NEW YORK -- The National League and American League presidents yesterday called a meeting of the 28 club owners for Sept. 3, acting after commissioner Fay Vincent had rejected their request to do so. The move immediately raised the question: Will the owners who oppose the commissioner attempt to fire him at the meeting?
Vincent's opponents say they have a majority of the 28 owners with them, although they have never offered names of those supposedly in their group. However many they have, it isn't clear if all of the owners they say they have would vote for dismissal of the commissioner, who has been in office for nearly three years and whose term is not scheduled to expire for more than 19 months.
Besides the hard-core faction opposed to the commissioner, the group apparently has been swelled by a few owners who are concerned about the size of the opposition and what the conflict has done to baseball. These owners are concerned about further paralysis, feeling that unless a broad group of owners supports the commissioner, it would be best for baseball if he resigned. The Toronto Blue Jays are said to be one club with that thinking.
Vincent, however, has said he would never resign, leaving the next move up to his opponents at the meeting in nine days.
The league presidents, Bill White of the National and Bobby Brown of the American, sent a notice to the owners advising them of the meeting in Chicago, where the topic of discussion will be "the term of office and the duties of the commissioner."
At the request of seven owners in the American League and eight in the National, Brown and White asked Vincent last Monday to call such a meeting. But last Thursday the commissioner told the presidents he would not, saying the meeting would be unlawful because it was being called for a "clearly improper purpose."
The league presidents then acted on their own, telling the owners yesterday: "We are advised by counsel of the respective leagues that the decision to call the meeting is in accord with the Major League Agreement."
Vincent will not attend. He declined to comment yesterday, saying, "My letter already addressed the meeting."
Vincent's opponents wanted him to call the meeting so that they could ask him to resign. But Vincent responded with a five-page letter to all of the owners last Thursday saying he never would resign. Now his opponents are left with Plan B: attempting to fire him.
None of the dissident owners has said publicly they want to fire him, but they have been working, with legal aides, to determine if there is a way to do it legally.
Vincent and his supporters maintain he cannot be fired. The Major League Agreement doesn't provide for dismissal of a commissioner and indeed states that a commissioner's powers cannot be diminished during his term. Vincent, in his letter, also cited discussions among the owners at the meeting he was elected commissioner and at a subsequent session of the executive council.
The discussions centered on whether there were any circumstances under which a commissioner could be fired. The owners, in both instances, opted to do nothing. According to the minutes of the executive council meeting cited in Vincent's letter, "the council voted unanimously not to recommend the diminution of the commissioner's powers, or any other change in the Major League Agreement."
But change in the agreement is what the anti-Vincent faction might seek. Those owners could try to adopt an amendment to the agreement that would allow them to reduce the length of Vincent's term. The commissioner would argue that such an amendment breached his rights.