As many of you know, I grew up in the heartland of America. Stanley, Kansas was a very rural town which is now engulfed by Overland Park. Back in those days, the town had its standard Main Street with buildings that had been erected in the early 1900’s. In the Summer, we enjoyed the ‘Stanley Stampede,’ a block party of sorts that seemed to last all day/night and it was a great way to hang out with friends and family. It was Americana at its finest and something I still talk about to this day.
I loved where I grew up as well as the people I grew up around. Thanks to social media, I’ve been able to maintain contact with many of the unique personalities I was fortunate enough to grow up with during my youth. Being the son of a Kansas City Royals baseball player while living in the area certainly had its perks but it wasn’t without some issues. See, there weren’t too many Cubans living in the area and while the great majority of those around us were wonderful people, there were exceptions as there are everywhere. Maybe it was jealousy or envy because of who my dad was, but being called “Vic the ‘Spic” as a kid, was one of the few childhood memories I’d like to forget.
I bring up this negative memory only because on August 10th I was asked to be interviewed by a national newspaper about the lack of diversity in the broadcast booth throughout Major League Baseball and ways I thought MLB could be casting a wider net. It got me thinking. Should I put myself ‘out there’ in order to provide my opinion on a topic that seems to have gone unnoticed? Or do I lay low and keep those thoughts to myself? This is one of those topics that could be construed as divisive and as such, could spark a discussion/debate. For the first time in a long while, I was caught in-between mostly because we are living in an age where everything seems to evolve into an argument regardless of how well-intended a thought/opinion may actually be. No one wants to listen anymore, they just want to be right and because of that it gave me pause.
I’m not typically built this way. I like having discussions and more importantly, I like hearing differing opinions on a variety of topics. It’s how you learn more about the person you’re engaged with and more about the topic at hand if you’re willing to listen. I was open to discussing my thoughts with this person but after considering it, I decided I would rather put my thoughts down in their entirety instead of them being carved out as just quotes for a story. No disrespect intended to the gentleman, but I wanted to provide my take unfiltered.
A couple of years ago, there was an article in the New York Daily News talking about the lack of minorities in the broadcast booths of MLB. Since then, there have been similar articles including one from The Good Phight, a Phillies blog, that actually broke down each team’s broadcast booths (both television and radio). I thought it was interesting that my name had appeared a couple of times yet no one had actually reached out to me and asked my thoughts. As the topic began to pique the curiosity of writers on the internet, lo and behold, someone did reach out to me through a third party. It was also suggested to me, at that time, that I take a pass on discussing the matter publicly because of the sensitivity behind the topic. After thinking about it, I heeded their advice and decided to stay out of the discussion – a decision I regret to this day.
I’m not sure why I didn’t just come out and provide my two cents to the conversation. Maybe it was because I felt my two cents wouldn’t add value or perhaps I feared that by speaking my mind I would be putting myself in the crosshairs of those close to me…friends, colleagues & co-workers. I don’t remember how I rationalized it but I passed and that’s on me.
At the local/regional level (team by team), there are very few minorities calling (play-by-play) baseball games today on a full-time basis. Joe Angel (Orioles radio), Robert Ford, (Astros radio) Buck Martinez (Blue Jays TV), Dave Sims (Mariners TV), and myself (José Mota appears on Angels pre-game shows regularly and fills in on radio on occasion). That’s it. That’s a pretty pathetic number in relation to the roster composition throughout MLB. Why do I specify play-by-play and not include analysts? Since the analyst is usually a former player, there’s a more diverse pool of candidates to choose from (keep this in mind as we move forward). If a former player had the desire to pursue a post-playing career in front of the camera, with some reps, they could easily transition to the analyst role of a broadcast. The same cannot be said for a play-by-play announcer, although Martinez in Toronto slide over from the analyst side to become more of a full-time play-by-play voice (With the recent addition of Dan Shulman to the rotation in Toronto, Martinez has reverted back to the analyst role on occasion).
Am I of the opinion there should be more minorities in the play-by-play role simply because the numbers don’t add up or it’s not fair? Absolutely not. I think the best person for the job should be the one sitting in the chair regardless of their gender, race, nationality, etc. The question that was posed to me a couple of weeks ago was more about how do we (and I say ‘we’ because I should be a part of the solution) get more minorities involved in my profession, especially within a game that is as diverse as any out there.
There’s no magic bean to plant when it comes to this topic. I was interviewed for a podcast a couple of years ago by the extremely talented Beto Durán out in California and he had asked about my role as a Latino in this industry and whether or not I should view myself as a role model. I responded that I never really saw myself as the standard bearer for Latinos. At the same time, my intention was always to help out those who sought advice and in my nine years with the Angels, many Latino kids have sought me out and asked me to critique their work or provide them with advice going forward. I also told him I never looked at my last name and thought of using it as a way to get in the door or to even have anyone consider me for a position. I always felt the body of work along with the resume would eventually open the door to my future success. Now finishing up my 16th season of calling MLB games, I still feel this is the way it should be. Since that podcast interview though, I’ve read a lot of different articles and spoken to many in our industry, and have begun to understand the challenges that may be faced by minorities looking to break into our business.
It’s one thing to look at an article or a spreadsheet on this topic and be amazed at the numbers. But if you LOOK/WATCH the broadcasts, whether locally or nationally, in most cases, you’ll SEE a very familiar trend. It’s crazy to think, at quick perusal, I’m the only full-time minority baseball play-by-play announcer working for a FOX regional network. I can see where a young minority fan sitting at home with thoughts of one day becoming the next Jaime Jarrín or Felo Ramírez on English language broadcasts could be discouraged because of the lack of minorities staring back at them through the television. As Astros radio broadcaster Rob Ford pointed out in the Daily News article, “You don’t see people who look like you who are doing this job. There’s a tendency to think it’s not something for you.”
He’s right and that statement can be applied to any number of different occupations. But I’m specifically talking about MLB, and when it comes down to talking or telling stories about the game on the field, a game that as of Opening Day this year contained 41% of its players from a diverse background (black, Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander), there are way too few of us in the chair on a nightly basis that a minority viewing audience member could relate to and/or connect with, especially if they’re new to the game and/or may be interested in pursuing a broadcasting career. Making it even harder is the fact teams/networks are cutting back (or in some instances, have cut out) Spanish-language broadcasts (SAP). This gives minority viewers at home fewer opportunities to see familiar faces/names calling games. The few that are still around don’t necessarily travel with the team and are calling games off of monitors (but we’ll leave that discussion for another day).
I know MLB is trying its best to introduce the broadcast side of the business through initiatives at their Urban Youth Academy. Problem is, why don’t we know about it? Why haven’t I known about it? Are you kidding me? I would LOVE to share my thoughts on our industry especially to young minds willing to listen to the endless possibilities that could await them. In addition, we read promo’s constantly about buying tickets or giveaways that are upcoming during the next homestand but if we’re really trying to broaden the pool of potential candidates and/or open the eyes of a young man or woman that may watching our broadcast and perhaps inspire them to consider sitting in my chair someday, why aren’t we doing/saying more to promote those types of initiatives? Why aren’t we doing seminars in every ballpark with young fans to open their eyes to the vast possibilities? Not just play-by-play or analyst roles but directing, producing, video, camera, utilities, audio, etc. There are endless numbers of ways to be a part of our business and I think we’re failing in showing what those possibilities may be. If we can somehow create a larger pool of talented individuals who want to pursue a career in our industry, then we’ll have that many more for the front offices of teams and television networks to consider when it comes time to hiring.
Somehow, I need to do a better job of getting more minorities interested. I tried a couple of years ago by reaching out to someone at MLB and offering my assistance regarding the lack of minorities climbing the ladder in our sport. MLB has created diversity programs for executives and I applaud them for that. More is needed. I have a voice and am willing to use it. We need to get away from the cookie-cutter mentality of our sport and begin to explore other ways of marketing our game and that includes changing the culture, adding flavor and opening the eyes of young fans to the vast number of ways they can impact their lives and their communities through our sport. It’ll take more than just me. It’ll take owners, teams, and networks to work together and develop a pipeline from the high school level to college and beyond. Let’s continue to talk of the programs that are in place while working to develop more creative ways to interest young viewers.
I was lucky. I was born into this game and for that I’ll be forever grateful. I also worked my tail off and I know others would do the same if they were provided the same opportunity. This blog is for them. I want to teach my passion, love and drive to those who may not think they matter or think the obstacles are simply overwhelming. This game is too great and too diverse to limit one’s opportunities…we should all be represented both behind and in front of the camera.
Livin’ the dream…
As always, feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.