Valuing diversity starts at the top was the message that Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Robert Manfred Jr. promoted at Chase Field on Mar. 8, 2016. On Mar. 9, the third and last day of the MLB Business Diversity Summit, which was held in Phoenix, Arizona, executives from various teams acknowledged past problems, focused on their visions of the future of the game, and described actions they are taking to ensure, not just the diversity of the game, but the viability of the baseball.
Common understanding is important to any cause. When asked what they thought “diversity” meant, answers from a panel of MLB executives included “inclusion,” “representative,” “balance,” and “opportunity.” Marian Rhodes, DBacks Senior Vice President/Chief Human Resources & Diversity Officer, a FAMU alumnus who played a prominent role throughout the conference, described how she does not want to do business with companies that are not diverse. Ken Hendricks, the Managing General Partner, stated that achieving diversity has to be a core principle and is a full-time job.
Seminars and panel discussions that day described how baseball is making a difference in communities and how the demographics of players, employees, contractors and fans must change to ensure the future of the game. For example, Debbie Castaldo, DBacks Vice President of Corporate and Community Impact, cited the jersey distribution plan benefitting 40,000 kids in 75 Arizona little league teams.
There were out-of-state students present, like Tyler George, in sports and recreation at Temple, and Chloe Cain, in Communications and Media Arts at Chicago State University. They were both excited to acquire contacts and hear about the opportunities in their chosen aspirations. Kathleen McWilliams, Associate General Counsel at E-Trade made the Summit a great learning opportunity for her 15-year-old son, Kelly.
The Summit ended with an excellent, but sobering, documentary, “The Hammer of Hank Aaron,” which detailed the horrific harassment he experienced in baseball, as a Black man besting Babe Ruth’s home run record. Dave “Stew” Stewart, who was a famous All-Star pitcher, coach and agent, before becoming the only African-American General Manager, earlier expressed reservations about baseball taking some steps forward, then a few backwards.
MLB has to work harder, realistically and consistently to re-engage younger, diverse people. As Pat O’Connor, President & CEO, Minor League Baseball, mentioned, baseball has to be relevant. The Summit attracted 1400, and the executives who came were optimistic. MLB is trying.