Own up, owners: You want no boss

MIKE LITTWIN

August 31, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

Some wise person once said: Nobody sells tickets to see sports team owners own.

But they could.

They should.

I love these guys. They're fun. They're wacky. They know how to put on a show.

Or maybe you've been too caught up in the pennant race to notice the latest from the ownership group. In the old days, they would have called it a palace revolution.

And the guy about to lose his head is baseball commissioner Fay Vincent.

Maybe this doesn't mean much to you. And it shouldn't -- I mean, outside of the spectacle value. It isn't as if you could name Vincent's five greatest achievements as a commissioner. Or even his one greatest. (OK, there was that business about kicking out George Steinbrenner for life. But now Vincent is letting him back in.)

But that's not why the owners want to get rid of him.

It's because . . . because . . . um, well . . . it's because he wants to be the commissioner. And we can't have that, can we?

You see, the owners don't really want a commissioner.

They say they do. They give a guy the title. A big salary. Expense account. Gets to go to the games free.

But what they want basically is somebody to answer the phone.

They want somebody to send out for coffee.

They want somebody who can type.

If you get down to it, their idea of a commissioner is Della Street.

So, the owners are meeting Thursday in a Chicago suburb to determine Vincent's future. They may fire him, even though the rules of baseball say you can't fire a commissioner. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis got that one put in, so that the commissioner would have freedom to commish.

Of course, there's already a team suing Vincent, even though the same rules say a team can't sue a commissioner.

The rules aren't very important. What is important to the owners in revolt -- now, come on, I didn't say revolting owners -- is that they get rid of Vincent, however unseemly their actions might appear.

Does this make sense to you?

Of course not. It's not supposed to. Owners don't have to make sense. They only have to own a team.

Here is a list of grievances against Vincent:

* He attempted to realign the National League divisions after discovering, upon consulting an atlas, that NL East teams in Chicago and St. Louis apparently were west of NL West teams situated in Atlanta and Cincinnati. In a game that often boasts of its attention to symmetry, it seemed like a good idea to switch the teams. Most National League owners agreed, voting 10-2 to make the switch. But the league rules say the vote has to be unanimous.

So, six teams went to Vincent and asked him to make the change. He did it. The Cubs sued him. And it seems as if everyone else wants to fire him.

* When the National League expanded by two teams, the franchise fees amounted to $190 million. The issue became: Who gets the money? Surprisingly, the leagues couldn't decide. Then someone remembered that baseball had a commissioner and asked Vincent to do the Solomon-like thing. When he cut up the baby -- uh, the money -- everybody got angry.

* And here's the big one. Vincent doesn't think that it's good for baseball for the owners periodically to try to crush the players' union. Many of the owners would like to lock out the players again next season in what has become one of our great rites of spring. Vincent thinks this would be a bad idea. No wonder the owners want to be rid of him.

A crazy thing about Vincent: He actually likes to talk to the players, as he often does down on the field before a game. Is that what a commissioner should be doing? No, he should be getting coffee and/or looking into strike insurance.

The truth is that there is no one who could make a majority of baseball owners happy. These people are all bosses. They don't like anyone telling them what to do, unless it's to collude, as it was alleged that Peter Ueberroth suggested.

Vincent, whose contract expires in 1994, has said he will not resign under any circumstances. We should hope, although it would be for all the wrong reasons, that the owners choose to fire him. That would probably lead to a court case.

Think of the spectacle. It would beat the heck out of that crummy pro football trial, which even ESPN barely covers. A Vincent trial would show the owners to be the small, petty types that many of them are. And, as we watch, we can all remark about how resilient is baseball that even these guys cannot hurt the game.

Back to the pennant race.

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