CHICAGO — Major League Baseball wants to help the top contenders for openings in baseball operations, especially women and minorities.
MLB announced Thursday it had retained a search firm to assist candidates who reach the interview process. It also said it had instructed Korn Ferry to provide special emphasis to help for some of the most underrepresented groups in the baseball hierarchy.
There has never been a female general manager in the sport, and there are very few women and minorities on that side of the organizational structure.
While MLB has had a minority interview requirement for key openings in baseball operations for several years, Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league thinks the search firm "might be able to improve the effectiveness of the rule by making minority candidates who get an interview more effective in that interview process."
"These interviews are detailed activities," Manfred said. "It's not just how you present yourself in the interview, and you know that's a skill that can be refined. But it's also substantive packages of material that demonstrate your ability to evaluate personnel, depending on what the job is, or manage, and we think we can help diverse candidates who get interviews make their best possible presentation and hopefully help them get hired."
Manfred made his remarks at the conclusion of a quiet two days of owners' meetings at a luxurious hotel in downtown Chicago. Billy Bean, MLB's openly gay ambassador for inclusion, made a presentation Thursday on his work, and the owners also listened to a presentation on domestic violence and several committee reports.
It was quite a contrast to the owners' meetings last August, when the race was on to find a successor for retiring Commissioner Bud Selig. Friday marks exactly one year since Manfred was elected to the job.
"If the next four years go as fast as the first one," a chuckling Manfred said, "I'm going to be looking for a renewal soon because it's gone pretty darn quickly. Look, the organization does not look very much like it looked a year ago. We've made tremendous change internally."
On the field, there is hope for fans of the New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs for the first time in a while. The active trade deadline helped produce big ratings for the MLB Network, and Manfred said the sport also got a boost from last month's All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
"I think the state of the game is driven by — you know this, I don't have to say this to you — is driven by the fact that we have really good competitive balance, excitement in a lot of markets," he said.
On the horizon is the expiration of the owners' labor deal with the players after next season. Manfred helped lead negotiations for baseball's last three labor contracts and the first joint drug agreement that was instituted in 2002, a program that has been strengthened repeatedly.
The upcoming labor talks were brought up during the owners' meetings, and Manfred praised the work of chief legal officer Dan Halem in preparing for those negotiations.
"I have always been a big negotiation preparation person," Manfred said. "I think the better job you do in that preparation the better chance you have to make a deal and make an effective deal and I think Dan has taken that process really seriously. He has done a tremendous amount of work already."
Major League Baseball also has been studying fan safety at its ballparks after a rash of high-profile injuries this season. A Massachusetts woman was hospitalized after she was struck by a broken bat at Fenway Park on June 5, and a boy in Philadelphia was taken to a hospital after he was struck by a line drive during a June 19 game between the Phillies and Cardinals.
Manfred said in the wake of the Fenway injury that the sport must "react strongly" to the accident, but he had no public comment on the league's plans on Thursday.
"Dan gave an update on the ballpark safety issue" to the owners, Manfred said. "We have some litigation out there. I don't want to say more about that."
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap