BASEBALL TAKES STEPS
At long last baseball has gone beyond paying lip service to equal opportunity employment. The first bit of news last week was small but significant. The Detroit Tigers hired Michael Wilson, a 25-year-old Michigan graduate and CPA, as the team's comptroller. He thus became the first black executive hired by a major league team since former Dodger general manager Al Campanis made his fateful remarks about blacks on Nightline back in April.
On Wednesday the Reverend Jesse Jackson met with the major league owners in Philadelphia to discuss programs that might increase the number of minority employees in management positions. Later, commissioner Peter Ueberroth announced that all 26 clubs had been instructed to complete affirmative action plans within the next 30 days.
On Friday, Ueberroth announced that Harry Edwards, a black activist and sociology professor at the University of California, would assist the major leagues by creating a pool of black and Hispanic former players who can fill openings at all levels of baseball. Edwards said, "We are not concerned about what baseball will look like at the end of this season but what it will look like three years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now." While some may view Ueberroth's announcements as public relations ploys, Jackson is convinced that real progress is being made. Jackson told SI, "Baseball has already begun to make adjustments. The Dodgers have brought John Roseboro back. Kansas City has Jose Martinez coaching third. Edward Bennett Williams of the Orioles is looking into a special position for [coach] Frank Robinson. Detroit has hired a black executive. These things change only when credible leaders decide they will change. Some of what we're up against in baseball is racism, but some of it is cronyism."
Jackson will meet with other members of his Fairness In Sports committee on June 29. Previously he had said the group, which includes Edwards, Arthur Ashe, Hank Aaron and Oscar Robertson, would take some action on July 4 if baseball did not have an acceptable hiring program. "If we think the major leagues are on track, and it appears that they are, then we can move on to pro football," said Jackson.
Ah, yes, pro football. While baseball was at least making an effort last week, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was telling journalists at the Associated Press Sports Editors Convention in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., "I'm certain we'll have a black head coach when an owner thinks that coach can help him win. Until that [happens], there's nothing I can do about it."
Rev. Jackson presented the baseball owners with another idea last week: a sort of spring training for their players' minds. "They have six weeks for their bodies," says Jackson. "Why not give them one week of life-style training, a week to prepare them for the outside world? Many of these players go from extreme poverty to extreme wealth, from being Nobody Knows You to Eric Davis, overnight, and some of them can't handle it. Give them advice on investments and drugs and sex.
"This is in the owners' best interests, as well. They'll get a better return on their investment. What's the difference between a five-year career and a 12-year career? Attitude. Why does a man go from hitting .340 one year to .210 the next? Diversions have set in. When you lose your spiritual foundation, you lose your arms and legs."
It may sound like a sermon, but what Jackson says makes a great deal of sense. If only the owners and Players Association could set aside their differences long enough to draw up plans for just such a program.