NEW YORK -- The conflict between baseball commissioner Fay Vincent and a group of owners opposed to him has begun to move into the open. The clash, which has been raging behind the scenes for months, reached a boiling point with a series of letters last week.
At the request of the dissident owners, the two league presidents, Bill White of the National League and Bobby Brown of the American, sent a letter to Vincent asking him to call a meeting at which his opponents were expected to ask him to resign or be fired.
Vincent, saying such a meeting would be unlawful under the terms of the Major League Agreement, rejected the request.
Vincent wrote a strongly worded five-page letter to all 28 major-league club owners, saying he had considered resigning as the easiest way out of an unpleasant situation but rejected the possibility and proclaimed, "I will not resign -- ever."
Vincent, whose term runs through March 31, 1994, also informed the owners he has hired a lawyer, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., to help him be in position "to respond to any inappropriate action." Sullivan defended Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Peter O'Malley of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers and Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox have been most often identified as the most outspoken owners. But yesterday, two owners said the real leader of the movement was the Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs have sued the commissioner to block his ordered realignment of the National League, which would move them to the Western Division. But the two owners cited the Tribune's concern about Vincent's view of superstations -- the company also owns WGN-TV, which broadcasts Cubs games -- as the source of the company's concern and opposition to Vincent.
Stanton Cook, chairman of the Tribune Co. and the Cubs, declined yesterday to discuss his view of Vincent. But he acknowledged that he had been among the owners who requested a meeting of all owners to discuss "basically the performance of the commissioner."
Vincent, completing a vacation at his Cape Cod, Mass., summer home, declined to comment on the letters or any other aspect of the conflict.
Brown and White, who did not return calls seeking comment, sent a letter to Vincent last Monday saying numerous owners in their leagues wanted to have a special joint meeting.
The presidents said they were concerned with the ongoing turmoil.