Vote to fire Vincent could spur competing lawsuits

September 05, 1992|By New York Times News Service

If commissioner Fay Vincent's opponents take the next step, as expected, next Wednesday and vote to fire him, they may invite a lawsuit not only from the commissioner but also from some of their fellow owners.

The specter of owners suing owners arose yesterday in the aftermath of Thursday's 18-9-1 vote by which Vincent's opponents asked him to resign immediately.

On the day after the vote, one name already had surfaced as a possible successor to Vincent if his opponents succeed in getting him out of office. A businessman with ties to baseball said that Ron Brown, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was the choice of at least one owner, Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, who is one of the chief architects of the move to oust Vincent.

Vincent has vowed to fight in court if the owners vote to fire him. Now it appears that his supporters among the owners could join in that lawsuit or file their own.

The basis of such a suit apparently would stem from the owners' rights under the Major League Agreement. Each owner signs that agreement and in so doing makes an agreement with the commissioner. The agreement makes no mention of the dismissal of the commissioner.

Thus, if a majority group of owners voted to fire the commissioner, it would infringe on the rights of the minority group to have the commissioner finish his term, which expires on March 31, 1994.

At least one lawsuit is certain to ensue from a vote to fire Vincent, and that's why some of his supporters suspect that that effort might not get the same 18 votes as Thursday's secret ballot did when the owners meet in St. Louis on Wednesday.

"When they vote to fire him, they have to be prepared for legal action," one owner who supports Vincent said. "Every one of them will get on the stand and have to explain his position in voting to fire the commissioner. They all have selfish reasons. They'll all look foolish."

One lawyer familiar with Thursday's proceedings said the owners were assured no legal consequence could result from the vote to ask Vincent to resign.

The newer owners especially appeared to be swayed by that position, the lawyer said. How they would view the prospect of a fierce court fight as a result of a vote to fire Vincent could be another matter.

If the majority were to lose four owners, it no longer would be a majority.

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