'Selig Rule' first of its kind in sports
MLB Commissioner emphasized diversity hiring years before others
Baseball's commitment to civil rights is on display every single day of every single season in the dugouts and executive offices across the sport. In the end, it's that simple.
There are men and women of color and different backgrounds and experiences leading the game, shaping it, instilling it with their vision. Once the ceremonies have ended and the speeches have been forgotten, that is what civil rights is all about.
After a weekend of emotion and remembrance in which Major League Baseball honored the courage and vision of the people who were on the front lines of the fight for racial fairness in this country, it still comes down to actions, not words.
Baseball's progress in this area is indisputable. It has long been intertwined in America's civil rights struggle. Jackie Robinson broke the sport's color line in 1947 -- one year before President Truman integrated the Army, seven years before the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision and nearly a decade before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began leading the fight for fairness.
As King once said, baseball forced Americans to see the world in a different way than they'd seen it before. There would be miles to go when Robinson played that first game, but it began with an African-American man playing a baseball game.
"It makes you feel that baseball has been more than just a game, more than just a recreation," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. "We had a great impact on the country."
Commissioner Bud Selig's profound legacy includes 18 years of labor peace, record-setting attendance and revenues and a host of sweeping changes related to technology and the fan experience. Yet none of those accomplishments has had a more meaningful impact than the memo he sent to teams on April 14, 1999.
It would come to be known as the "Selig Rule," and it required every club to consider minority candidates "for all general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development and director of scouting positions."
In addition, Selig asked clubs to provide him a list of their openings and to include a list of candidates, including minority candidates, to be interviewed.
"I'd tell the clubs, 'You're hurting yourself when you're just recycling these guys; you're limiting yourself,'" Selig said. "I believed we have such a great opportunity to do good and constructive work. I'm just asking people to be fair."
Several years later, the NFL would announce its "Rooney Rule," in which football teams were required to do things baseball was already doing. Indeed, baseball was well on its way to reshaping itself by then.
"I'm tremendously proud of it," Reinsdorf said. "I get annoyed when I hear people talk about the Rooney Rule when we had this three years earlier. I want to praise the Commissioner for his foresight. This is one of the first things he did."
Dr. Richard Lapchick of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida once more praised the sport in his annual Racial and Gender Report Card. "Major League Baseball continues to achieve high marks on the issue of racial hiring practices," Lapchick wrote. He also praised the sport for improving gender hiring practices.
"As he nears retirement, one of the legacies of Commissioner Bud Selig is that he recognized the need for diversity in baseball long ago," Lapchick wrote. "MLB continues to make real progress in the areas of inclusion and diversity."
Upon reading those words, Selig said: "That's the highest compliment I've ever gotten."
And that, Selig said, began with Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.
"Baseball, because of Rickey and Jackie, changed American society," Selig said. "That's what we should be trying to do. A week before Jackie died [in 1972], he said that someday he hoped to see a black face in the dugout [working as manager]. I think if Jackie came back and looked around, he'd say, 'You're doing OK, Bud. But you can do better.' I would agree with him."
In the 14 years since the Selig Rule, baseball's front offices have been transformed from about three percent women and minorities to more than 20 percent. Also, with an assortment of events -- including the Civil Rights Game, Jackie Robinson Day, Roberto Clemente Day and the MLB Diversity Business Summit -- baseball continues to cast its spotlight on racial and gender fairness.
Baseball has come so far that African-American players and coaches no longer see a glass ceiling. Where Frank Robinson and Dusty Baker may have thought they'd never get a chance to manage, Astros manager Bo Porter, 41, who is black, simply encourages young people in the game to be prepared for their opportunity.
"I'm extremely proud of how far we've come," Porter said. "Before the Commissioner implemented that policy, it was different. I never thought I wouldn't get a chance. I think because of Frank Robinson and Dusty Baker and Cito Gaston and Ron Washington and Willie Randolph, who came before me, they helped give me an opportunity. They were my mentors, too. I pray that one day I'll have the opportunity to return the favor."
Selig said he's proud that progress in affirmative action will be a large part of his legacy. But he said it's about more than that. It's about something really basic and something that ought to be really American.
It's about trying to do the right thing.