Ortiz: MLB fails in hiring Latino GMs, managers

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By Jose de Jesus Ortiz

Soon after Moises Rodriguez arrived in New York from Puerto Rico at 10 years old in the early 1980s, he declared his allegiance to the Yankees over the Mets.  His devotion to the Bronx Bombers helped him develop an affinity for the Cardinals, whose fans derided the team from Queens as the Pond Scum Mets.  “I’m a baseball junkie,” said Rodriguez, the Cardinals’ director of international operations. “In my neighborhood you were either a Yankees fan or a Mets fan. I grew up a Yankees fan, in the mid ’80s.  “I also grew up cheering for the Cardinals every time they played the Mets, so I knew a lot about the Cardinals.”  Rodriguez, 42, is more than just a fan of the Cardinals now. He’s a key member of the franchise’s front office and one of the most respected directors of international operations in baseball.  Twins owner Jim Pohlad, who fired longtime general manager Terry Ryan on Monday, would be wise to ask the Cardinals for permission to interview Rodriguez for his vacant GM job.  The mid-market Twins need a new GM with Rodriguez’s skill set and extensive experience to lift that struggling franchise.

It’s a shame that Al Avila’s Tigers are the only team in MLB that employs a Latino general manager. That count can be stretched to two if you consider that Astros GM Jeff Luhnow was born in Mexico to American parents.  Since former baseball Commissioner Bud Selig named Omar Minaya GM of the MLB-owned Expos in 2002, former Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., Avila and Luhnow are the only Latin Americans to break into baseball’s GM fraternity.  Even more embarrassingly, there is no Latino manager in the majors. Think about that disparity for a second. Contrast that statistic with the fact that five of the American League starters and three of the National League starters at this year’s All-Star Game were either born in Latin America or were children of Latin Americans.  Considering that inequity and baseball’s awful track record of minority hiring — especially in terms of Latinos — we set out to compose a list of qualified Latinos who deserve consideration for GM openings.  Soon after Ryan was fired, we reached out to a dozen current and former MLB presidents, GMs, MLB officials and national baseball columnists to ask them for names of Latinos who should be considered for GM openings. It was quite telling that more than half of the respondents named Rodriguez.

Rene Francisco, the Royals’ assistant GM in charge of international operations, also was mentioned often.   Minaya, who currently works for the players’ association, definitely deserves another shot. The Mets thrived and reached the World Series last year with many of the players he left in the system when he was fired in October 2010.  In his annual address to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America before this year’s All-Star Game, Commissioner Rob Manfred noted the “glaring” lack of Latino managers.  Manfred took a positive step in January by naming Tyrone Brooks to baseball’s new Front Office & Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program.  Rodriguez is part of Manfred’s diversity advisory group along with former major league outfielder Quinton McCracken, the Astros’ director of player personnel.  Rodriguez and McCracken, who is black, are two candidates who have paid their dues in important front-office roles and deserve consideration.  Under Rodriguez’s supervision, the Cardinals scouted and signed Carlos Martinez, top prospect Alex Reyes and the late phenom Oscar Taveras. Rodriguez also spent his first nine years in baseball working for the commissioner’s office from 1998 until Luhnow hired him for the Cardinals in 2007.  Former MLB vice president of international operations Lou Melendez has tracked Rodriguez’s career since before he hired him for his department in 2004.  By then, Rodriguez had developed an expertise with the commissioner’s office working with teams monitoring the waiver wire, major league rules, player movement and minor-league contract approval.

“He’s ready for bigger and better things,” Melendez said. “Everybody knows that. Moises is not one to make a stink about it, but he’s a very sharp guy. It’s just not the baseball. He understands the central office, the commissioner’s office, the club level and international.

“He has a great personality. People trust him and he’s capable. Whether you’re an independent trainer … a player representative or parent, you feel comfortable with him because he comes off as honest.”  Rodriguez is also modest. He was hesitant to grant an interview for this column. He doesn’t want to appear as though he’s lobbying for an interview.  He wants to let his résumé speak for itself. That’s a noble trait, but history shows us that baseball needs help finding and hiring qualified diverse GM candidates.

“I think you’ve got to try to achieve a certain level in what you’re doing and try to become good at that before you look ahead,” he said. “I feel if I excel and produce and be the best at international scouting that I could be I’m confident that would lead to other opportunities.

“You do well in one area and you hope that it opens up doors at something higher. I’m confident in my abilities. I think any good person with professional pride wouldn’t pose limitations on himself, but at the same time I understand what that position represents. It’s a big job. There’s only 30 of them.”

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