Session with the commissioner Battles with owners test his patience

Q & A

August 14, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent sat in his New York office last week, surrounded by photographs of friends and heroes, including George Bush, Whitey Ford and his father.

AHe wore a summer suit and a floral print necktie. He occasionally reached for an ashtray with a large cigar parked inside. For about 50 minutes, he spoke directly and indirectly about his troubles with baseball's most demanding, most fickle audience -- the 28 major-league baseball owners.

Vincent has had plenty of trouble. In the past year alone, owners have objected to his role in labor talks with players, complained about his handling of National League expansion and challenged in federal court his decision to switch four NL teams to new divisions.

Owners appoint commissioners, but cannot fire them. Still several team owners have called on Vincent to quit before his term expires in March 1994.

Meeting with reporters yesterday in Toronto, Vincent hinted he would not seek a second term as baseball commissioner. In a more extensive interview last week with The Sun, the commissioner emphatically stated he intends to serve out his current term.

"Fay Vincent is not going to go," he said. "I think it would be bad for baseball, bad for the institution. And, actually, I think it would be bad for the owners trying to do it. . . ."

On other topics, Vincent said he believes he made the right decision in banning pitcher Steve Howe for life for violating baseball's drug rules, and he defended his decision to order NL realignment, saying, "The only real issue was whether I had the authority to do it. Constitutionally, I think I did, or I wouldn't have done it."

A few subjects were off limits. Vincent, 54, a former government lawyer and motion-picture studio head, didn't want to talk about his life after baseball. "I think it's premature," he said.

Q: As commissioner, you can't be fired. How do you know if you're doing well?

A: You don't. I don't know if you know in any job. The only way I've approached that is I'm going to work as hard as I can, do the best job I think I can, try the hardest. I have limitations. I can't exceed my own capacity. If I feel I've tried as hard as I can and, given it a decent effort, it's the best I can do.

Q: Have you reflected on your job performance here?

A: To some extent, although it is harder when you are doing it. It's easier when it's over. It's hard to be analytic when you're in the process. It's kind of like Yogi's line, "You can't hit and think at the same time."

Q: In what areas were you least equipped when you started as commissioner?

A: One of the most difficult problems here is, there is a committee of 28 owners, which basically you have to work for. The owners really don't say, here are the priorities, here are the things this year that you as commissioner should be working on. There is no year-by-year review, if you will, of what the commissioner does. There isn't any sort of systematic structure for a relationship between owners and commissioners.

Q: Why not?

A: There just isn't. Because owners haven't thought that way. A number of them are not from the universe where that is common. They are entrepreneurs.

Q: What is the consequence?

A: There's no formal give and take between owners and commissioners except in the unfortunate negative way of owners in the press saying the commissioner is not doing a good job here or there, usually without their names attached. Once in a while, names get attached; it's rare.

Sometimes, owners will come in to talk to me about issues. [Soon after becoming commissioner,] I met with most owners one on one, said what did you think I should be doing? I tried to get it going. I got some helpful feedback, but it's not systematic.

Q: Recently, one of your most vocal critics, Angels owner Jackie Autry, indirectly called for your resignation. Your reaction?

A: One of the difficulties is that a number of owners come to me and say, "Look, we think you're doing a terrific job, don't give in. We don't want a group of owners to be able to push a commissioner out. That's a very bad precedent."

I think about my successor. Suppose my successor is sitting out there, and a group of owners comes to him or her and says, "Look, we just pushed Fay out. We really want you to be commissioner." And he says, "Well, you just pushed Fay out, how do I know you won't push me out?" I wonder, says my successor, about the process.

[Former commissioner] Bowie Kuhn did not go, for some reason. Fay Vincent is not going to go. I think it would be bad for baseball, bad for the institution. And, actually, I think it would be bad for the owners trying to do it because I don't believe they've thought through the consequence of hiring a successor and trying to explain to him why this won't happen again.

Q: Is there pressure for you to resign?

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