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."
June 21, 1987
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.
Former Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell uttered some unwise nonsense at a June 5 conference on drugs in sports at the University of Rhode Island. Driesell said, "I'm a firm believer that, if you know how to use cocaine and use it properly, it can make you play better.... I really believe cocaine can be performance-enhancing." Driesell later recanted, saying, "I shouldn't have said that; there is no proper way to use cocaine. That word properly was my mistake."
Driesell's mistake may have cost him a chance at the coaching job of the new NBA franchise in Charlotte, N.C.—right now, the feeling in Charlotte is that he is too hot to handle. As an antidote to his words, we offer you a poem on Len Bias, the Maryland player who died of a drug overdose last year. It was written by Sam Kennedy, an eighth-grader from the Lincoln School in Brookline. Mass.:
Slowly slipping into a world of evil,
Drugs grasping at his soul,
Death drifting his way.
Tragically trapped in a confused world,
A superstar was blooming like a flower,
A cloud of tragedy smothered success.
Glory that once flowed
Came to a horrid halt.
A chance of a lifetime—dreadfully denied.
Sachio Kinugasa of the Hiroshima Carp (SCORECARD, June 1) surpassed Lou Gehrig's record last Saturday when he played in his 2,131st consecutive game. When the game with the Chunichi Dragons became official in the fifth inning, play was stopped. In a gesture that would seem strange in an American ballpark, Kinugasa's teammates and opponents filed onto the field to present the 40-year-old third baseman with flowers. Then in the sixth, to show that he was not through, Kinugasa hit a home run, his eighth of the season and 495th of his career—two more than Gehrig had. After the game, Tetsu Jin, or "Iron Man," said, "I never dreamed I would receive such a gala blessing. I will try my best for my beloved baseball in the future." The next day he hit two more homers.
BRINGING IN THE SHEAVES
The Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League have set up a farm system—for their fans. The club has entered into an agreement with the United Grain Growers of Saskatchewan so that farmers can purchase season tickets, regularly priced at $185 (Canadian) each, with grain deliveries of anything from rapeseed ($250 a ton) to oats ($60 a ton). Three tons of oats might prove a bit cumbersome to take to the Roughrider ticket office, so the farmer can simply deliver his grain to one of the 150 UGG grain elevators in the province, where he can exchange the load for ticket vouchers.
The grain-for-games concept was devised this year because the Rough-riders, who have been in business for 77 years, are in financial trouble; in fact, they're in about as much trouble as the economically depressed farmers are. "We really think this will help the spirits of both the team and the growers," says John Clark of the UGG. "We've already had a lot of response. The Roughriders are a provincial team, not a city team, and the farmers really want to help out a friend in need."
BELTING 'EM OUT
SI's Amy Lennard went to the Battle of the Singing Heavyweights at the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City on Saturday night and filed this dispatch:
It was a classic: the old champ, Joe Frazier, versus the up-and-coming challenger, Larry Holmes. Frazier, who had the first show, opened by dancing across the ring to Stevie Wonder's I Wish. One ringside observer noted that "Frazier moves better than he ever did when he was fighting." For his show, Holmes kept the packed crowd waiting, then let his backup band play his first song, Pressure. Round 1 to Frazier.
Smokin' Joe did a jazzy rendition of Stagger Lee. Holmes countered with an original composition, the raplike Boxing Politics, which concluded with the immortal lines, "Everybody knows that I beat Spinks. That's O.K., politics stinks." Round 2 to Holmes on originality.
Frazier came off his stool for a rendition of Soul Man that left him and the audience breathing heavily. Holmes did an Under the Boardwalk that did not recall the Drifters. Round 3, and the fight, to Frazier.
"I'm still smokin'!" Frazier told the audience as he left the stage in a burst of smoke. After the fight, Holmes vowed that he would be back. "There are a lot of people out there who can't sing but got good music," said Holmes. "What's that guy's name, the Boss? He don't sing that good."
THEY SAID IT
•Dave Anderson, Dodger infielder, on his lack of playing time: "Today I told my little girl I was going to the ballpark, and she asked, 'What for?' "
•Jawann Oldham, New York Knicks reserve center, on his team's ongoing executive search: "I can't wait until we hire a general manager so I can demand to be traded."