Bill White: The National League's New Boss; Baseball Selects the First Black to Head a Major-League Sports Organization

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Bill White The National League's New Boss

Baseball selects the first Black to head a major-league sports organization

WHEN Bill White made his major-league baseball debut on May 7, 1956, he did it in very dramatic fashion. Incredibly, in his first at-bat, he hit a home run and joined a very small group of players who have entered the big leagues with such a bang.

Today, 33 years later, White's association with baseball is still one of distinction. The former first baseman for the New York/San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies is the first Black to be named president of the National League, making him the first Black to head a big-time sports league.

"It's certainly an honor and a culmination of a career that began when [former league president] Chub Feeney signed me to my first major-league contract," says White, whose four-year term began in April. "I hope to bring to the job my experience as a player and a love of the game. I also hope to bring a little more harmony between players and owners."

The 55-year-old White is a well-respected, likable and persuasive man who has taken a job that will be challenging, demanding and sometimes not so pleasant,.

But it's a position that gives him almost unlimited authority in the league.

As president, he has the power to interpret and enforce the league's rules; the power to suspend or fine players for on- and off-field infractions, and he has to approve all players' contracts before they become valid. Additionally, he is responsible for the scheduling of games, and the scheduling, hiring, firing and disciplining of umpires. "I don't think they could have found anyone more qualified for this position than Bill White," says Hank Aaron, the major leagues' home run king and now an executive with the Atlanta Braves. "He knows baseball."

Although the unanimous selection of the six-time All-Star by the league's owners represents another major breakthrough for Blacks in baseball, such breakthroughs have been very slow to come. After Jackie Robinson broke the major leagues' color barrier in modern times (1947), it took 37 years before Frank Robinson took a job with the Cleveland Indians to become the first Black manager. It took another 15 years for White's historic selection.

The appointment comes at a time when baseball and other major sports organizations are being severely criticized for overlooking Blacks to fill administrative and decision-making positions. But the new president downplays the possibility that race might have been involved in his selection, and stresses that he didn't take the job to make a symbolic statement. "If I didn't think I could do this job, I would have been foolish to take it just for historical significance," says White, who, throughout his career, has been called one of baseball's most knowledgeable men.

The road that White traveled to get to the National League's top spot was one with some unusual turns. The Lakewood, Fla., native was a pre-med student at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, when the opportunity to play professional baseball was too tempting to pass up. …