Having been subjected to considerable public pressure to choose a black for the presidency of the National League, a five-member search committee last Friday selected Bill White for the job. But White, who was voted in unanimously by league owners, shouldn't be seen as a good black choice. He's a good choice, period. He brings to the office not only 31 years of experience in the major leagues—13 as a standout first baseman with the Giants, Cardinals and Phillies, the last 18 as a Yankee broadcaster—but also a reputation for intelligence and forthrightness.
The search committee didn't hit upon White's name until the last few weeks of its four-month hunt. White may not have the curriculum vitae of outgoing National League president and commissioner-to-be Bart Giamatti, who was president of Yale, but his credentials bespeak talent and hard work: He graduated second in a high school class of 127 in Warren, Ohio, and won an academic scholarship to Hiram (Ohio) College, but the lure of a baseball career caused him to leave school after his junior year. While still in his prime as a player, White prepared for his second career by working his way into radio announcing; in 1971, two years after his retirement, he joined the Yankee broadcast crew and became baseball's first black play-by-play man.
Early in his career as a broadcaster, White spoke out against the absence of black managers and executives in-the game, a situation that has improved since then only by fits and starts. White has been equally outspoken throughout his tenure in the booth with former Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto, expressing both his strong dislike for the designated hitter and a yearning to see more spit and fire in today's ballplayers. Several teams approached White about managing jobs after his retirement as a player, and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner twice asked him to be the Yanks' general manager, but White turned down the offers. He felt that in those jobs his fate would depend too much on the performances of others.
"I can't address the question of race," White said on Friday, downplaying his role as a trailblazer. "Evidently, I meet the qualifications." Now baseball should follow up on White's selection by opening its front-office doors to other blacks. Perhaps then the hiring of a Bill White won't be so rare, and can be applauded without reference to color.
A BULL MARKET
Alan Rosen, the Montvale, N.J., baseball-card maven known as Mr. Mint (SI, July 4, 1988), predicts that as a result of White's hiring, Bill White cards will immediately double or even triple in value. But collectors shouldn't expect any windfalls: Until last week. White's rookie card, a 1959 Topps, was priced at $5, and other White cards were worth no more than $1.50.
YOU'RE GETTING WARMER
We know a third-grade boy in Rum-son, NJ., who's smarter than his teacher. Or, at least, he's more up-to-date on NBA expansion teams. He was doing a class exercise the other day when he was confronted by the following question: Miami is to heat as Chicago is to———. Our third-grader wrote, "Bulls," and was crestfallen when the teacher marked that answer wrong. She was looking for "cold."
The Chicago Cold? Never heard of 'em, Teach.
FREEDOM, SORT OF
Oddly enough, players all over the NFL were lamenting their newly granted free agency last week. Of the 619 players who suddenly could sell their services to the highest bidder because of the limited free-agency plan imposed by the league's owners, a surprising number seemed hurt that they hadn't been included among the 37 "protected" players designated by each club. Perhaps they know that no great fortunes await them on the open market between now and April 1, when their free agency ends and those unsigned turn back into pumpkins belonging to their old teams.
Indeed, although big names like Tony Dorsett of the Broncos, Ozzie Newsome of the Browns and Cris Collinsworth of the Bengals are among the unprotected, most of the affected players, including those three notables, are either aging, injured or of borderline talent. And the plan that set them free is nothing more than a tactical maneuver in the stalemated collective-bargaining negotiations between NFL owners and players. The NFL Players Association, which is suing the league in the U.S. district court in Minneapolis for antitrust violations—including the placing of allegedly illegal restrictions on the movement of players between teams—wants total free agency for all its players. The NFL would never consent to that unless forced to by the court, and it instituted its free-agency plan last week in a calculated effort to avoid just such a fate.
"All we are doing is trying to conform to what we think will be acceptable to the courts," said New York Giants general manager George Young. "A lot of teams aren't really happy about it, but I think we understand that it's a way to avoid getting attacked on the antitrust issue."
The NFLPA isn't buying the owners' half-a-loaf gambit, which grants 60 days of freedom to more than one third of its members; the union has asked for an injunction against the plan. Unless an injunction is granted, teams with sharp scouts and open wallets will be able to strengthen themselves by signing free agents. The Cardinals have already sent out letters expressing their interest to a number of free agents, and the Vikings are organizing an informal try out camp. But the new system does nothing for those who would benefit most from free agency and still don't have it: the NFL's 1,000 or so best players.
Right wing Ron Jones of the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights has become the first person to perform the Ickey Shuffle on ice. Jones, a football fan from Detroit, did the dance after scoring a shorthanded goal in a 6-1 victory over the Kitchener Rangers. He finished his performance by pointing gleefully at the opposing goalie, upon which the referee sent Jones to the penalty box for 10 minutes for misconduct.
TIME DRIBBLES ON
At 41, Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is older than seven of the 20 former players scheduled to play in this Saturday's NBA Legends Classic, a game for old-timers that will be part of the league's All-Star festivities in Houston.
DUNKERS AND DUNKEES
The Seattle SuperSonics are the latest group of athletes to turn to swimming-pool workouts. Trainer Frank Furtado recently bought flotation jackets for the Sonics and had them run in the Seattle University pool. The purpose of such work is to build aerobic capacity while inflicting less wear and tear on sore knees and other joints.
Not all the players felt at home in the water. Kenneth Richardson of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer watched a workout during which center Alton Lister looked as though he were going to drown and guard John Lucas spent most of the time clinging to the edge of the pool, claiming he couldn't swim. "I don't like a body of water bigger than my bathtub," said Lucas. "I own a pool, and I won't swim in it."
Other Sonics jokingly begged forward Michael Cage not to let his glistening, permed locks touch the water. When Cage did, guard Sedale Threatt cried, "Oil slick!" and forward Xavier McDaniel threatened to sue Cage for spilling toxic waste.
When the workout ended, Furtado noted with a smile that the players kept looking behind them as they exercised. "Nobody wanted to get dunked," he said.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
In Montreal last week, three weight-lifters suspended from the Canadian Olympic team shortly before the Seoul Games for anabolic steroid use told a federal commission on drugs in amateur sports of the extreme lengths they had gone to—allegedly with the help of Canada's lifting coach, Andrzej Kulesza, and one of his assistants, Raphael Zuffellato—to try to avoid detection during pre-Olympic drug testing.
Lifters Paramjit Gill, David Bolduc and Jacques Demers (a silver medalist at the '84 Games) said that they felt they could not be competitive in their sport without using steroids and that they had trained for Seoul at a camp in Czechoslovakia where a Czech coach provided them with steroids and drug-masking agents. The lifters said they normally took steroids until about two weeks before a competition at which they might undergo drug testing; it would take that long for the steroids to clear out of their systems.
The lifters said they panicked when faced with an unexpected drug test conducted by the Canadian weightlifting federation in Vancouver last September, right before the Canadian team's departure for Seoul. They told the commission that they went to a room in the hotel to have clean urine—some of it collected from Kulesza and Zuffellato, according to Demers—injected by two other weighthfters into their bladders through catheters inserted in their penises. Gill told of having gone through the painful process twice because "it was [too difficult] to hold the urine [in]."
The attempt at deception didn't work: All three athletes tested positive for steroids. They told the commission that a fourth team member, Guy Greavette, had also injected himself with the urine of others, but Greavette passed his drug test and denied involvement in the scheme when he testified before the commission on Monday. Kulesza, who has also denied taking part in any urine transfer, and Zuffellato will testify this week.
TRAGEDY AT VAIL
The death of His Royal Highness Don Alfonso de Borbón y Dampierre, Duke of Cadíz and first cousin to King Juan Carlos of Spain, on Jan. 30 at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail, Colo, (page 14) was fraught with irony. It happened in the late afternoon on perfectly groomed snow at the Beaver Creek ski area while the duke, 52, a gifted all-around athlete, was on the slopes with famed ski racer Toni Sailer of Austria, a triple gold medalist at the 1956 Winter Olympics.' "He talked about how beautiful it is in Colorado and how nice it was to be skiing," Sailer said later.
The duke, a former president of both the Spanish Ski Federation and the Spanish Olympic Committee and a member of the International Ski Federation (FIS) Council since 1977, had told an old friend just a few hours earlier that he planned to run for the presidency of the FIS if Marc Hodler, the ageless Swiss lawyer who has held the office for 38 years, ever decided to retire. Those were among Alfonso's last words before he put on his skis and joined Sailer.
At around 3:30 p.m., when the mountain was closed, the duke, Sailer and Sailer's wife, Gaby, arrived at the downhill course. "We saw the FIS jury on the piste [race course], and he asked me, 'Is it possible to go down with them?' " Sailer said. "I told him they were doing course inspection, and he said, 'Let's go.' "
The lower portion of the course had been used for a men's slalom race that day, and workmen were busy moving the finish line 60 meters up the slope in preparation for men's downhill training and races, which would require a longer runout. The workmen had removed the finish banner and loosened the cable that held it aloft. The cable, still attached to support poles at both ends, hung only about three feet above the snow.
"[Don Alfonso] asked me twice where the finish was as we went down," said Sailer. "Once, about 300 meters up from the finish he asked me, and then 100 meters up he asked yet again. I told him, 'There's a man down there working, and you must be careful, because I think he's lowering the cable. We better go slow.' "
Don Alfonso and the Sailers sideslipped down the hill. "As I came within 30 meters of the finish I saw the cable was very low to the ground," said Sailer. "I looked up to my right to see if somebody else was coming down and should be warned. I didn't think of the duke, and then I heard the hissing sound of skis moving pretty fast behind me, and I turned and saw he was going down in a straight schuss." Sailer was too shocked to yell. The duke apparently thought the final yards of the course were clear. He sped into the cable, which slashed into his skull and neck and killed him instantly.
No charges are expected to be brought against the organizers of the championships. Don Alfonso, who was once described by a Spanish writer on royalty as "a man for whom almost everything turned out wrong"—among other tragedies, the duke's older son was killed in a 1984 accident when an auto the duke was driving collided with a truck—was flown home for burial in a Spanish Air Force 707 dispatched by his cousin the king.
White's savvy and candor make him an ideal successor to Giamatti (left).
THEY SAID IT
•Charles Barkley, Philadelphia 76er forward, who voted for George Bush for President: "My family got all over me because they said Bush is only for the rich people. Then I reminded them, 'Hey, I'm rich.' "
•Billy Crystal, comedian, telling peripatetic San Antonio Spurs coach Larry Brown during a roast how he used to idolize Brown when the two were at Long Beach (N.Y.) High together: "I walked like you. I talked like you. I even moved four times."