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Independent baseball and the importance of diversity in organizations

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the early 1970s, Bing Russell (Kurt Russell’s father) decided to move on from his career as an actor in Hollywood to establish an independent baseball team in Portland, Oregon. Portland’s long-time minor league team had just moved away, leaving a void that Russell hoped to fill with his ‘Mavericks,’ which would have no affiliation with a Major League Baseball (MLB) team but would play in a league against affiliated teams.

Against the odds

Russell’s venture wasn’t going to be easy. For one thing, the Mavericks roster would consist of “ragamuffin” baseball players who either hadn’t been drafted by MLB-affiliated organizations or didn’t last with them if they did. And they’d be playing against those who did.

To add to the difficulty they’d surely face on the field, the Mavericks would face intense pressure from MLB-affiliated organizations, who saw an independent team as a threat to their interests. Since the 1920s, baseball teams had been absorbed into MLB organizations as a way to develop future major leaguers, leaving no independent baseball teams by the 1970s.

Despite all the cards stacked against them, the Mavericks performed extremely well on the field and set attendance records for all the fans they drew to their games.

Diversity in organizations

One part of the story that stood out to me was Bing Russell’s view on the power of diversity within an organization. The Mavericks organization included a female general manager and an Asian-American manager—both were unheard of in 1970s professional baseball—on top of a diverse group of players on the field.

When asked about the diversity in his organization, Russell compared the Maverick experience to a movie. He explained that the success of a movie can come down to one critical scene, where so many different people have to come together—whether in front of the camera or behind—to make that scene the best it can possibly be. When your team includes people who can draw on diverse backgrounds and perspectives, you increase your chances of making that scene and, thus, the movie the best it can be.

A 2014 documentary tells the story in a riveting way. I highly recommend it.

Does your organization have the diversity it needs to shine for that critical scene? How do you nurture it? Share your stories with me at