Pale By Comarison With No African-americans On Active Roster; Phils Fuel Long-held Perceptions Of Racism Fighting A Racist Image Phils' History, Current Roster Feed Perception Of Bias

Posted: July 18, 1996

The first time it hit general manager Lee Thomas, really struck him, he was sitting in his club box seat at the 1993 World Series, watching the Phillies play the Blue Jays.

Omigosh, he remembers thinking with a sudden stab of recognition. ``We have all white players on the field.''

* It happened in the fifth game of this season, against the Reds at Veterans Stadium. Manager Jim Fregosi wrote Lenny Dykstra into the leadoff spot on his lineup card, playing centerfield. He was followed by second baseman Mickey Morandini, rightfielder Jim Eisenreich, leftfielder Darren Daulton, third baseman Todd Zeile, catcher Mike Lieberthal, first baseman Gene Schall, shortstop Kevin Stocker and pitcher Rich Hunter.

Mark Whiten pinch-hit in the fifth inning. He was the only African-American to play for the Phillies that day.

The Reds, even with All-Star shortstop Barry Larkin getting a rest, started four blacks. Cincinnati won, 8-4.

* Outfielder Glenn Murray went on the disabled list July 6. Since then, the Phillies have been without a single African-American on the active major league roster. The Minnesota Twins are the only other team in that situation.

Twice since Murray was disabled, the Phillies have put a starting lineup on the field with only one minority player, Puerto Rican-born centerfielder Ricky Otero.

``That's hard to do,'' Thomas admitted. ``You can't do that if you try.''

* These are the facts, spelled out in black and white:

* There is no denying that the Phillies were the last team in the National League to integrate. The first African-American was third baseman John Kennedy in 1957, 10 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Dodgers.

* There can be no argument that the Phillies have had some great black players over the years. Dave Cash, Garry Maddox, Bake McBride and Gary Matthews come quickly to mind. All four, however, were originally signed by other organizations. Dick Allen remains the only significant black player signed and developed by the Phillies.

* Over the same span, the Phillies' marquee players - those who have gotten the biggest contracts and been most heavily promoted and marketed - have been unfailingly white. Mike Schmidt. Pete Rose. Greg Luzinski. Steve Carlton. Bob Boone. Larry Bowa. Steve Bedrosian. Von Hayes. Lance Parrish. Darren Daulton. Lenny Dykstra. John Kruk. Gregg Jefferies.

This has created the impression that the Phillies as an organization, by omission or commission, are not interested in acquiring top black players.

``We have done a lot of research and focus group studies on that issue,'' club president Bill Giles said. ``It is our intention to try to get some African-Americans who can play. But you can't do it just by snapping your fingers.

``Our goal is to put the best team possible on the field and we'd like to do it with a good [racial] mix. As of now, we're working on doing that.''

There is no question the perception of disinterest exists.

But does it have a basis in fact? That is a question that defies glib or simplistic answers.

For example, critics can make a case that the Phillies have made just three high-profile free-agent signings over the years: Rose in December 1978, Parrish in March 1987 and Jefferies in December 1994. All are white.

It is also true, however, that the Phillies were first in line to offer free agent Bobby Bonilla the five-year, $25 million contract he said he was seeking after the 1991 season and later sweetened their bid. Bonilla still signed with the Mets.

A point can be made that while many of the very best players in baseball (Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Tony Gwynn, Albert Belle and Mo Vaughn, to name just a few) are black, the Phillies have been conspicuously deficient in coming up with their own black stars.

Yes, the Phillies passed up a chance to draft Frank Thomas in 1989. But they took Jeff Jackson, an African-American high school outfielder from Chicago, instead. That's not racism. That's just a bad scouting decision.

There are only three Phillies currently working on long-term contracts: Daulton, Dykstra and Jefferies. But it also is a fact that the only multiyear deal given to a Phillies pitcher in recent years was the three-year, $4.75 million package Ken Howell got before the 1990 season. Howell won eight games before his career was ended by shoulder problems.

The Phillies expected outfielder Ron Jones to be a star. His career was cut short before it got off the ground by serious knee injuries in back-to-back seasons.

It is worth noting that the Phillies have reportedly talked about trading catcher Benito Santiago to the Baltimore Orioles or the Montreal Expos. Sources say they are holding out for outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds from the Orioles or are trying to convince the Expos to part with outfielder Cliff Floyd. Both players are black.

After third baseman Scott Rolen, the prospect closest to being ready to make the jump from Triple A Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre to the big leagues might well be outfielder Wendell Magee. He is black.

The Phillies had hoped outfielder Tony Longmire, who is black, would play regularly this season. He has been on the disabled list all year following wrist surgery. Second baseman Kevin Jordan, also black, was getting some playing time before he, too, went on the DL after knee surgery. Murray was hurt just as he was expected to get an extended look.

Whiten opened the season as the regular rightfielder. He was released. He also was batting .236 at the time. And reliever Dave Leiper, who is white, was also released the same day.

Outfielder Lee Tinsley was traded back to the Red Sox. Maybe the Phillies gave up on him too quickly. Then again, he was hitting .135.

The Phillies are quick to acknowledge that they have, at the very least, a serious public relations problem.

Lee Thomas has become frustrated with the notion that he somehow has failed to do all he can to bring talented black players into the organization. After all, as director of player development for the St. Louis Cardinals, he was also criticized . . . for signing too many blacks.

``It's a shame that I even have to try to defend the issue,'' he said with an exasperated sigh. ``Put it this way: It's frustrating to lose. It's frustrating to have all the injuries we've had the last few years. It's frustrating not to be able to just go out and buy a team.

``But the most frustrating thing of all is for anybody to even infer that there is prejudice or racial overtones in the things we've done.

``Never in my life have I considered that. It's unfortunate that we have not been able to come up with a superstar black player. But it's not that we haven't wanted to. We tried to sign Bobby Bonilla. We tried to get Terry Pendleton. I wanted Bernard Gilkey in the worst way.''

Thomas points out that the Phillies have Latin American managers at Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre (Ramon Aviles) and rookie-league Martinsville (Ramon Henderson) and African-American managers at Double A Reading (Bill Robinson) and Class A Batavia (Floyd Rayford).

Del Unser, the Phils' director of player development, counted a total of 19 black players out of some 200 in the minor league system: four at Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre, four at Reading, three each at Class A Clearwater and Piedmont, one at Batavia and four at Martinsville.

Those figures do not include any players from Latin America, where the Phillies have exapnded sharply over the last five years, now sponsoring an entire team, the Levaga Phillies, in the Dominican summer league.

Thomas also notes that several recent first-round draft choices have been African-American: outfielder Reggie Taylor in 1995, righthander Wayne Gomes in 1993, Jackson in 1989.

``I get tired of all that talk,'' Thomas admitted. ``If any of us is racist, we don't deserve a job in baseball. I really believe that. It just gags me to have to have to defend myself and the organization on this subject. It's nauseating.''

The trade of Heathcliff Slocumb to the Red Sox last offseason is an interesting litmus test.

There are those who will inevitably see that as just another example of the Phillies trading an African-American rather than ante up the big raise he had coming after having a breakthrough season.

Counterpoint: Thomas got two black players, Murray and Tinsley, in return. And Ricky Bottalico has had a far better season since inheriting Slocumb's role than Slocumb has had for the Red Sox.

Al Irby provides an interesting outsider's perspective. He is a South Jersey-based agent who has had extensive dealings with the Phillies representing players such as Longmire, Milt Thompson and Ben Rivera. He also is an African-American who has lived in the area his entire life.

``In my personal negotiations with the Phillies, I can't say that I've detected any racism,'' he said. ``I think Lee Thomas and [assistant general manager] Eddie Wade have always dealt fairly with me.''

But Irby also is intensely aware that the Phillies have a terrible image problem.

``I've talked to hundreds, thousands of people in the African-American community. And I'm telling you: I've not talked to one who doesn't believe that the organization isn't prejudiced toward African-American players,'' Irby said. ``So I have two perspectives. As an agent, I think I've always gotten an honest value for my clients. But as a citizen, there is definitely a perception that it is a racist organization that doesn't offer a good atmosphere for a brother.''

Irby said that, in conversations with black players over the years, he has heard the same story over and over. That the organization wasn't as patient with black players. That they were never quite comfortable in the clubhouse.

``It's an attitude,'' Irby explained. ``They tell me that the city is great, but that there's a clique in the clubhouse and that they never get much of a good-old-boy feeling.''

Mel Roberts, a Philadelphia-area native who spent the majority of his three decades in baseball with the Phillies organization before his contract as the big-league first-base coach was not renewed after last season, is now the manager of the Double A Greenville Braves.

And he commented on the same impression Irby has gotten, that a black player had better produce quickly . . . or else.

``It's a tough organization for a young player to come through, period,'' he said. ``Look at Kevin Stocker and Mickey Morandini. They've been through it. The early years were rough for them, more than people know.

``But, for the young black player, it doesn't seem like he gets quite as many chances. It seems like they're more willing to give up on them. Mess up a little bit, and you're gone. I'm not bitter at what happened to me. I'm over that now. But truth is truth.

``Just answer this question. How many of the good black players retired in Philadelphia? They all went away.''

There are those who believe to this day that Steve Jeltz and Kim Batiste didn't get an honest opportunity to play shortstop for the Phillies because they are black, that Whiten and Charlie Hayes still would be with the Phillies if they were white.

But, honestly, when was the last time the Phillies gave away a black player who went on to become a superstar? Probably 1986, when they released pitcher Dave Stewart.

Once again, the point where reality leaves off and perception begins proves to be maddeningly elusive.

The Phillies, as Thomas realized with a shock during the 1993 World Series, had a roster dominated by white players. But, since they were winning, it didn't become an issue.

These days, in the city, they find themselves as the focal point of the debate about race and sports. The NBA is a predominantly black league, the NHL is predominantly white. That has let the 76ers and Flyers escape the scrutiny. The Eagles have an African-American head coach in Ray Rhodes and, for the past several season, the bulk of the quarterbacking has been done by Randall Cunningham and Rodney Peete.

That leaves the Phillies as the lightning rod in the middle of the gathering storm.

Billy Sample is a former major leaguer with the Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees. He now does some broadcasting and works with major league baseball in the umpire evaluation program. He is a keen observer of the baseball scene.

Sample suggests that there is nothing new about black players believing they are being discriminated against.

``There was a feeling that you had to be a little better than a white player,'' he said. ``Nobody put it in a declarative sentence. It was just something that you knew.''

Coming up through the Rangers' system, Sample said he found the organization to be virtually color-blind.

``But, on the forms for the reports, that had a category for a player's race. I found that a little curious,'' he said. ``I mean, take a Polaroid if you want to.''

Sample also remembers being acutely aware that some organizations, notably the Red Sox, were not considered good places for minorities to play. And what was the Phillies' reputation?

``I don't recall ever thinking that it would be a bad place,'' he said. ``I always felt that the Phillies were more oriented toward pure talent than race.''

* The Phillies started seven white players yesterday afternoon against the Mets at Shea Stadium, with Otero and Santiago the only minorities.

The Mets, meanwhile, had only two white players in the lineup: pitcher Bobby Jones and catcher Todd Hundley. New York won, 3-2.

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