SABR event-goers 'beyond grateful' for MLB diversity efforts

MLB sponsors 35 in-person attendees, plus more virtually, at SABR Analytics Conference

March 14th, 2023

PHOENIX -- From March 10-12, the baseball analytics world descended upon Arizona for the 2023 edition of the SABR Analytics Conference, providing an in-person sanctum for baseball enthusiasts to learn about and network within the sport’s data community.

This year’s conference also represented the seventh year that Major League Baseball has worked in partnership with SABR through its Diversity Pipeline Program -- the league’s initiative that seeks to identify, develop and grow the pool of qualified underrepresented candidates for on-field and front office roles.

The Diversity Pipeline Program has effortlessly worked to promote diversity at SABR’s conference -- at the beginning of the partnership in 2017, the initiative sponsored 12 candidates to attend the event, covering their registration costs. For the first time since 2020, the collaboration was able to provide 35 candidates with in-person access in Phoenix, as well as more than 120 attendees through virtual measures, an unprecedented growth that serves as a source of pride for the program’s brass.

This year, the sponsored attendees visited seven MLB clubs in Arizona during Spring Training (including trips to the Giants' and Dodgers' camps, where they met former outfielder Hunter Pence and manager Dave Roberts) and had eight Zoom calls with additional teams (including the Yankees and Red Sox), meeting and connecting with their front-office staff. At these in-person visits and calls, the candidates heard firsthand about the types of skill sets needed and what the hiring process looks like for front-office positions in 2023.

“We’re giving people access to understand how data analytics plays a role within baseball, but also providing an opportunity for those to get in front of different executives from across the league,” said Tyrone Brooks, the senior director of the Diversity Pipeline Program. “In the game of baseball, relationships are very important. And that’s where we’re trying to help individuals start the process of building those connections.”

Brooks shared that he and the rest of the initiative visited HBCUs and other universities, disseminated information through social media like LinkedIn and utilized previous events or applications to get the word out about the opportunity. The efforts produced a diverse crop of candidates that arrived in Phoenix, representing a vast set of backgrounds, ages and experiences.

Former players such as Sean Smith (16-year professional career punctuated by an emotional home run trot), Javy Guerra (11 seasons in the Major Leagues) and Samantha Magalas (three-time Women’s Baseball World Cup competitor) were among the attendees, as well as current college students such as Jacorey Boudreaux (Grambling State University) and Grace Hughes (Molloy University).

“It’s been an incredible experience because you’re able to make strong connections with people -- they meet you face-to-face, know your name and they remember what you’re saying,” said Hughes, who attended the SABR Analytics Conference virtually in 2022.

She noted that an important, yet constantly underrated, aspect of being able to attend in person was being able to look around the room and see faces that don’t traditionally appear in front offices.

“We were talking about this as a cohort, noting just how diverse the panels have been the past couple of weeks,” said Hughes. “But knowing that you have other people that are interested in the same path as you are, you immediately get that level of comfort. Right off the bat, I talked to one of my fellow cohort members and we connected, she and I were able to talk about baseball, and that was really comforting.”

Smith, who is part of The Players Alliance and met Brooks at the Winter Meetings in 2014, cherished the opportunity that the Diversity Pipeline Program provided, seeing the weekend as an invaluable time to learn and grow.

“You can only learn a certain amount of things on the field,” said Smith. “Just being around these people, I’m trying to be a sponge. You sit back and just soak it all in, you learn something new every day here, it could be from one of these college students or these players with baseball backgrounds.”

At the end of the day, the success of this partnership is only the beginning. Brooks wants to continue to make sure that women, students from HBCUs and former players all feel included in the opportunities to learn about data analytics. There’s a passion that rests inside Brooks, who just wants to ensure that the candidates have the foundation to make the transition to coaching, scouting or the front office, diversifying the talent pool one step at a time.

That earnest effort means the world to those around him.

“I’m grateful for Tyrone Brooks, 100 percent,” said Smith. “He’s the reason that I’m here. What he’s done for myself and a bunch of other people -- you can’t even quantify that. The opportunities that he’s given me and so many other people, putting men and women of all colors in a place to succeed, it’s done with love and hard work. It’s a collective effort, but for that foundation, I’m beyond grateful.”