MLB's focus on diversity, inclusion on display

MLB's focus on diversity, inclusion on display

PHOENIX -- Perhaps Ken Kendrick said it best.

"Baseball is a sport of inclusion," the D-backs' managing general partner said.

Kendrick's words set the tone and were the perfect opening for the 2016 Major League Baseball Diversity Business Summit, a two-day trade expo that got under way Tuesday at Chase Field.

"Our society is increasingly diverse, and in order to sell our game, we need our product out here to be diverse," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "We need people to understand that there is diversity in the very highest levels of the game, in terms of the people who are running the game. And it's not just because it's the right thing to do ... but it is because it's necessary for our business."

When discussing diversity in baseball, people often talk about the demographics of players, managers and front-office personnel. However, the issue runs much deeper, and it includes many more than just those in highly visible positions.

"The atmosphere that we're looking for is not just about clubhouses and about players, but it's about everyone in our organizations -- plural -- the 30 clubs," Manfred said.

Baseball's commitment to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the game was evident from the onset. The first panel of the Summit, moderated by Harold Reynolds, showed just how broad a topic diversity can be.

Luis Gonzalez, LaTroy Hawkins, Curtis Pride (MLB's ambassador of inclusion, who played 11 Major League seasons despite being deaf), Billy Bean (vice president of inclusion and social responsibility) and Kim Ng (MLB's senior vice president of baseball operations) all took part in the opening panel.

Whether it was Bean talking about his fear of coming out, Pride discussing the struggles of being a deaf ballplayer, Gonzalez talking about language barriers in the clubhouse or Ng elaborating on the hardships women face in a male-dominated industry, the panel touched every one of the roughly 1,000 people in attendance.

"When you talk about inclusion, you talk about diversity, the stories that we heard, players involved, former players, it was fantastic," D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall said. "You could see that they had the audience, they had all those vendors and job seekers listening, hanging on to every word. It was powerful."

Since Manfred took over as Commissioner, he's been involved in multiple diversity and inclusion issues dealing with all aspects of the game of baseball.

Manfred has made it a topic of conversation at the Owners' Meetings, he's instituted a clubhouse translator program, promoted Bean to his current role, hired Pride and expanded MLB's Urban Youth Academies.

The Commissioner was also heavily involved in the planning of this year's Summit, which for the first time in the event's brief history, included a day exclusively tailored to veterans.

Military focus of summit panel

"It's blown me away, the way baseball has embraced the timeliness of the message," Bean said.

And with the Summit -- and all the other initiatives -- the sport continues to embrace that message.

"Diversity in the game is very important ... I'm just glad that baseball is recognizing it and we're here to rectify the problem," Hawkins said.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.