It was just a hunch, that Frank Robinson might have a reaction to the baseball news in the Tuesday morning papers.
The news was that Jim Lefebvre had been hired to manage the Seattle Mariners and Art Howe had been hired to manage the Houston Astros. Lefebvre and Howe are white.
So of the 26 major league teams, 24 have white managers.
The Baltimore Horribles have a black manager, Frank Robinson.
The Angels don’t have a manager at the moment, but of the several candidates, none has even a decent suntan. One rumor is that the Angels are considering Bob Costas, since he has demonstrated an uncanny knack for motivating a ballclub.
As Robinson figures it, 1 out of 25--soon to be 26--is a lousy average, even if the 1 is himself.
“It doesn’t bother me that they didn’t hire minorities for these positions,” Robinson said from his home in Los Angeles. “What bothers me is that it’s business as usual. What I mean is, there were five (managerial) jobs open this winter. The only minority person named, as being interviewed or considered for those jobs, was Bill Robinson.
“You have to know the odds against one person. That’s what disturbs me. Not that Dallas (Green) or Jeff (Torborg) got hired. What bothers me is that no progress has been made as far as hiring minorities for decision-making positions.
"(Baseball owners and top executives) are thumbing their nose at people, saying, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do it the way we’ve always done it.’ ”
Robinson, history class, was baseball’s first black manager, with the Cleveland Indians in 1975, although he preserved his amateur standing that season by managing for nothing. He was playing for the Indians when the team offered him the manager’s job, and they refused to sweeten his salary by a dime.
And this is a sport in which players won’t throw their dirty socks into the clubhouse laundry cart unless it’s covered by a bonus clause.
Robinson managed the Indians for 3 seasons, he managed in the minors 1 year, and he skippered the Giants from ’81 to ’84. And now the Horribles.
Thirteen seasons since he broke the managerial color barrier, Robinson remains the only black manager. He sees this as a lack of progress, although at least now he is paid to manage.
“It’s the same situation as when I was being considered for jobs,” Robinson said. “Every time a job opened up it was always, ‘Frank Robinson, Frank Robinson.’ What I’m trying to say is, there were other qualified people worthy of being considered.
“This time around (for the five teams hiring managers) there were other qualified people out there who should have been considered.”
Give us some names, Frank.
“Willie Stargell, Bob Watson, Elrod Hendricks, Chris Chambliss. These are just off the top of my head. Bobby Tolan should be considered. Vada Pinson is certainly interested in managing and is well deserving. Tolan interviewed with Houston, but not with (John) McMullen (chairman of the board). McMullen talked to four other candidates, but not Tolan.”
I asked Robinson if some teams interview or mention a man like Bill Robinson as a smoke screen, as if to say, ‘See, we’re considering blacks.’
“No doubt about it,” Robinson said.
“The thing that disturbs me is, although I know major change doesn’t take place overnight, minorities have not been hired in decision-making positions. Farm directors, heads of scouting . . . “
Baseball’s traditional argument-excuse, as eloquently expressed by Al Campanis, is that such decision-makers are hired after they have paid dues, and blacks who aspire to such jobs tend to be unwilling to spend time working up the ladder.
“St. Louis hired Ted Simmons as farm director,” Robinson said. “He did not work his way up. Dal Maxvill, St. Louis general manager, did not work his way up. He was taken off the coaching lines at Atlanta. Minorities have to work their way up, not whites.”
It’s almost eerie. When teams hire managers, no man’s qualifications are too laughable to rule him out. Many guys get big league managing jobs with no experience. The Padres once hired Jerry Coleman, an announcer whose trademarks were malapropisms and befuddlement.
Ah, but when a black candidate is mentioned, solemnity sets in. The brass wants to see the guy’s kindergarten dossier and background checks from the FBI, CIA and TRW.
It’s not necessarily a matter of conscious discrimination. It’s more a matter of ancient mind-set, and a circle-of-friends situation. The result is the same.
But why should Frank Robinson beef? He’s outspoken, at times abrasive, definitely black, yet he keeps getting hired to manage teams. In his recent book, “Extra Innings,” he takes vicious shots at baseball in general and at legends such as Walter Alston in particular. Yet, baseball teams keep hiring him.
Wouldn’t he be wise to back off?
“Oh, I think about myself, but I’m not concerned about just Frank Robinson,” he said. “There are things more important than individual accomplishment. At this time in my career, there’s a bigger cause--furthering minority opportunities in baseball, trying to erase an injustice. And I think it is an injustice, it’s ridiculous. Baseball is dragging its feet.”
Hey, I mentioned, it could be worse. Look at the NFL, which has never had a black coach.
“The NFL may, all of a sudden, zoom right past baseball,” Robinson said. “That’s how slow baseball is going.”