On the week that marks the 42nd anniversary of Frank Robinson being hired as Major League Baseball’s first African-American manger, Dusty Baker and Dave Roberts are about to make a different kind of history.
As the Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers get set for their NL division series on Friday, Baker and Roberts will become the first pair of African-American managers to square off in the postseason. It’s a milestone not lost on both men, especially considering they are MLB’s only black skippers at the moment.
“I was hoping that it would be [former Texas Rangers manager] Ron Washington and myself in the World Series before,” Baker said after Thursday’s pre-NLDS workout. “I mean, significance is it gives us some pride in being African-American to show people that not only can we do the job, but we can do the job better than most. Especially this year.”
The 67-year-old Baker, who’s in his 20th season leading a big-league team, has been vocal in recent years about baseball’s lack of minority hiring among the managerial ranks. Last November, when it appeared he was out of the running for the Nats job, he expression his frustration.
“How many teams are willing to accept what we have to offer? We’ve got something to offer,” Baker told the San Francisco Chronicle then. “How much respect do they have for my knowledge and expertise and wisdom over the years? There’s a certain thing called a life experience degree. There used to be.
“I get tired of talking about it. We should be talking about another issue at this point in time. We’re talking about the same thing we were talking about 40 years ago."
Baker, of course, was hired by Washington a few days later. In his first season with the Nats, he led them to a 95-win campaign and their third division title since 2012.
Likewise, Roberts oversaw a Dodgers team that won the NL West for the fourth straight season, doing so in his rookie year as a manager. While he wanted to keep the attention on the series at hand, the 44-year-old also acknowledged the significance of the moment.
“Obviously, it's important, and it doesn't go unnoticed or underappreciated,” Roberts said. “I think speaking for Dusty, myself, what it means to the game of baseball, to society…I think that when we look back, it’s going to be more special. But I definitely know it's certainly noted, and not to go unappreciated.”
There may be a ways to go before baseball's managerial hires accurately reflect the more diverse demographics among its players. But as clubs with vacancies begin the search for their next clubhouse leaders, Baker hopes the immediate impact that he and Roberts have had on their respective teams may influence some of the sport’s decision makers.
“Hopefully it motivates other organizations to get some African-American managers,” Baker said. “Also to motivate other players that are playing now, and former players that have managerial aspirations. It probably brings a lot of pride across America and not only African-American people, but everybody.”