BASEBALL'S ENDURING COLOR LINE
Henry Aaron recently charged that no matter how well black baseball players perform, they ultimately get "shafted." He added that the men who run baseball "want to look at us [blacks] as monkeys." Those are hot words from a normally cool man but, unfortunately, they may be only slightly extravagant. Thirty-two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line on the field, blacks have yet to win a secure place in baseball.
The situation is worse in baseball than in either football or basketball. Although the NFL has yet to hire its first black head coach, four blacks hold key front-office jobs with the league's clubs and there are eight blacks among the NFL's 100 officials. The NBA has two black coaches, Al Attles and Lenny Wilkens, each of whom runs his club's front-office operations. The NBA also numbers five blacks among its 27 referees and officials. By contrast, Aaron, the Atlanta Braves' director of player personnel, is the only black occupying an important front-office job with any big league club. Only one native American black, Johnny Lewis at Gastonia in the Class A Western Carolinas League, had a manager's job this season at any level of organized baseball. Eric Gregg was the only black among 60 full-time big league umpires; there were only six blacks among the 210 umpires in all of baseball.
Increasingly there is reason to be concerned even about the number of native American black players in baseball. Blacks make up roughly one-third of NFL and three-fourths of NBA rosters, yet the figure is barely 20% in baseball, and it appears to be declining. Jack Pastore, scouting administrator for the Phillies, notes that no more than 10% of the top prospects in recent amateur drafts have been black. If the decline were occurring because blacks were finding more favorable opportunities in banking, medicine and the like, there would be no reason for concern. Instead, it is taking place for other reasons, including the fact that some colleges have been cutting back on baseball scholarships, but not on those in football and basketball. As a result, blacks who might have played baseball are gravitating toward other sports.
Baseball people say that they would welcome "qualified" black club executives and umpires, to say nothing of players. But Monte Irvin, one of two blacks serving as assistants to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, warns that the game's higherups can't simply wait for blacks to fall into their laps. "We have to aggressively recruit and train them," Irvin says. "With the retirement of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, black people aren't identifying with baseball the way they once did. It's going to take quite an effort to overcome the feeling among blacks that they aren't welcome."
Nowhere is that feeling more conspicuously reflected than at the gate. NBA Deputy Commissioner Simon Gourdine, who is black, estimates that blacks account for "close to 20%" of attendance at NBA games. Despite baseball's generally lower ticket prices, blacks, according to Irvin, now make up less than 1% of attendance at major league games, down from a high of 3% in the 1950s. Although social forces beyond baseball's control may be partly responsible for the decline, it is difficult to completely forget Twins owner Calvin Griffith's distressing statement last year that he had moved the Washington Senators to Minnesota because that state had "good, hardworking white people." Lest that somehow be perceived as the official policy of the major leagues as a whole, prompt action must be taken to assure black Americans that the national pastime is also their pastime.
Bing Crosby's 17-year-old son Nathaniel is attending the University of Miami on a golf scholarship. He was his dad's favorite golf partner and has run the Bing Crosby Pro-Am since the crooner's death two years ago, and now he drives a brown van, shares an apartment with Hurricane teammate John Pallot and says, "I'm just one guy on the golf team. I don't think any of the guys look at me as something special." Well, maybe they ought to. Competing two weeks ago in the 15-school Wolf Pack Classic at the University of Nevada in Reno, Nate Crosby placed ninth among 90 entrants, leading the Miami team by four strokes.
An NFL fan who in recent years has followed the sport mostly on television attended a Bears game in Chicago's Soldier Field the other day and noticed what seemed to be a much greater number of binoculars in the stands than he remembered from the old days. He also was struck by the fact that many fans were using their binoculars only when the Honey Bears, the Chicago cheerleaders, performed during time-outs. When play on the field resumed, the glasses were put away.
The scene in Chicago doesn't surprise Bob Gardner, a marketing consultant for Fujinon Optical Inc., a subsidiary of Japan's Fuji Photo/Film Company that sells a line of binoculars in the U.S. Gardner says that while exact figures are unavailable, there is no doubt that the NFL's introduction of cheerleaders has been a boon to the $100-million-a-year binocular industry in the U.S. Because 90% of all binoculars sold in this country are imported, people concerned about the nation's chronic trade deficit might conclude that NFL cheerleaders are having an adverse effect on the economy. But Gardner says, "Men with binoculars at pro football games have always used them to ogle attractive women, only in the past the women they looked at were in the crowd, not on the sidelines. Girl watching is very American."
Gardner says that seven-power glasses, which provide sufficient magnification as well as a wide field of vision, are ideal for watching football. He adds, however, that more powerful lenses may be necessary for desired closeups of cheerleaders. For the well-rounded football-goer interested in the game and the cheerleaders, Gardner recommends a zoom lens that can alter magnification as needed—from, say, eight to 16 power.
After quitting last week as manager of the Chicago Cubs, Herman Franks discussed his former players in an interview with the Chicago Tribune's Dave Nightingale. Franks called slugger Dave Kingman "a little flaky," complained that Ted Size-more, who was sold to the Red Sox in August, "turned out to be more trouble than he was worth," and said of Catcher Barry Foote, "I just got sick and damned tired of his telling me 'how we did it on the Phillies.' " Of First Baseman Bill Buckner, Franks said, "He's nuts. He doesn't care about anything except getting a hit. All he cares about is Bill Buckner." And he called Outfielder Mike Vail a "constant whiner," adding, "He made me sick. I just got tired of being around him. There isn't enough money in the world to pay me to manage if I have to look at that face every day."
What was surprising about Franks' outburst was that he had seldom told writers anything worth quoting during his three years as the Cubs' manager. But at least he sometimes spoke to them—which brings up something else Franks complained about. He criticized several of the Cubs for snubbing writers, saying, "It's silly things like this that get you fed up." That's putting it mildly.
ESTABLISHING SOME RIGHTS
Judging by their popularity over the years with colleges, high schools and kids' teams, it might be assumed that such nicknames as the Eagles, Lions and Cardinals have long since settled into the public domain. The NFL reckons otherwise, an opinion its marketing arm, NFL Properties Inc., recently outlined in a letter to some of football's minor leagues, the 20-odd scattered and mostly struggling conferences that have no official association with the NFL.
NFL Properties asked that teams like the Frederick (Md.) Falcons and the Chambersburg (Pa.) Cardinals change their names and offered to aid in any such "transition," presumably by helping pay for new stationery, jerseys and the like. John Paul Reiner, an NFL attorney, explained that the intent was to end "confusion" over whether there was an official connection between NFL franchises and minor league clubs bearing the same nicknames. In Reiner's view the NFL had "established rights" to the names in question.
But the NFL may have stirred up a hornet's nest. Although most minor league clubs are shoestring operations, some have surprisingly proud traditions. They may also smell a chance for cash settlements with the NFL. At any rate, Jim Sears, owner of the 10-year-old Baltimore Eagles, says, "We're not changing our name." And the Ohio Football League politely informed the NFL that one of its teams, the Tuscarawas County Vikings, can trace its existence—and its nickname—back to the 1950s. NFL officials were surprised to learn that, and Reiner was saying last week in a conciliatory tone that he wanted to avoid a legal confrontation. As well he might. The NFL's Minnesota Vikings didn't come into existence until 1961.
THE 300-WIN CLUB
When 40-year-old Gaylord Perry, who had amassed 279 victories in his major league pitching career (with a 12-11 record in 1979), quit the San Diego Padres last month and demanded to be traded, it halted, at least temporarily, his drive to be the first pitcher to win 300 games since Early Wynn became the 14th to do so in 1963. In the ensuing 16 years the number of batters with 3,000 career hits has increased from eight to 15, Lou Brock and Carl Yastrzemski being the latest. So what's wrong with the pitchers?
One obvious answer is the increased use of relief pitchers, who now win some. of the games starters once did. Another is the switch by most pitching staffs from four-day to five-day rotations. While those two factors might be expected to prolong pitching careers, it further happens that pitchers are developing more sore arms and wearing out more quickly than they used to. For one thing, because of the demands that the expansion of professional sports has placed on the pool of available athletes, pitchers are now moved along to the majors more quickly. Also, owing to the greater reliance on relievers, starters are no longer permitted to settle into a "groove" for nine innings. Instead, they are expected to bear down and throw as hard as they can until the relievers take over, all of which results in greater physical strain. The upshot, says ex-New York Manager Bob Lemon, who won 207 games during his 15-year big league pitching career, is that "winning 300 games is a hell of a greater accomplishment than 3,000 hits."
Hurry back next season, Gaylord.
MA BELL & HER LINEMEN
"Here we go, junior," snarled Mark Bell, rookie reserve tight end for the Seattle Seahawks. "Coming right at you," replied younger (by five minutes) brother Mike Bell, rookie reserve defensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs. So it was Sunday when the NFL's only set of identical twins found themselves on the field together in the Seattle Kingdome. The Bells, who were teammates at Colorado State, had never played against each other, and two busloads of friends and relatives turned out for the confrontation, including their 84-year-old grandmother and their parents, Johnnie, owner of a floor-covering business in Wichita, and Laurie, who is known affectionately as Ma Bell.
As the throng of well-wishers watched in a second-deck section adorned with a sign reading "Bell Tower," the twins, onetime incubator babies who grew to 6'4" and 255 (Mike) and 235 (Mark) pounds, spiritedly went at each other. Finding Mike "a lot quicker than I expected," the Seahawks' Mark managed to execute only one good block against his brother as the Chiefs won 24-6. But Ma Bell, happily waving pennants for both teams, cared only that her two boys survived unscathed, having heeded her warning that if they hurt each other they'd better not come home for Christmas dinner.
THEY SAID IT
•Monte Clark. Detroit Lion coach, on Larry Csonka: "When he goes on safari, the lions roll up their windows."
•Milton Berle: "My doctor recently told me that jogging could add years to my life. I think he was right. I feel 10 years older already."