THE appointment of Bill White as president of the National League has met with universal approval, and rightly so. In making the former player and broadcaster the first black to head a major US professional sports league, baseball took a big step forward in terms of racial progress. At the same time, by choosing a man of White's proven abilities, the game demonstrated that this was not simply a gesture, or a symbol, but the choice of a highly qualified individual to handle one of its top administrative positions.
One of those qualifications, as explained by the man he is succeeding, A. Bartlett Giamatti, is ``a love and knowledge of the game.'' White spent 13 seasons in the 1950s and '60s as a star first baseman with four teams, and has been a respected New York Yankee radio and television broadcaster for the past 18 years.
Although spokesmen for the search committee insisted that race was not a factor, White's color was undoubtedly in his favor. Baseball has long been in need of repairing its image in terms of racial progress - and never more so than in the two years since former Dodger executive Al Campanis said blacks might not have what it takes to be baseball administrators.
The days of discrimination on the field are past. Things have moved more slowly in managerial and front office positions. But there has been progress of late, with Frank Robinson manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Bob Watson general manager of the Houston Astros, and now White.
The very fact that every one of these appointments made headlines, however, is evidence there's still a way to go.