We should be used to the Cleveland baseball team saying one thing and acting another by now. For all the goodwill ditching a racist logo and changing the name has brought the organization, it is worth asking why these problems lingered into the second decade of the 21st century.
Remember when Mark Shapiro said the racist logo was “troubling to me personally” as if he were not one of the most important people in the organization prior to moving to Toronto? Of course, even in his role of power Shapiro was just one man, but his words seemed like public relations cover for turning a blind eye while he was in a role where he could effect change. Perhaps the Cleveland organization is just really good at the whole PR thing, because Shapiro’s successor seems to be doing the same thing.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic published an article today about White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams making an impassioned plea for baseball executives to diversify their front offices. The whole article is very much worth your time and I suggest you read it (go on, this article will still be here when you get back), but for our purposes, the quotes from Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti are worth keying in on. He told Ken Rosenthal:
“If someone was in that room and they weren’t moved by it and didn’t feel as if it was a call to action for us to be better, then that would be alarming to me. On the heels of what Curtis Granderson and Kenny Williams shared, it would be hard to envision someone not being moved.”
This comes in addition to what Antonetti told Rosenthal in June of 2020, after a draft-night that featured MLB execs holding Black Lives Matters signs: “If we fast-forward a year from now, look back and have not taken meaningful action as individuals, as an organization and as a sport, then our words are hollow.”
Well, if you knock on the Cleveland franchise it will probably sound resonant and loud, because it’s hollow all the way through. On the Front Office page of Cleveland’s official website there are 30 names under “Executive Office.” By Google searching, I was able to find a public page with pictures of 29 of those individuals. It was not the most rigorous scientific research, but it was certainly instructive. Of those 29 individuals, 23 appear to be white males by their picture, making the Cleveland executive office 77% white male. When Williams told those assembled at the GM Meetings that he felt like he was on an island as he looked over the conference, I assume that’s also how anyone greeting Cleveland’s executives would feel.
Matthew Grimes was hired as Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion by the Cleveland franchise in June of 2021. His LinkedIn profile states that he aims to “Infuse diversity, equity and inclusive principles and programs into all facets of our operations’’ and “Lead the development of DE&I strategy focused on building a diverse workforce.” These are admirable goals and certainly in line with what Antonetti spoke about in June of 2020. But it took the president of baseball operations a full calendar year to make one hire based on the call for “meaningful action” from the 2020 draft, and that’s not exactly inspiring.
The Cleveland baseball team is not a publicly-traded company and owes us nothing in terms of an explanation for its hiring processes, but that doesn’t mean the results are not open to criticism. The fact Cleveland’s front office does not look much like the team, the City of Cleveland (40% white, 48% Black, 12% Hispanic or Latinx per the US Census Bureau), or the country at large is practically a criticism in and of itself.
Antonetti does not absolve himself of guilt in Rosenthal’s piece, particularly regarding the lack of Latinx representation: “I’m looking in the mirror. When I say we need to be better, I include myself in that, too.” But actions speak louder than words, and Cleveland’s actions are awfully quiet thus far. Change may not be far off, thanks to revisions to the Selig Rule — as reported by Brittany Ghiroli at The Athletic — but it sure would have been nice to see Cleveland leading the way on this without a league-wide rule dictating their actions. Once again, however, fans are left hearing one thing from the organization and seeing results that speak to something completely different.