Frank White kept smiling for the cameras. He made sure to say all of the right things during the interviews. He was a gracious guest on the radio talk shows.
Usually, the new manager of a rookie league team in Winter Haven, Fla., isn’t big news, but when he’s the first black minor league manager in Boston Red Sox history, that’s a story.
The Red Sox, after all, were the last organization in major league baseball to integrate. Pumpsie Green finally broke the Boston barrier in 1959, a dozen years after Jackie Robinson had breached baseball’s color line. The Red Sox since have employed only 34 black players, fewest in the major leagues. They had 16 blacks in their entire organization last season, again the fewest in baseball.
The hiring of White, though, was designed to help dispel the thought that the Red Sox are a racist organization. Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent heartily congratulated the Red Sox. The city of Boston patted itself on the back. It was the finest publicity $30,000 could buy.
But it may all be over, even before it has really started.
Just a month after being hired, White said last week that this will be his first and final season as a minor league manager. In fact, unless he has a drastic change of heart, he’s through with baseball altogether when the season ends.
“I’ve suffered long enough in baseball,” White said this week from his Kansas City-area home. “It’s easier to walk away from the game than to stay in, be frustrated, and have to keep fighting the battle. I’m sick of it.
“It’s too humbling, too degrading, and it’s just become too obvious what’s going on. I’m really tired of fighting the system. I kept thinking it would get better, but it just gets worse every year.
“If you’re black, and finished as a player, baseball really wants nothing to do with you.”
White, who played for 18 years with the Kansas City Royals, perhaps illustrates better than anyone the frustration and anguish suffered today by minorities who can’t crack baseball’s management positions.
This is a man who made a career of being the Royals’ second baseman. He was a five-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner. He could have run for mayor and easily won. Sure, the Royals may have George Brett. The Chiefs had Len Dawson. But White was raised in Kansas City and played his entire career in the Royals’ organization.
During that illustrious career, he said he was promised, numerous times, that a job would be waiting for him when he retired. It sounded perfect. White wanted to go to the front office, perhaps as an assistant farm director, and he had no doubts he’d be successful.
“I found out that when you’re a player, they’ll tell you what you want to hear,” White said. “But when you’re done, they put on their earplugs and put blinders on their eyes. It’s ugly. It’s like you disappear.
“I sent out letters and resumes to every team in the big leagues, and after 18 years of baseball, here I am, in rookie ball. Can you believe it? The Royals, my God, wouldn’t even interview me.
“Well, I’ve decided the hell with the Royals.
“The hell with baseball.”
White is among hundreds of minority players who apparently have been shunned by baseball. Never mind the credentials. Forget the social skills. It’s the skin color, many say, that keeps them out of executive positions.
In a year in which 13 managerial openings occurred in the major leagues, Hal McRae of Kansas City was the only minority hired. There are no minority general managers.
“It’s like there’s no hope, no hope at all,” four-time batting champion Bill Madlock said. “Everyone knows they don’t want blacks to take over the game. They’ll hire a few of us, but they’ll make sure they’re in positions where they can’t advance.
“Take a look around. Everyone knows a first base coach doesn’t go anywhere. Most managers come from third base jobs. So where are all the blacks? At first base.”
Indeed, the only minority third base coaches in the major leagues are Tom Spencer of the Houston Astros and Jerry Manuel of the Montreal Expos. The only new minority triple-A manager is Chris Chambliss, who was voted The Sporting News’ manager of the year.
“It’s like they’re saying, ‘You can play for us, but when you’re done, you can’t work for us,’ ” Madlock said. “It’s so depressing.”
Madlock has been unemployed since leaving baseball four years ago.
“I just don’t understand it,” he said. “It’s not like we’re applying for an associate professorship at Harvard. I mean, I think Jim Essian (formerly of the Cubs) was the worst manager there ever was, and I think Whitey Herzog is the best. Now, there’s a whole lot of us that could fall between those two.
“If Essian gets a job, we should all get jobs. But we’re not stupid. We know what’s going on. They’re making sure baseball never becomes like basketball, or even football.”
Then there is Don Baylor. He long has been considered the top minority managerial candidate in the game. Everywhere he goes, everywhere he interviews, he’s told that one day he’ll make a fine manager.
Baylor, who was interviewed by the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners for their managerial vacancies, once again must settle for a coaching job this season. He was hired by the St. Louis Cardinals to be their hitting coach. And after what transpired this season, he is beginning to wonder if he’ll ever get his opportunity.
“You think about (leaving baseball),” Baylor said. “But they’re not going to run me off that easy. Right now, I’m troubled by it. I’m very disappointed.
“The trend that scares me is they’re bringing in younger managers. I know exactly what they’re doing. Then they can recycle those guys for the next 10 to 12 years, and then bring in a new batch to be recycled.”
It’s small consolation, to be sure, but at least Baylor has a coaching job. Most of his peers continue sending out resume after resume.
“They like to tell you the door’s open,” said Amos Otis, former hitting coach of the Padres. “But as you approach it, it closes real subtly. I’ve sent out 50 resumes the last two years, and gotten three letters back. A month ago I got a letter back from the San Francisco Giants, telling me they had nothing available. And a week later they hired a manager and another coach in A-ball. That stuff happens a lot.
“It’s like once you stop playing, you’re not on the face of the earth anymore. They make sure you don’t even talk about it too much, because if you do, they’ll never let you get in the game.”