Him with his foot in his mouth

NEVER mind what a judge may someday order in a settlement of an affirmative-action suit. Anyone who knows American baseball and is reasonably alert to the evil of racial prejudice must recognize that blacks have been seriously underrepresented in baseball management. Anyone in a position of authority in the sport, as was Al Campanis, till recently the Los Angeles Dodgers' vice-president for player personnel, should have read the signs and taken some affirmative action on his own.

Black players, as well as whites, should have been prepared to move into management positions after their playing days are over. The word should have been put out, as explicitly as necessary, that color is not a bar to advancement out of the ranks of players.

That, evidently, did not happen. In fact, Mr. Campanis, appearing on Ted Koppel's ``Nightline'' to help commemorate (ironically) the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier in baseball, suggested that blacks don't have what it takes to be managers.

Neither Campanis's subsequent apology nor even his resignation has quieted the furor his original comments have caused. Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth appeared on ``Nightline'' Wednesday night to assert baseball's dedication to the affirmative action program voted by team owners last winter, at his urging. ``I expect important progress this year,'' he said.

Campanis's remarks were clearly out of line, and yet there is some hypocrisy in ousting him for saying what, evidently, much of organized baseball believes. His role in all this has been like that of the lad in the fairy tale who blurts out the awful truth that the emperor really is wearing no clothes. Former pitcher Jim (Mudcat) Grant allowed how, ``Maybe Al, in a backward way, did us all a favor by bringing this out.''

Let's hope so.

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