Last night, the New York Mets fired Willie Randolph, the first African-American manager in franchise history. To be sure, the move was a long time coming. After all, the Mets had consistently underperformed under Randolph, falling to the far inferior St. Louis Cardinals in the 2006 playoffs; then collapsing in epic fashion last season to miss the playoffs; and, finally, middling around .500 through the first third of the current season despite holding the third-highest payroll in Major League Baseball.
Still, relative to the length of time it took for Randolph to land a managerial position in the first place, his fall occurred rather swiftly. Indeed, while serving as a coach for the New York Yankees for over a decade, Randolph was interviewed at least eleven times for various managerial positions. This occurred as a result of MLB’s policy for managerial searches, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate before making a final selection. Too often, Randolph was used disingenuously as a “token candidate” in these job searches, his failure to secure a position seemingly predetermined.
Of course, this is hardly the aim of MLB’s managerial hiring guidelines. Rather, the policy intends to promote the representation of minorities in leadership positions such that African-American and Hispanic managers become common in baseball. In turn, the argument goes, race and ethnicity will become irrelevant, as minorities and whites will be seen as equally capable of managing a ball club–a goal consistent with baseball’s noble legacy of breaking racial barriers.
Yet Randolph’s experience exposes the ugly paradox of MLB’s affirmative action policies. Far from making race irrelevant, these policies separate minority and white managerial candidates in the public eye during interview processes, making race a constant theme in any minority candidate’s pursuit of a position. It is thus hardly surprising that, once hired, minority managers often come to view their tenures through the narrow lens of identity politics, at times becoming embroiled in racially divisive-as well as distracting-controversies.
This is probably what ultimately sealed Randolph’s fate. In an interview last month, Randolph defended his stoic on-field demeanor as critical to ensuring future opportunities for black managers, saying, “I think it’s very important … that I handle myself in a way that the [African-American managers] coming behind me will get the opportunities, too.” Quite controversially, he attributed the scrutiny he has received as Mets manager to racism, arguing that former Yankees manager Joe Torre, who is white, received far less scrutiny despite his similarly calm demeanor. “It smells a little bit,” he said. Fans and the media were outraged.
Given that Randolph was fired midseason, the Mets were permitted to select a new manager without the formal process in which MLB’s affirmative action guidelines would have taken effect. As a result, it seems to have gone unnoticed in the media that the Mets’ new manager, Jerry Manuel, is also African-American. Perhaps this shows that minority managers are no longer a phenomenon in baseball–and that MLB’s affirmative action hiring policies are thus no longer necessary.