Judging from its past, baseball is better off without commissioner

John Steadman

May 10, 1993|By John Steadman

Now that baseball closed one season and opened another without a commissioner the evidence is clear and compelling: Nothing should be done. Leave it vacant.

The office should be abolished. It serves no useful purpose. At best, it's a back-pounding, hand-shaking ceremonial job that adds nothing to making baseball a better game or permitting the public to enjoy it more.

There's nothing of importance that can't be decided by the presidents of the American and National leagues, namely Robert Brown and Bill White. Both were former players in the respective leagues they preside over. They can relate to players and their problems. They understand the nuances of the game. Besides, they ought to earn their pay.

Hiring a commissioner is absolutely throwing money away. If baseball wants to realign itself, then start by putting an end to a job that does nothing more than take up seating space at the All-Star Game and World Series. Baseball would be better off donating the money to pay for a commissioner to helping reduce the national debt or to the save-the-whales movement.

Since Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis died in 1944, there have only been two commissioners, A. B. "Happy" Chandler and Bowie Kuhn, with a true understanding of baseball and a passion for its position in American life. Chandler was so enthralled with the game that when he was fired by the owners, who perceived him as a players' commissioner and not the rubber stamp they wanted him to be, he actually broke down and cried in public.

Chandler had opened the sport to black athletes and also led the way in creating a pension plan for the players. Kuhn admired Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as players, but when they went to work for casinos, he decided they could do one or the other. Not both. He was right.

Apart from Kuhn, Landis and Chandler, the rest of the commissionership contingent, including the lionized Bart Giamatti, Fay Vincent, Peter Ueberroth, William "Spike" Eckert and Ford Frick, made little or no contribution to baseball.

This proves that since Landis, who wasn't as tough as sportswriters described him, only two commissioners out of the next seven, in a period of 49 years, weren't merely taking up space.

Incidentally, why didn't Landis look deeper into the charges that Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were involved in a gambling fix rather than deciding the statute of limitations prevailed?

The club executives, rather the owners, have made themselves the laughingstock of the world by prolonging the search for a commissioner to such imponderable lengths. All they needed do was put a help-wanted ad in The Sporting News.

A baseball commissioner avails himself of a well-upholstered chair in an office suite, a staff of assistants and secretaries, an enormous salary and unlimited expense account. Also as many box seats as his heart desires, even if he can't locate enough relatives to fill them at game time.

Now baseball goes on without a commissioner, thanks to wonder-boy Bud Selig, who wouldn't know an infield fly from a fly on the wall. Selig is in charge of finding a body for the role of commissioner. The job is vacant. Is the game any better? No. Any worse? No. So why look for another stiff?

How about when Eckert was in charge? That poor miscast soul didn't know Lloyd Waner from Charley "Red" Ruffing at the Hall of Fame ceremony. He went up to Ruffing and said, "It's a shame your brother isn't living so he could be here to see you join him in the Hall of Fame."

It was a case of mistaken identity, but that, unfortunately, is how baseball had hired Eckert. The intention was to hire a General Ecker, a World War II battlefield hero, but the committee got General Eckert, a supply specialist out of the Air Force, and, once the announcement had been made, realized it was too embarrassed to correct the mistake.

Oh, yes, another time, Eckert was talking to sportswriters in Florida and got his speeches crossed. He was reading the one he intended to give to a group of airline officials later in the day rather than the one on the state of baseball.

Yes, the game has survived despite the disasters it has created for itself. Here's a vote for baseball to retain the beauty of the status quo . . .to play for perpetuity without a commissioner.

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