Ken Williams is fed up. A week ago The Athletic reported that Williams voiced his concerns about MLB front offices being mostly dominated by white males and having a complete lack of diversity. He wants something to be done about it. During the GM meetings, he pointed out that he was one of the few minorities in the room year after year.
As it currently stands under 8 percent of the league’s players are black. Since 1972 only 27 black men have been hired as managers. There are currently no black general managers in the MLB and Miami Marlins Kim Ng is the only female general manager. When she was hired she became the first Asian American to hold the title in MLB history along with being the first woman. Ng is one of only three people of color leading MLB baseball operations. She is joined by Farhan Zaidi of the Giants and Al Avila of the Tigers. Derek Jeter became the first African American to hold a CEO of a major league baseball team in 2017.
Williams conveyed a message that has been a hot topic in baseball since 2020 when the MLB sent a unified message during the amateur draft and Opening Day that they stood with the Black Lives Matter movement.
In a phone interview, last month with NBC Sports Chicago Williams let his frustration be known.
“After all this time, I’ve got an understanding that what moves people really boils down to incentive or penalty,” Williams said. “And what that means, what that is, I’m not exactly sure yet. But if there’s a commitment and a spirit behind something that everyone agrees should be done, then action should take place. You should see results.”
It looks like his criticism has been taken to heart. A week after he raised these concerns MLB’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee met at the owners meeting in Chicago to discuss the issue.
Neil Leibman, the Texas Rangers Chief Operating Officer, chairs the committee.
“What he said really echoed what the committee is all about,” Leibman said. “And what it prompted us to do is rather than do a standard agenda, we sat down and we talked about what Kenny said, and how we can implement that?”
In October the league sent a letter to teams saying that the Selig Rule, which requires teams to consider minorities when filling vacancies for manager, general manager, assistant general manager, scouting director, and minor league director, was going to be updated.
Leibman and the committee feel that the rule has good intentions but “we need to put a little bit more teeth into” it. The updated rule honed in on internal promotions. Clubs are now required to give the commissioners office a succession plan for senior baseball operations positions, including an expectation that when a club promotes a white man it will promote or hire a woman or person of color to fill a vacancy created by the promotion.
But even this rule change has its flaws and it is not lost on Ken Williams. This rule change can lead to disdain from others if teams are hiring people based strictly on race to fill a quota and not their qualifications.
“Even I have mixed emotions about it- and I’ve expressed those to the commissioner and to our diversity committee- because even though you’re planning on bringing in quality people, sometimes those people that come in under those edicts, it’s held against them,” Williams said.
“I think we have to work hard to understand that no one here is talking about bringing in people that aren’t qualified for the job. Just the opposite. Just giving people an opportunity who are qualified.”
The Diversity and Inclusion committee is now tasked with the tough question of how to tackle this problem while still addressing its slow progress.
However, Micheal Hill, MLB senior vice president of on-field operations expressed optimism.
“The part of it that was so encouraging for me is that this is a conversation that’s widespread. I think the awareness is a huge part of making improvements. I think you first come to grips with what your challenges are before you can truly attack them. And when you’ve got an entire ownership committee talking about ways to make things better, I think that’s a tremendous thing.”
Hill also added, “I think that was the overriding theme from Kenny, that we just need to continue to push to make things the best they possibly can be.”
By speaking out Ken Williams brought an uncomfortable dialogue to the forefront of the conversation. The MLB is now actively trying to address the issue. They can no longer afford to let the next generation change the makeup of MLB front offices.