National League is better off without White at helm


Some good baseball news for a change: Bill White will not seek re-election when his term as National League president expires next March 31.

It is good news because it means the home office for conflict of interest in sports will be leaderless for just one more year.

From the April 1989 day he replaced the late Bart Giamatti, who was elevated to commissioner, White's performance has been a disaster for the league and an embarrassment to professional baseball.

There was no misfeasance in office. There was no malfeasance. Only the reluctant, often invisible performance of a gentleman farmer who realized the first day he walked into his Manhattan office that there was next to nothing he liked about the job. Not the ceremonial aspects requiring frequent travel to places he didn't want to be. Not the executive part, which required a former old-school clubhouse stonewaller to enforce rules he ridiculed as a slugging first baseman for the Giants, Cardinals and Phillies.

Which is why Bill White's attempts at administering justice were so inadequate, why he dealt nothing more than a wrist slap to 1991 Reds hat-tricker Rob Dibble, who (1) tried to take Eric Yelding's head off with a 98 mph fastball, triggering a major brawl; (2) hit a schoolteacher with a baseball he threw in anger to the center-field stands; and (3) attempted to perform a running Achilles' tendonectomy on Cubs utilityman Doug Dascenzo for the effrontery of laying down a bunt.

White suspended the reliever a total of seven games, fined him the baseball equivalent of $5 and Dibble went for counseling. Rob blamed the savage-soothing therapy for his late-season tail-off, although recent medical developments suggest his shoulder, not his fierce mound demeanor, was beginning to break down.

There is no need to rehash Bill's dismal handling of the Joe West Incident in 1990 or his Dan Quayle role during the conflict of interest-riddled process whereby the chairman of the expansion committee, Pittsburgh Pirates board chairman Douglas D. Danforth, all but gift-wrapped the "Florida" Marlins for the CEO of Blockbuster Entertainment, a company in which DDD held stock. A company in which his former club president, Carl Barger, not only is a close personal friend of video tycoon Wayne Huizenga, but a Blockbuster director as well.

And weren't you shocked when Barger was named president of the Marlins before the cash-greedy National League ownership certified major-league baseball for Joe Robbie Stadium, a vast built-for-the-NFL facility in north Dade County? Don't make the mistake of calling them the "Miami" Marlins, either. The club offices will be in Fort Lauderdale, and many National League clubs will be housed in that Broward County metropolis, flying into more convenient Spring Break USA. Much of that huge Cuban-American population Huizenga's group played like a marimba during the courtship process lives about an hour from Joe Robbie via some of the nation's worst traffic congestion. But that's OK, they won't be missing many batting practices if I know my July-through-September South Florida weather.

White's media relations, tenuous at best, non-existent at worst -- with the exception of occasional and ill-advised one-on-ones granted to personal friends in the media -- remain consistent. When a writer asked him at Jack Russell Stadium on Tuesday why he has decided to step down, White non-responded, "I don't answer 'why' questions."

Perhaps a "have" question would have been better, as in, "Have you been advised that there is no way the owners would have re-elected you next March?"

In fairness, the league president was being consistent with his response to a question I posed to him at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia in 1990 during the West brouhaha. "It's the policy of the National League not to have any comment about anything," he said, drawing an imaginary zipper across his lips in a traditional ballplayer gesture.

On to the bad news . . .

You've probably heard or read that commissioner Fay Vincent -- "Mr. Potatohead," as Pirates wag Andy Van Slyke calls him -- is a staunch foe of relocating existing franchises.

Earthquake McGoon would sooner eat a tin of cat tuna than endorse the notion of the team from the historic baseball mother lode of Seattle -- already a one-time loser -- moving to Tampa Bay, where 3 million jilted suitors contemplate the tilted Teflon Taj of Tax they trolled past the Lords of Baseball.

Many are called, few chosen, Vincent said two weeks ago during his Imperial tour of the spring-training camps. Tampa Bay should not expect a call any time soon. The commissioner did not need to add that Huizenga will yowl like a scalded dog at the prospect of an American League club as good as the Mariners invading what has now become Marlin territory and National League turf. While the Marlins have said publicly they would not fight the move of an existing club to Tampa Bay, their private stance predicts the violent, tail-walking reaction of a hooked Marlin.

However, the limits of Vincent's geographic conscience appear to be limitless.

As does St. Petersburg, site of the brooding taxpayer burden called the Sundome, San Jose sprawls on the west shore of a great bay.

It has become California's second-largest city, the capital of Silicon Valley with its myriad of microchip firms spread unobtrusively in smokeless industrial parks, the employee lots crammed with Yuppiemobiles.

"The Giants are going to play somewhere else. Candlestick is not habitable," Vincent told a $1,000-a-plate luncheon audience supporting construction of a taxpayer-supported stadium in San Jose. "It is not a hospitable place for baseball."

Can't you tell us something we don't already know? Having voted down a bond issue to build a baseball-only stadium for the Giants in an equally horrible location, San Francisco residents were asked to approve a second bond issue just weeks after the devastating 1989 World Series earthquake changed the city's priorities.

Meanwhile, that Candlestick Park is "not habitable" will come as a great surprise to the 39,809,265 paying customers who risked fog-bite there over the past 32 seasons. That's an average of 1,244,039, certainly a world record for an "uninhabitable" structure.

Mr. Potatohead stands at the gate to Silicon Valley, the same cautious conservative who lectured us at the Jack Russell Stadium batting cage on the evils of existing-franchise relocation. He has turned shrill shill.

Baseball's message to Silicon Valley: "Give us your rich, your huddled masses yearning to spend free . . .

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