Rift between owners, commissioner will be resolved -- in...

BASEBALL

September 06, 1992|By PETER SCHMUCK

Rift between owners, commissioner will be resolved -- in 0) 1994

Just what baseball needs, a hostage crisis.

Commissioner Fay Vincent is holed up in his office on Park Avenue, waiting out his term while 18 of the 28 major-league owners bark angrily at his door.

Who's right? Shouldn't Vincent's employers have the right to remove him if he is not performing to their satisfaction? Shouldn't Vincent be accountable to someone when he summons his best-interests-of-baseball powers and makes some sweeping decision that could affect the game for generations? Shouldn't he resign if nearly two-thirds of the owners want him out?

No.

It would not be in the best interests of the game.

Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf stood in front of the TV cameras the other day and made the argument that the owners are like the board of directors and the commissioner is like the company CEO. Therefore, the board should be able to vote to fire him like any other company.

That's what it has come down to. Major League Baseball wants to be like any other major corporation, but only when the mood strikes. The sport also wants to keep an anti-trust exemption that other corporations can only dream of, and the owners want the public to buy them beautiful new stadiums from which to sell their wares.

The owners of baseball may be all business in 1992, but their stock and trade depends on an unwritten contract with the American public that dates back more than 70 years. Soon after the infamous Black Sox scandal, ownership created the office of the commissioner to restore the game's tainted reputation. Baseball put its commissioner in an ivory tower because it recognized that public confidence was just as important as private enterprise.

Vincent thinks that principle still stands. He has resisted every attempt by ownership to erode the power of the commissioner's office. It is a futile fight, since the role of the commissioner eventually will be redefined even if he sticks out his term to the end, but it is the good fight.

The way it looks now, Vincent will survive until his term expires March 31, 1994. A decided majority of the owners want him out, but it probably doesn't have the stomach for a lengthy court battle.

No doubt, Vincent will be vilified for his stubborn stand, but he has done what he was hired to do. He has made the tough decisions that the 28 owners -- all with their own agendas -- could not make.

He made some powerful enemies when he unilaterally decided to realign the National League. He alienated some American League owners when he gave them only a small share of $190 million generated by expansion. He angered the powerful New York Yankees organization with his handling of George Steinbrenner's reinstatement and Steve Howe's final suspension.

The final tally showed that only nine owners still support him, but that should be enough.

Perhaps an argument can be made for some mechanism to remove a commissioner. What if, for instance, some future commissioner was found to be involved in a scandal of his own?

The owners -- even some of those who support Vincent -- are intent on dramatically altering the powers of the office as soon as the current crisis is resolved.

Bash Brothers: The sequel

So you're going to miss the sight of Jose Canseco meeting up with Mark McGwire at home plate to bash forearms after another prodigious home run. Maybe not.

The Texas Rangers now have a one-two punch that might be every bit as explosive. Canseco now is teamed with outfielder Juan Gonzalez, who leads the major leagues in home runs with 39 and has hit 20 since July 21.

Rangers manager Toby Harrah is so impressed with Gonzalez's power that he has to go well back in the organization's history to find a suitable comparison.

"Frank Howard was the last guy we had who could hit balls as far as Juan," Harrah said. "He would hit the ball 50 to 80 feet over the fence. Juan is the same way. He has so much power he can hit the ball 100 feet over the fence."

He could just as easily have been talking about Canseco, who has hit a few long home runs himself.

It doesn't stop there. The Rangers can do some serious damage with a batting order that includes those two as well as first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and left fielder Kevin Reimer.

Clip and save

The past two weeks have seen various divisional contenders jockeying furiously for position, but who came out of the trade wars on top?

No one will know for sure until the season is over, but here are my predictions:

* The Atlanta Braves' new stopper, Jeff Reardon, will help the team cruise through the playoffs, but he'll be on the mound when they lose the World Series.

* The Toronto Blue Jays will not regret acquiring David Cone. He lost his first start, but he'll win five of the next six to make a big contribution.

* The Orioles will get at least four victories from Craig Lefferts, who will have the advantage over a whole league of hitters who have never seen him.

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