In one fell swoop, the Toronto Blue Jays said hello to new general manager J.P. Ricciardi, and see ya later to assistant GM Dave Stewart. News of Ricciardi’s hiring coincided with Stewart’s resignation from the club.
In parting to take a job with the Milwaukee Brewers, Stewart took some pot shots at the Toronto organization and Major League Baseball at large for their treatment of visible minorities. He says that he is tired of being overlooked for significant positions in the front office because he is black.
The Blue Jays, who could have taken the moral high ground and hired Stewart to be the club’s GM, chose not to. Because of Toronto’s cosmopolitan makeup, they have been aware of ethnicity in hiring in the past—witness the hiring of ex-manager Cito Gaston.
However, they are not obligated to lead the way in matters such as racial integration of the front offices. They have a business to run and hired the man they felt the most capable of bringing the World Series back to southern Ontario. If he happens to be Caucasian, that’s immaterial to them.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig made a consolation phone call to Stewart shortly after the GM position was filled. From that, you can deduce that the league had been hoping to improve its image with a public relations-friendly hiring.
Unfortunately for the commish, the Jays made a decision based on baseball, not PR. For a team with a high payroll and a low winning percentage, would it make sense for them to hire from within the organization that led to it?
Stewart’s argument that minorities get the shaft when it comes to filling roles in the upper echelons of baseball is hard to ignore. Currently, Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox is the only black general manager in the Bigs. In fact, as of a couple of years ago, a tally placed the number of Major League GMs at 411 all-time. Of those, 409 had been white.
In a sport where the majority of athletes are minorities (read that again slowly), their lack of presence in the front office is glaring. The problem lies in the fact that all the owners are white and, since Marge Schott’s exit from those ranks, none of them would ever admit to their hiring practices being influenced by the colour of the applicant’s skin. However, their collective practices would indicate otherwise.
Until the ownership demographics change, it’s hard to imagine any significant or swift changes on that front.
Stewart’s vocal disappointment at not being hired was predictable. He’s a man who got his reputation as a fierce competitor. He didn’t help the Jays win their second World Series Championship because he took losing lightly. His death stare from the mound intimidated countless batters in his heyday. However, while that temperament may have suited him in his playing days, or even as a pitching coach for the San Diego Padres, it doesn’t translate well into the board room.
The most unfortunate thing about the whole situation is the damage that Stewart’s reputation has sustained.
Many people see his parting shots as sour grapes. They will remember him as a man who was a sore loser, who pulled the race card because he lost a job he wasn’t the most qualified for.
While he applied the torch liberally in his exit from Toronto, he didn’t burn all his bridges. He has promised to return to help with his various charitable events. His Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless will continue unabated. Hopefully, he will be remembered for those things and not as a man who was unwilling to wait his turn.
Many in the media had assumed, when Gord Ash hired him after Stewart’s stint with the Padres, that he was being groomed to take over, and would indeed replace Ash in the near future.
While his moment in the sun has been postponed a bit, there is very little doubt that it is just that: a postponement. He will be a GM in the Major Leagues some day, assuming his reaction hasn’t soured other franchises to his attitude.