With all the talk that the 2008 presidential race could come down to Hilary v Obama, could a national that is actually pondering electing a black president be ready for a black sports commissioner? We won’t likely find out until 2009 when Bud Selig’s reign as baseball commissioner end. Selig said recently that he’ll step down when his pact ends. The name most prominently mentioned as his successor is former Minnesota and Cubs GM Andy MacPhail, a third generation baseball man. But equally qualified – and perhaps the man baseball needs now to carry the sword of leadership is Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB’s executive vice president in charge of baseball operations.
Solomon, 49, is African American. He oversees just about everything you can think of that does not involve a bat or glove. He manages on-field discipline, security and facilities management, minor-league, major-league and international operations, scouting and umpiring. He’s been in baseball since 1991 when he was lured from a Washington, D.C. law firm to run MLB’s minor-leagues.
Jimmie Lee Solomon, Baseball Man.
He rebuilt the frayed relationship between baseball and its minor leagues, created the Futures Game to highlight minor-league talent during the All-Star Weekend and oversaw the development and exaction of the World Baseball Classic. Three years ago, not long before he was promoted to his current position, I led a team at Sports Illustrated that created the magazine’s inaugural list of The 101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports. Solomon was ranked No. 9.
The following year, he crept upwards to No. 7 (Both years he was the highest-ranked sports executive). The top editors killed the list after two years, but if it were being created today it would be hard to argue ranking Solomon much lower than No. 2, behind that Tiger guy. Sure there are non-white team owners (Arturo Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels and Bob Johnson, the Charlotte Bobcats owner), superstars who sell million of licensed goods (Yao Ming and LaBron James), a union head (the NFL’s Gene Upshaw) and a key NFL exec (Executive VP Harold Henderson). But at this moment, at this “time,” Solomon is the most influential non-jock in sports who’s not a white man. And he’s right up there with them, as well.
By all accounts, Solomon has done that terrific job. But maybe even more important, he done it while being a 100 percent “brother.” He’s been vocal and passionate about the sport’s dearth of African-American players. And he’s brought two major Afro-centric initiatives to life: the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, CA and the just-announced Civil Right Game, which will be played in March in Memphis, where Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Almost miraculously, he’s done all this without diminishing his status with his baseball peers and constituents. That’s no easy feat, as any African-American in corporate America (myself included) can attest.
Suggest or promote any new project, process or product aimed at people of color and you’ll be labeled “black” rather than simply someone with a new idea or approach. One that might actually help your company. Thankfully, that has not happened to Solomon. Baseball has seemingly embraced his passions without “ghettoizing” him. We should all be so fortunate.
When Selig moves on, baseball will be faced with two distinct paths. MacPhail is the son of form American League president Lee MacPhail, the grandson of Larry MacPhail, who won a National League title as owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941 – the segregated Brooklyn Dodgers – and a World Series as owner of the New York Yankees in 1947. The elder MacPhail are the only father-son duo to be elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
That is one path.
The other will lead towards the kid from Texas named Jimmie Lee. He’s a baseball man, too. But one whose father would have never been given the opportunity to run a major-league baseball team; whose grand-father could not have dreamed, not in his wildest dream, of owning one.
And yet Solomon, like many “firsts” among his generation, has worked hard enough to make his predecessors proud – hard enough and smart enough and effective enough be baseball’s next commissioner.
Perhaps like Barack Obama, he’s the right person at the right “time.
Now let’s see if in three years, baseball makes the right decision.
Baller: Solomon, no doubt.