born in the Dominican Republic, raised in Queens, N.Y., Minaya is the only Hispanic general manager in the major leagues.

In a sport where 27 percent of the players on the field are Hispanic, the number of Hispanics in the front office has yet to catch up. Arizona businessman Arturo Moreno, who purchased the Anaheim Angels in May, and Minaya are the sport's highest-profile Hispanics, and both have been in their roles for less than a year.

"I was very fortunate to have been given that opportunity, and to have had Sandy as a mentor, giving me direction," Minaya said. "There are more like me out there now. All they need is a chance."

The trickle of Hispanics on the field in the 1950s and 1960s -- the Juan Marichals and the Roberto Clementes -- turned into a stream in the 1990s. The number of Hispanic players in the majors has more than doubled since 1990.

In the front office, only 15 of baseball's 281 top executives -- or 5.3 percent -- are Hispanic, according to an Arizona Republic review of media guides and other sources. Only seven have top-tier influence:

* Moreno, an Arizonan and former minority-interest holder with the Diamondbacks, who purchased the World Series champion Angels for $184 million.

* Montreal Expos GM Minaya.

* Detroit Tigers Vice President and Assistant GM Al Avila.

* Philadelphia Phillies Assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

* Sam Fernandez, senior vice president and general counsel of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

* Oneri Fleita (Chicago Cubs) and Johnny Almaraz (Cincinnati Reds), player-development executives.

The numbers may lag because the increase in the Hispanic playing population is so recent. Major League Baseball says it is taking steps to increase the number of minorities, including Hispanics and Blacks, in key positions -- defined as owners, general managers, baseball operations directors, scouting directors and minor league directors and their top assistants/advisers.

MLB did not release 2003 figures on its off-the-field workforce, but in 2002, the percentage of Hispanics was 10.4, including employees in marketing, ticketing and other business operations.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said he and MLB are putting more emphasis on giving more opportunities to all minorities, not just Hispanics.

"We don't want to tell anybody whom to hire, but we want teams to be inclusive," Selig said. "This is not something people should have to do. They should want to do it.

"The game has such a wonderful history, and Hispanics are an important part of it. We should tap into this resource."

Avila said he is thankful for his opportunity and hopes other Hispanics will become involved.

"You have to remember that there are only 30 clubs, and that means the number of jobs are limited for anybody," Avila said. "You can see things changing, a slight increase (for Hispanics), but people have to be patient. It isn't going to happen overnight."

Diamondbacks Managing General Partner Jerry Colangelo, a member of baseball's equal opportunity committee, said, "It's an important issue, a sensitive issue."

"Some clubs are doing extremely well, others are not," he said, preferring not to be specific. "It is about awareness, opportunity and appropriateness."

MLB spokesman Patrick Courtney said whenever there is an opening for a general manager, player personnel director or field manager, teams are urged to consider all minority candidates, not just Hispanics. If teams cannot come up with a list of such candidates, MLB will provide one for them.

MLB executives are willing to fine teams that do not comply, such as they did this season with the Florida Marlins when the team fired field manager Jeff Torborg, who was replaced by Jack McKeon.

On the ownership front, Moreno, a fourth-generation Mexican-American who grew up in Tucson, upped the ante when he purchased the Angels. At the time of the purchase, his arrival was touted as a major achievement for Hispanics. Whether Moreno, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $940 million, will use his influence to open more doors for Hispanics in the game is unclear. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

D-Backs' track record

On the baseball side, the highest-ranking Hispanic for the Diamondbacks is Junior Noboa, the Latin American scouting coordinator.

Noboa was one of the team's first hires in 1995, three years before the team took the field. He helped build and maintain the team's baseball academy in his native Dominican Republic and has been involved in the rise of many of the team's key Latin American players.

Noboa is regarded by some to be one of the game's rising stars in management.

"I think the climate has definitely changed a lot, particularly lately," Noboa said. "I think you'll see more Latin American people involved, and I want to be a part of it."

The Diamondbacks have several Hispanics making key decisions on the business side, such as Dianne Aguilar (senior vice president for ticket operations and special services), Mark Fernandez (vice president of corporate sales) and Richard Saenz (director of Hispanic marketing).

Little outside pressure

Hispanic advocacy groups are not involved in the push in the way that groups backing African-Americans have advocated minority hires in administrative and coaching positions in the NFL, NBA and college athletics.

Lorraine Quiroga, spokesperson for the League of United Latin American Citizens, based in Washington, said that "while we obviously support and encourage more opportunities in baseball," the group does not monitor baseball employment, and she knows of no other Hispanic groups that do.

Colangelo sees a parallel between baseball and the NBA. He was general manager of the Phoenix Suns from their first season in 1968 until 1987, when he was part of a group that purchased the team.

"The NBA has been a leader in diversity because of the heavy domination of African-American players, leading to head coaches and management," Colangelo said. "And we (NBA owners) just approved the first major African-American owner, Bob Johnson (of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats).

"I think baseball will follow a similar road because of all the Latinos on the field. That will be reflected in management. Ownership is another story. It is difficult for one person to own a team anymore."

A steppingstone

Virtually every team has coordinators/directors for Latin countries, and that pool is from where ownership is expected to draw heavily when looking for front-office candidates.

A number of active players have interest in following Amaro, who was an outfielder for the Phillies, and making the transition to the front office. One of them is the Diamondbacks' Carlos Baerga, who owns a winter-league team in his native Puerto Rico.

Beyond Moreno as owner, Minaya is the next highest-ranking Hispanic official. He was named vice president and GM of the Expos on Feb. 12, 2002, by MLB, which is controlling the team temporarily until a permanent owner is found.

"Hopefully, the talent pool is increasing. I think we'll see more of it. But the question is, when, and in what numbers?" Minaya said.

Amaro, who in a rare move went directly from being a player into upper management after the 1998 season, said he has talked to current and former players who would like to follow in his footsteps.

"There are a lot of gifted (Hispanic) people who are qualified, but you have to get the opportunity as I was fortunate to get. It takes two to tango," Amaro said.

He added that being bilingual helps in the process.

Amaro's boss, Phillies Vice President and GM Ed Wade, said "being bilingual is huge, helping with the communication between players and staff, helping everyone feel more comfortable. It shows the (Hispanic) players that the team is going the extra mile."

Diamondbacks Assistant GM Johnson agrees. He grew up in South San Gabriel, Calif., and spent a lot of time as a youth in predominantly Hispanic East Los Angeles. As an executive with the Texas Rangers, he used his fluency in Spanish to form ties throughout Latin America that helped lead to the signing of such stars as Sammy Sosa, Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez.

The baseball climate is better for Hispanics, Johnson said, particularly since the beginning of the 1990s.

"Twenty, 30 years ago, you had a lot of guys who wanted to stay in the game (after retiring as players), but some of them were a little reluctant," Johnson said. "Gradually, teams began to see value in the Latin guys more and more and (when) one team did it, the other teams said, 'Hey, we gotta do that.' "

One doesn't necessarily have to be a former player to rise through the ranks.

"Although it helps, what is important is that the person understands what is taking place on the field," said Dave Dombrowski, Detroit's president, chief executive officer and GM and the man who hired Avila with the Tigers and previously when both were with the Florida Marlins.

"What helps is what you learn in player development (minor leagues), scouting, all those things. That's what Al did, working his way up."

Wade said: "I think a long time ago, most of your GMs were former big-league players. But that's not the case anymore. I'd say that of the 30 GMs today, less than a third have big-league playing experience and some have never played professionally."

Mexico not forgotten

While a large part of baseball's Hispanic population comes from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, Mexicans also will have an impact in the front office, according to White Sox and former Diamondbacks executive Roland Hemond. He has made many contacts in Mexico in a five-decade career.

"Guys like Enrique Mazon (owner of the Hermosillo, Sonora, team) will inspire others from that country to be involved with teams as owners or management-types, and I'm sure some will be able to come to the major leagues and play important roles," Hemond said.

One prominent Hispanic player who would seem to have management or ownership potential is Diamondbacks left fielder Luis Gonzalez.

He signed a contract extension, so he will play at least through 2007, when he will be 40. Born in Tampa to Cuban parents, he isn't certain what direction to take once his playing career comes to a close.

He said he admires Baerga and others who want to move on to the next level.

"Latinos are attuned to baseball, boxing and soccer," Gonzalez said. "We have a lot of passion. Baseball is a great game. The first time you pick up a glove, a ball and a bat, it becomes a part of you."

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