With owners such as the Phillies' Giles, Vincent-less era can't help but be loser

September 09, 1992|By Vic Ziegel | Vic Ziegel,New York Daily News

The commissioner has quit, and that means the baseball owners who wanted him out of the way, out of their game, out of their hair, are now one delighted bunch of rich people. They haven't been this happy since the last time they got to raise the price of tickets.

You can tell how pleased the owners were by the way they were racing to their fax machines while Fay Vincent's head was still rolling into the basket. Typical fax (stitched together from actual quotes of those club owners who wanted to make 1 and 1A out of Vincent and Jimmy Hoffa): "Fay Vincent is a first-class gentleman. I respect him. I'm personally saddened. I wish it could have been avoided. I think baseball can go on from here."

Yeah, that last line is accurate. There's an owner out there who actually thinks baseball can go on. His name is Bill Giles, and his titles are president, chief executive officer and general partner, and his team, the Phillies, has the worst record in baseball. With any kind of luck, they lose exactly 100 games this year; a few more games, but not many more, than they've lost each of the last five years.

This is what Bill Giles has done best since his group bought the Phillies 10 years ago: moved a winning team straight into the toilet.

He showed up at a meeting 12 months ago with a plan to turn baseball into hockey. He wants three leagues and a wild-card team for expanded playoffs and interleague play. Why worry about building a winner when you can add wild cards?

Billy was 19 years old when he first turned up in baseball with the Reds. That was a good place for him to start wearing suits and ties because his father, Warren Giles, had been the Reds general manager. Billy moved to the Astros and then the Phillies, and maybe it helped that his father was president of the National League.

Back then, league presidents and commissioners didn't make trouble, didn't try to sell anybody on the ridiculous notion that Chicago was farther west than Atlanta, didn't step on owners' toes or pennies, and were usually named to the Hall of Fame.

When the Braves wanted to move from Milwaukee to Atlanta, the city of Milwaukee went to court to keep the team around. Giles, the league president, was asked how his league picked umpires. Only after great deliberation, Giles said.

He explained that the league traced umpire candidates back to their high school days and then scouted them carefully in the minor leagues. And how do you pick club owners, the Milwaukee attorney asked Giles? "Oh, one of the other fellows usually knows who he is," Giles explained.

For playing the owners' game the owners' way, he was eased into the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee in 1979. The story I found, announcing his election, described Giles as a model of decorum. That means he did what they told him. So they patted him on the head. Good old Gilesy.

Not Fay Vincent. Fay thought he knew what was best for baseball and pretty much didn't care whose toes or pennies he was kicking aside. No Hall of Fame for Fay, you can bet on that.

We are hearing names of people -- politicians, club owners -- who might become the next commissioner. It is generally assumed that the new man will have all the clout of a fettucine noodle. This became certain yesterday when Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox owner, one of the more prominent Fay-whackers, said of the commissioner's job, "If anything, you may see it strengthened." This is some joke.

The owners have only two requirements for the next office-holder: Make us money, save us money. Until they find their joker, here's my list of candidates:

* Ray Handley: The coach of the New York Giants may need the job. Drawback: Could scare the owners because he looks too much like Vincent.

* Bowie Kuhn: He definitely needs the job. Drawback: Both his names, like Fay Vincent, can be used in headlines.

* Jean Harris: She shot the Scarsdale diet doctor. It would be fun to have a commissioner who wasn't afraid to use a gun.

* Sandy Koufax: Perfect. He wouldn't go to games and wouldn't answer the phone.

* Hector Camacho: Exactly what the owners want, a lightweight.

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