April 09, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

In his state of the game speech at baseball's winter meetings in December, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth urged the hiring of blacks and other minorities through initiation of an affirmative action program.

Ueberroth said he viewed that as the best way to truly honor the memory of Jackie Robinson on this year's 40th anniversary of his major league debut.

Now, four months later, there is no evidence to indicate that Ueberroth or the 26 clubs have begun to practice what he preached.

Now, four decades after Robinson shattered baseball's color barrier, there is still an inexplicable absence of blacks in management positions--on and off the field.

Frank Robinson, Maury Wills and Larry Doby are the only blacks to have ever managed a team.

The late Bill Lucas is the only black to have served as a general manager. Lucas briefly occupied that post with the Atlanta Braves, who now employ Hank Aaron as personnel director, the only black currently in charge of a farm team, scouting or personnel department. Aaron, in fact, is the only black ever to head one of those departments, according to the most reliable information.

Speaking by phone from his rural home 75 miles north of Tampa Wednesday, Monte Irvin, a former assistant to then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn, said that baseball still suffers from a "do nothing attitude" in regard to black hiring and that Ueberroth and the clubs treat the problem with "lip service."

Irvin, the former New York Giants star, spent 16 years in the commissioner's office, primarily working in public relations and community service, the highest post achieved by a black in the commissioner's office.

The current commissioner's staff includes only one black in a semi-executive position, recently hired Al Williams, an assistant in the security and investigations department. Of the 17 people employed in the New York offices of the American and National leagues, receptionist Anita Perreira is the only black.

Eric Gregg of the National League is the only black umpire in either league, and there are only 13 blacks among the 130 coaches employed by the 26 teams.

Willie Mays and Willie McCovey are both listed as assistants to the president and general manager of the San Francisco Giants, but their primary role is instruction and public relations.

Affirmative action?

"If you were to ask me if I think we've made enough progress, the answer is no," Ueberroth said by phone Wednesday. "The situation, off the field I mean, called for substantial progress.

"I've seen some, but not to the point that I can be proud. In time, I think I will be. I've encouraged every team to take affirmative action and I've asked for a report at the winter meetings (in December)."

Having at one point called the situation an embarrassment, Ueberroth told Ted Koppel on ABC's "Nightline" Wednesday night that he would put his job on the line in guaranteeing an improvement in the situation. He has already conducted a survey of minority employment by the 26 teams. Bob Fishel, a longtime American League official who conducted the AL inquiry, said that most clubs employ five or six blacks, some in key marketing, sales and promotions positions, but most in what Fishel described as "menial" jobs.

Why no field managers or general managers? Why no farm, scouting or personnel directors?

Ueberroth said he was only interested in future progress, not past theory.

He said he was disappointed with the televised remarks that led to Wednesday's resignation of Al Campanis, the Dodgers' personnel director.

"There's no place in baseball for antiquated thinking on affirmative action," Ueberroth said.

"The attitude that was expressed may not be entirely gone (from the management level), but I don't believe it's prevalent or widespread."

Irvin seemed to disagree, as did former major league pitching star Jim (Mudcat) Grant, who attended a press conference here Wednesday at which the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP said it was willing to work with baseball on a meaningful affirmative action program.

Grant said that Campanis was merely telling it like it is in baseball, that black players are ingrained to believe they lack the mental capacity to move up, and that as players and coaches they are seldom allowed to occupy positions associated with a degree of intelligence.

"I told one player who called me that Branch Rickey and Walter O'Malley must be turning over in their graves," Grant said.

"It's unbelievable he would say all that, even though we know baseball believes that way.

"Maybe in a backward way he did everyone a favor by putting it on a level where we can deal with it.

"He did prove one point. You really don't have to be intelligent to be a general manager."

Irvin said he didn't think Campanis lacked intelligence. Nor he is convinced Campanis meant what he said.

They have been friends since 1946 when, as young players, they often made postseason barnstorming trips, joined by Doby and Robinson.

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