It's funny how, like inexperienced travelers, we over-pack each new year with hope and promise, only to discover by the time we have reached the end of our 12-month trip that we've had to jettison much of this pretty luggage. But that doesn't stop us from loading up again the next January, fully convinced that this year will be better than the last. How, we sometimes ask ourselves, could it be worse? And never is this more true than when we enter an Olympic year, such as the one we are in now. Ah, the Games. Despite all evidence to the contrary, every time the Olympics comes around, we see new hope for the human condition. We see the Games bringing peace and friendship and greater understanding to all participating nations. The past aside, we look for this event to become, finally, what it was intended to be.
So in packing for 1988—I think there's room next to the shaving kit for this wish—I'm counting on the Olympics for big things. It's significant, some of us feel, that the Summer Games should be held this year in a city, Seoul, that for at least one generation—my own—was the focal point of a particularly ugly international conflict of the knottiest complexity. What better place to unravel at least some of the cares left over from that sad affair? Another sort of step forward will be made if these Games can, for the first time in a dozen years, bring the world's two major powers into the Summer Olympics for some healthy postsummit competition. Better that than saying, as both have in the past, "I won't play with you."
There are many other wishes I'm going to take along for this year's ride into the unforseeable. I hope baseball lives up to its promise to put qualified blacks where they have a right to be—in positions of authority, both on the field and in the front office. This will require a rejuggling of the game's tradition of cronyism. It's understandable that new Cubs general manager Jim Frey would want his old pal from high school days in Cincinnati, Don Zimmer, as his first manager. It is also, under the circumstances, indefensible that he hired Zimmer. The Cubs had a chance to draw from an untapped well of black talent—including, in the person of Billy Williams, their own resource—and they chose instead to go with the safe and familiar. Baseball needs new faces, not the same old ones glimpsed through the revolving door. Not since 1947 has the so-called national pastime had such an opportunity to make a social contribution. It should seize the moment.
The NFL has done no better in this regard. In fact, it has done worse. Baseball has at least had three black managers in fairly recent times—Larry Doby, Frank Robinson and Maury Wills. The NFL hasn't had a black head coach since Fritz Pollard of the Hammond (Ind.) Pros way back in 1925. One wish I will definitely pack is for the NFL to join baseball in looking beyond the usual hiring halls. The league has enough troubles as it is. Franchises are threatening to move or are moving, instant replay has proved to be another step toward the four-hour game, and only Poland has a more disagreeable labor situation. Gene Upshaw and his Players Association should get their act together, too. The 1987 strike was hardly a demonstration of union solidarity. Let '88 bring the NFL labor peace.
January 11, 1988
I also hope that Bo Jackson will decide this year whether he's a baseball or football player. If there's anybody who can play both of these demanding games professionally, he's the one. The trouble is, if he keeps playing both, he will never be anything but a part-time football player, albeit a valuable one. And because he would not have the time to polish his extraordinary but ragged baseball skills, he could never expect to progress in that game far beyond what he is now—an erratic fielder, an occasional home run hitter and a strikeout artist. In a way, it's a shame he has so much talent. The choice is his. One can only wish that he'll make it soon.
And yet say this for Bo: He doesn't appear to be motivated entirely by greed. That, if nothing else, sets him apart from his more pedestrian confreres. Jackson seems simply to want to prove something to himself, an old-fashioned motive if ever there was one. By now, none of us need be reminded that sports today is big business, but wouldn't it be a welcome change to see more box scores and less financial news on our sports pages?
Oh, there's so much to pack in here for such a short trip. I would like to see an Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight this year, and a close Super Bowl game for once, and a World Series played outdoors. I would like to see a drug-free NBA season and a hockey game without a brawl. I'd like to see Bobby Knight go away. But there's hardly room in here for everything. And I know I've forgotten something. That's always the way it is, isn't it?