Vincent stays vigilant to his daily duties even as team owners plot his overthrow

September 04, 1992|By Michael Madden | Michael Madden,Boston Globe

NEW YORK -- If the guillotine is ever to slice, it will slice through a tanned neck.

If his head is ever going to roll, the head rolling off the block will have a smile on it.

Fay Vincent seemed a man at peace yesterday. "Just another day," said the commissioner of baseball. "Just a day like any other day, isn't it?"

Fay Vincent seemed neither bowed nor broken. Jerry Reinsdorf and the Tribune Co. are fighting for their bottom line, while Fay Vincent is fighting for loftier principles. Vincent seemed very much at ease with his battle.

The commissioner had arrived at baseball's offices on Park Avenue at 7:30 in the morning. A thousand miles away, baseball's owners -- the men a long-ago commissioner, Happy Chandler, called "ignoramuses" -- were gathering in Rosemont, Ill., to try to decide Vincent's fate. Some of the owners are looking for a "yes" man.

Vincent, though, sent out for the caterers. Soon there arrived at 350 Park Ave. some pasta. Fay Vincent's appetite seemed not to bothered by the appetite of some of baseball's owners.

And at 4:50 p.m., his official day ended. There had been phone calls from Rosemont, mainly from sportswriters. But even in this age of instant news and CNN, the office of Major League Baseball had no more clue than you or I during the afternoon what was happening in Rosemont.

Some men might be worried. Vincent emerged from his offices with a smile. He had refused to go to his own execution. Instead, he spent the day going about baseball's business, which is different from the business of some of the owners.

Vincent usually leaves his offices about 5:30 p.m.; this day he left 40 minutes early, apparently so unconcerned about the meeting in Rosemont that he didn't bother to wait for the outcome. As he stepped onto Park Avenue, passers-by noticed the fuss and one man asked, "Who's that?" The commissioner, he was told.

"Oh, Steinbrenner," said the man.

But there was no confusion with Vincent. "My day was fine," he said. A baseball official tried to hurry Vincent to a waiting car, but xTC the commissioner was glad to chat . . . briefly.

"I don't have any comments [about the Rosemont meeting]," he said, "because I really don't know anything on which to comment."

"Do you have any plans to resign?" a TV person asked.

Instantly came the well-known answer. "No. . . . Noooo."

The commissioner was told that George W. Bush, the president's son and owner of the Texas Rangers, had said upon arriving in Rosemont that he was going to stick by Vincent, no matter what.

"Well, he is a good friend and I appreciate that," said Vincent. "And I think he's not alone . . . thank goodness."

More people walked by Park Avenue. It was raining lightly. Gloomy. An apt metaphor for baseball this day. But not its commissioner.

Vincent was asked again if he knew what was happening in Chicago. "I don't have any idea," he said again.

Then he said what his aides had been saying all day. While some men were trying to fire him, "I just worked," said the commissioner. "I was doing my job. I worked. I did my job. I was doing things I should have been doing."

Which some owners cannot say.

And then Vincent was off to the waiting car, but not before he was asked how his spirits were this gloomy day.

"They're fine," he said. "They're really fine."

But the spirits of baseball are not, as reflected in last night's 18-9-1 owners' vote of no confidence in the commissioner, a vote that came hours after Vincent had departed his office -- but for the day only, not for good, not without a fight, as he emphasized in a statement later last night.

Perhaps we in New England feel down more than most, our local nine playing so poorly, but even so, baseball seems at a crisis point. Salaries have to be adjusted downward, like the rest of the country's, but some owners want to blame the commissioner for the fix they're in, rather than themselves. Others appear content to drag baseball down rather than drop their profits.

Reinsdorf and the Tribune Co. want to strip the commissioner first of his dignity, next his job and finally strip all authority from the commissioner's office. They want a rubber stamp for the owners' decisions; that stamp is marked "Folly."

So the commissioner drove off. Next to the offices of baseball, at 320 Park Ave., is -- was -- an office of the giant development company, Olympia & York. It is bankrupt, and the building is shuttered and dirty.

Vincent was still smiling as he drove by. It is in Rosemont where the ideas of some of the men are bankrupt and dirty.

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