Vincent out, so what now? Owners controlling game appear set to replace commissioner with CEO

September 08, 1992|By Claire Smith | Claire Smith,New York Times

NEW YORK -- Major league baseball, as it has been constructed since the aftermath of its darkest days -- the 1919 White Sox gambling scandal -- has evolved again.

For this is the first day since Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis helped design the office that the commissionership is dead. When Fay Vincent resigned yesterday, for all intents, the office expired with his term. Now, much like people situated at the base of a erupting volcano, baseball -- its lords, its players, its umpires, its fans -- must sift through the ashes to see what emerges and who benefits most from this turbulent metamorphosis.

Mr. Vincent said yesterday, after the fact, that no winners emerged from the long, contentious battle. At least on that, both Mr. Vincent and Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner perceived as the architect of the commissioner's fall, agree. Mr. Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, stated as much on Thursday, after heading up the successful insurrection that resulted in 18 of the 28 owners voting to request Mr. Vincent's resignation.

But, since this is baseball, a sport that accepts victories and losses but no ties, the attempt must be made to measure those who gained and those who lost in the baseball war of 1992, even if the last salvo has, indeed, been fired.

The obvious candidates for winners of the year are team owners like Reinsdorf, Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers, Peter O'Malley of the Los Angeles Dodgers, not to mention the Tribune Co., which runs the Chicago Cubs. They seem to have what they have coveted: control of the game with the opposition badly outnumbered and all but silenced and a clear path to restructure the commissioner's role as that of a chief executive officer who is answerable not to the players, umpires, or fans but only to the owners, who now liken themselves to a board of directors.

"I don't think I could have done it differently," Mr. Vincent said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I think that if they wanted the kind of commissioner they apparently want, I could never be it."

Since none of those other three constituencies Mr. Vincent chose to represent have any say in drawing up baseball management's new world order, a CEO position, perhaps fashioned in the style of the National Basketball Association, seems destined to find its way into baseball.

That is, of course, if those who successfully pushed aside Mr. Vincent can guarantee ultimate victory. By tomorrow, when the owners gather in St. Louis, a picture of the game's new landscape should quickly emerge, and it remains to be seen if it's a peaceful tableau or whether a real power grab will ensue. Big- and small-market clubs, superstation-fueled teams, and teams with minuscule television revenue have little left in common now that their desire to have Mr. Vincent gone has been sated. How they begin to stake out new territories will show how the federation of 18 holds up.

Also, it should be remembered, it takes a three-quarters majority to effect any major change in baseball, such as hiring a new commissioner or changing the Major League Agreement, the game's governing document. Assuming that Cincinnati, the only team to abstain from the vote on Thursday, will now join the majority, at least two of the nine teams once allied with Mr. Vincent and against the majority will also have to join the majority in order to assure that three-quarters vote.

But as George W. Bush of the Texas Rangers, one of the nine, said yesterday: "I still stand by my previous statement. This is the wrong decision by baseball." And at least six others in the minority group agreed with Mr. Bush that Mr. Vincent should fight the assault on the office of commissioner as it was constituted rather than resign.

Other individuals or clubs with immediate gains include:

* League presidents: Bill Giles of the Philadelphia Phillies, one owner crucial to the drive to evict Mr. Vincent, indicated the new structure would also redefine the offices of league presidents Dr. Bobby Brown of the American League and Bill White of the National League. "The league presidents should have more responsibility, more to do that affects baseball in a more positive way," Mr. Giles said.

* The Chicago Cubs: The team will no longer have to concern itself with the realignment plan where Mr. Vincent would have put Chicago and St. Louis in the National League West and moved two Eastern time zone teams, the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds, into the N.L. East.

* The Tribune Co.: The company that owns the Cubs as its flagship in a growing fleet of teams whose games are being broadcast on its television stations will no longer have to concern itself with any organized opposition to superstations, or its growing network of affiliated sports franchises.

* George Steinbrenner: The exiled owner of the New York Yankees, due for a parole from Mr. Vincent on March 1, has always counted among his closest friends in baseball the White Sox owners and Mr. Selig. Expect an earlier release.

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