Opening-day active Major League Baseball rosters this year consisted of 7.7 percent Black players and 34.6 percent Latino, Asian and other diverse players, as reported by MLB.com.
And with the World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers set to begin tonight, Major League Baseball is already taking steps to make sure the sport continues to get more diverse in the future — not just with its player base, but among its executives as well.
The latter part is specifically why the league has launched its inaugural Major League Baseball Diversity Fellowship Program, which includes its MLB Club Diversity Fellowship Program and its MLB Office of the Commissioner Diversity Fellowship Program. The goal: To attract, recruit and retain people of color and women, giving them the tools and pipeline to enjoy long-term careers in baseball.
BET.com chopped it up with Renée E. Tirado, the Vice President, Talent and Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the MLB, to learn more.
Why is now the right time to introduce this MLB Diversity Fellowship Program?
Major League Baseball has had a lot of history and experience with diversity and inclusion. We've had a dedicated department for at least the last 15 years. It's not so much about why now. It's always been a part of our DNA. I think what really turned the tide is we have a commissioner that is completely supportive of this right now and basically said to me and my team, "Look, think outside the box." We have to do something to really move the needle here because we haven't been successful going in the traditional route of just making the assumption that candidates would come to us. It's just serendipitous that we have the leadership in place that's willing to say, "OK, let's move forward, let's do something aggressive, let's be deliberate." So, that's how we got here.
There's the MLB Club Diversity Fellowship Program and the MLB Office of the Commissioner Diversity Fellowship Program. Can you tell us what stands out about each?
It's exciting to have two because it means the entire league is participating in this on a variety of levels. On the club side, that would require an 18- to 24-month commitment from a candidate who's interested in these opportunities and it would be a placement at one of the 20 clubs that opted into the program. It's not because the other 10 were not interested in opting in; it was really more of a litmus test for me. I fully anticipate when we do this on the next go around, that we'll get 100 percent club participation. That said, any candidate interested in this would have to have a little bit of flexibility around what city they would be placed in. They won't be able to pick and choose and that's more by virtue of a couple of things: A) to make sure there's a legitimate commitment to the sport and B) to make sure we match talents with the appropriate club and culture, so all the clubs are submitting job descriptions, so we just want to make sure the match makes sense. That's the club side.
The commissioner's side is a longer commitment. There are only three spots in that space and that will be a three-year rotational program with two years in baseball operations and one year in our labor economics group. They're both equally viable paths to long careers in baseball. It was set up that way deliberately and I think we're going to have a really interesting pool of candidates that are going to be able to start a long-term career in our sport and be the future leadership of baseball.
As it stands now, is there anything current or new on the horizon that the MLB is working on to promote baseball with African-American youth?
If you listen to what the commissioner has been talking about with his role, the primary thing he has repeatedly gone back to as part of what he wants his legacy to be has been always diversity and youth baseball. Our RBI program is in our 25th year. This has been ongoing. What has happened under commissioner [Rob] Manfred is a significant of influx of cash to grow it even bigger. And the appointment of Tony Reagins, who is a former GM, and now is the SVP of all youth programs. This is a department that has gone from maybe 10 events per year to essentially putting on over 52 — almost an event a week around the country, serving youth baseball. The majority of kids getting access are kids of color. We're not a pay-to-play [program]. Our RBI programs are free, accessible to all kids of any background, any demographic, anywhere you want to be. If you want to be part of baseball, there's an opportunity for you to be part of baseball. If you look at the draft this year, several of those kids came out of some of our youth programs. This is a marathon, not a race — it's going to take time, but I fully anticipate as we continue to invest in this, you will see the fruits of our labor pan out whether it's on the field or in the front office.
As the player base of the MLB gets more and more diverse, how vital is it to have a front office that matches that?
It's important — no question. It's not just about diversity per say. It's not just saying, "We've got to get brown people and women in our front offices." It's about getting the most-talented people. There's a lot of talented people who are brown and women who have not historically been attracted to our sport, so we have to be more deliberate. It helps to see yourself reflected in all aspects of the business. Whether it's the player that sees a GM or coach that he can aspire to be or the fan that sees the president or owner of the team that may or may not be from his or her community, that's going to make a difference. It's a big part of what we're doing and it's a big part of the reasoning of everything we're doing around diversity and inclusion around youth programs. It's aspirational, but for the first time I think we're finally into play some programs that actually make it accessible.
Earlier you mentioned baseball's history with striving to be more diverse. We're living in a unique time with several NFL players taking part in national anthem protests to bring awareness to social issues and several NBA players speaking out about some of those same issues. Did the launch of this Fellowship Program just seem like the right time and feel with everything going on?
I think it was just a convergence of a variety of things that happened at the right time. Was the feel there? Yeah. The feel was there, but I don't necessarily know if it's dictated by the climate that we're in or what's happening in the other leagues. It was more about as a business, we have to do better and we could only do better if we have the best — and the best can't be a homogeneous group. Between the commissioner, his commitment to diversity and inclusion, the investment in me and my team, putting me in this position and allowing me to get resources ... everything happened at the right time for whatever reason. I don't necessarily think that we're being dictated by external forces. We're being dictated by the fact that our business necessitates this.
Best-case scenario, in five to 10 years, you're interviewing a candidate that was in the Fellowship Program that's the head of analytics, a GM, running our scouting department, potentially the next Kim Ng, the SVP of Baseball Operations at the commissioner's office level. This is going to create a very strong and legitimate pipeline to those paths of leadership. That's what I anticipate to get out of this. This is the first round of this. This will continue to grow. We will continue to tweak it and make it better as we revisit this. We will probably revisit this in 2019. We're not going to make this annual, so that we can invest very carefully in the development of the candidates. This is, "Hey, apply, come here and we're going to give you everything and every possible tool that's available to us to make you successful."
To learn more about the MLB's inaugural Diversity Fellowship Program and to apply to it, click here.