Bill White was elected the next National League president Friday, breaking the racial barrier in the executive suite and, he said, proving that "baseball's come along" from the segregated game he broke into during the early 1950s.
White, a six-time All-Star and broadcaster with the New York Yankees for 18 year, was elected unanimously to a four-year term during a conference call of NL owners. He will take office April 1 when A. Bartlett Giamatti becomes commissioner.Even as other baseball executives insisted that race had nothing to do with it, White himself said of becoming the first black to head an American professional sports league:
"I've been in the game since 1952. When I came into baseball, obviously spring training wasn't integrated. The country wasn't integrated. I think baseball's come along and the country's come along.
"I'm here now. There have been quite a few improvements in hiring at certain levels and we hope that will continue. And I think these people feel it will continue."
Nevertheless, Comissioner Peter Ueberroth, Giamatti and search committee head Peter O'Malley said race was not a factor.
"Race did not have anything to do with it, in my judgment," Ueberroth said.
"Race did not play a factor," said O'Malley, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and son of the man who integrated baseball by signing Jackie Robinson in 1946.
Giamatti said the committee was looking for someone with "judgment, integrity, intelligence, fairness and love and knowledge for the game."
White said he didn't know if he was chosen because he was black. He referred to the qualities that O'Malley said were desireable and said "in the opinion of the committee, I meet those qualifications."
White also said he didn't know if his hiring would have any special significance for blacks, though he acknowledged, "It would be, I suppose, to some people."
"My motivation was to get on with my life," White said. "It's time to move on. After 18 years of broadcasting and watching ground balls to first, I felt it was time to do something a little bit more tenable."
White said his goal was to "be the best league president I can. I don't have any specific goals except to do the best I can at this job."
White joins American League president Bobby Brown as former players who rose to head their leagues, the first time two former players have held those jobs simultaneously.
White was not considered for the NL presidency until about 10 days ago, when he was contacted by Ted Jadick, who is with a "head-hunting" firm out of New York and Chicago.
Things then happened very quickly.
"My first reaction was, `Are these people serious?" White said. "And in meeting the people, I found out they were dead serious. Once I found that out, we went forward."
Phil Rizzuto, White's broadcasting partner with the Yankees, said breaking barriers was important to White.
"He felt this was important for baseball, for himself and for blacks in general," the former Yankees shortstop said.
The 55-year-old White began his major league career in 1956 with the Giants.