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Kansas City Star

Baseball Still Striving To Hire More Hispanic Executives


September 12, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Kansas City Star. All rights reserved.

Retired major-league infielder Luis Alicea is job hunting.

Alicea, who finished his 12-year career with the Kansas City Royals last season, hopes to return to baseball in some role, be it in coaching, scouting or in the front office.

This week, he plans to visit Royals general manager Allard Baird, who believes Alicea may have the potential for filling one of baseball's biggest deficiencies - Hispanic representation in upper management.

In a sport where nearly 30 percent of the players are Hispanic, the number of Hispanics in big-league front offices is dragging far behind.

Of the 30 major-league teams, only Montreal has a Hispanic general manager, Omar Minaya, a native of the Dominican Republic who was hired in February.

While most teams have Hispanics working in the scouting departments or as special assistants to the general manager, such as Minnesota's Tony Oliva, Florida's Tony Perez and Atlanta's Jose Martinez, only a handful of Hispanics have top-level jobs.

That could change now that Arturo Moreno became the first minority with a controlling interest in a major-league baseball team when he bought the world champion Anaheim Angels last May.

"In positions what I call `on the line' - assistant general manager, scouting director - we're making progress," commissioner Bud Selig said. "Progress has been slow, but at least we're getting there."

For now, several teams, including the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and the Royals have no Hispanics playing roles in upper management, according to 2003 media guides.

Besides Moreno and Minaya, the most prominent Hispanics in baseball include Detroit vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila, Philadelphia assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and Los Angeles senior vice president and general counsel Sam Fernandez.

According to Major League Baseball, the percentage of Hispanics in its off-the-field workforce in 2002, including employees in marketing, ticketing and other business operations, was 10.4 percent. No figure was available for 2003.

So when Alicea, a native of Puerto Rico, called Baird recently, the Royals' general manager encouraged him to come to Kansas City and explore the possibilities.

"I thought Luis Alicea, after he got done playing, could do anything," Baird said. "I thought he could be a manager down the road, I thought he could be an outstanding hitting coach, a front-office guy. Every time I said that, he'd get upset and say, `I want to play, I want to play.' Now, all of a sudden, he's ready to go. He's been home with his family, and now he's ready to take that next step."

Selig realizes baseball needs to improve on its minority hiring, and in 1999, instituted a minority-hiring program that requires clubs to interview minority candidates for any meaningful positions in the front office or dugout that become available.

Only three Hispanics, or 10 percent of the major-league teams, have Hispanic field managers - the Royals' Tony Pena, San Francisco's Felipe Alou and Toronto's Carlos Tosca. The Florida Marlins were fined earlier this year when they replaced manager Jeff Torborg with Jack McKeon without considering a minority candidate.

"I would never tell people whom they should hire, but they ought to have the greatest pool of candidates," Selig said, "and not just as a matter of course, or just because they have to, but there ought to be meaningful interviews of minority candidates."

Selig practiced what he preached when he appointed Minaya and manager Frank Robinson to their jobs on behalf of Major League Baseball, which is operating the Expos franchise.

"I didn't pick Frank Robinson and Omar Minaya because they were minorities," Selig said. "I picked them as the best candidates, and they have done a brilliant job. And they have certainly justified it. That's the whole point. Somebody has to give them the opportunity."

Part of the reason there are so few Hispanics in high-ranking positions is few have sought those jobs until recently, Royals owner David Glass said.

"I don't think it's been a thrust for them, and that's why you haven't seen it develop," Glass said. "I don't think they've aspired to those positions previously, and they're just now becoming aware of the opportunities besides on the playing field.

"I think Hispanics, in particular, have looked upon playing as the big opportunity, and obviously, that's the more glamorous opportunity, but I don't think they've thought in the past about being a general manager or being president of a team or on the business side. There is a great opportunity on the business side in these clubs. You have the first Hispanic owner in baseball now, so it's something I think you'll see change a lot in the years ahead."

Also, many Hispanics who played for a reasonable length of time in the major leagues amassed enough wealth to lead a less stressful lifestyle and avoid starting over in an entry-level position.

"Some guys made a lot of money, played a long time, and they're relaxed, being at home with their family," said Alicea, who makes his home in Florida. "I took a year off, spent a year with my family and kids, and decided, `Am I going to stay home or am I going to go back and contribute to the game?' And there are many ways to do that."

Alicea, 38, realizes he could be in for a long apprenticeship no matter where he may start in an organization.

"I know I can bring a lot of things to the table," he said. "I can help young players, I can teach young players, I'd like to coach in the big leagues. The player development side is very interesting; being a special assistant to the general manager or something like that would be nice.

"There are a lot of aspects to the game. When you want to put in the time as a coach, you're looking at a long haul, and there are not a lot of positions available, and you have to start (from scratch). I have a lot of experience at the big-league level, but I have to learn how to do that stuff."

The Phillies' Amaro spent parts of eight years in the major leagues as a backup outfielder. Avila spent two seasons as a catcher in the Dodgers organization before embarking on a college coaching and baseball administrative career. Both have climbed the proverbial ladder in reaching their current positions.

And both have one more step remaining.

"I'm trying to work toward a dream of becoming a general manager of a major-league baseball team," said Avila, 45.

"There aren't that many jobs available. There are only 30 clubs, so there are only 30 scouting directors, 30 farm directors, 30 general managers, 30 assistant general managers. So you can prepare yourself for when an opening does occur."

Avila, whose father, Bob, is a retired vice president of the Dodgers, began his foundation by serving as general manager of the Daytona Beach Admirals of the Florida State League in 1987; was athletic director and head baseball coach at St. Thomas (Fla.) University during 1989-92; and worked his way through the Florida Marlins' organization, rising from assistant general director of Latin American operations in 1992 to vice president and assistant general manager in 2001.

"In my case, I knew as a baseball player, I wasn't getting anywhere, but I wanted to stay in baseball, so I went to college," Avila said. "I studied sports administration. I got into college coaching. I got into scouting. I got into minor-league baseball, front-office sales and marketing. It was all a matter of preparing and getting experience. Little opportunities were open to me. You take advantage, you work in those smaller jobs, you gain experience. As other people give you other opportunities, you take them.

"But if you think you're going to go to high school, go to college, and from there you're going to go straight into a front-office job in major-league baseball, which is what most people want, that's not going to happen. And it shouldn't happen, no matter what color or race you are. You should pay your dues."

Although Amaro was born in Philadelphia, he has a rich Hispanic legacy. His father, Ruben Sr., is a native of Mexico and spent 11 seasons in the major leagues and 1980-81 as a Phillies coach.

"It's like anything else, an ever-evolving endeavor, both on the field and in the front office," said Amaro, 38. "The more Tony Penas come about, the more Omar Minayas come about, that will promote the opportunities for other minorities, whether it will be Hispanics, whether it be Latinos, whether it be African-Americans or Asians.

"Culturally, it's nice for the players to know that there is a guy like myself in the front office helping to make certain decisions."

Indeed, the Hispanic players in the clubhouse could find some comfort in having a Hispanic general manager who relates better to their backgrounds and speaks their language.

"It's easier to communicate with them," Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran said of having a Hispanic in the front office, "but Tony Pena is the manager here, and he communicates with the Latin players a lot, but you still have to do your job."

Beltran is familiar with the Expos' Minaya, from the days Minaya scouted Beltran in Puerto Rico as the Rangers' director of professional and international scouting. Beltran, in fact, expected the Rangers to draft him, but the Royals selected him with an earlier pick.

"They found out he was a hard worker and gave him the job," Beltran said of Minaya's hiring in Montreal. "There are more of them out there. Sooner or later, owners are going to realize that Latin American people are good enough to be a general manager like Omar Minaya."

Besides Pena and first-base coach Luis Silverio, the Royals' club directory lists just two Hispanics - Albert Gonzalez, the Latin American scouting and player development coordinator; and Carlos Pascual, a special assignment scout. So someone like Alicea rising through the organization appeals to Baird.

"When you bring in diversity into any organization or business, you make that business more valuable, because you have different thoughts, different ideas from different walks of life, and you improve it," Baird said. "For this organization, it always comes down to the talent of the individual.

"Luis is a former first-round draft pick, was a good player, became a backup, he knows what it's like to be an everyday guy. He's very astute at looking at the game from different roles and abilities, from a business aspect, from making quite a bit of money, then being a backup. He would bring that experience to the front office or into the dugout."

Pena is not alarmed by the lack of Hispanics running clubs from the dugout or from the wood-paneled offices.

"It does not bother me at all, because I have no control over that," he said. "I think the gate is starting to open up, and whenever major-league baseball and ownership and front offices think someone is ready, I think those people will get an opportunity.

"They've got to say to themselves, `This is what I want to do. I know I am capable of this. I need to prepare myself to do this, and then go from there.' You're going to have to have a passion, have that love and be able to feel good about what you're going to do. It's not going to happen overnight

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