Ah, it's wonderful. Baseball's back in the news. What to talk about today? We have Billy Martin, the eternal rascal, saying unkind things about Sparky Lyle, only the Cy Young Award winner for the world champions. And we have the Reggie! candy bar, yours for a quarter but sold only to customers with big mouths. And, as always, we have Bowie Kuhn his royal commissioner.
Two days ago, Associated Press reported that nine of the major league owners want to fire Kuhn Well, United Press International checked it out. And UPI says two of Ap's nine men stoutly deny any desire to boot Bowie.
"He has given stature and strength to the office of the commissioner," said the Yankees' George Steinbrenner, one of the alleged Kuhn-skinners.
Steinbrenner went on: "And it is about time more owners stood up and supported him and gave him the credit that is due, instead of trying to undermine the office.
"So in order to clear up any doubt, while he probably won't be invited to my birthday party this Fourth of July and I am not even sure whether I sent him a Christmas card last December, the Yankees won't be a part of any plan to seek his ouster and the Yankees will stand with him solidly if any move is made toward that end."
Ain't love wonderful?
Barely three years ago, Kuhn suspended Steinbrenner from baseball for two years. Steinbrenner's guilty plea on a charge of illegal campaign contributions was not in the best interests of baseball, Kuhn said. Hearing that, Steinbrenner said, "We are shocked beyond belief by Mr. Kuhn's decision."
One of the mysteries of love is how the sweet affliction dims the memory of the painful past. So we may never know why Steinbrenner today takes his old tormentor so close to his bosom.
Only cads with hearts of stone would suggest that Bowie gained Steinbrenner's favor in 1976 by disallowing a Charlie Finley deal that would have sold Vida Blue to the Yankees while sending not one but two all-stars, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers, to the Yankees' cursed rivals, the Red Sox.
Whatever, it is a bizarre array of friends and enemies Bowie Kuhn has created since he succeeded William Eckert, the unknown commissioner, in 1969.
Both Charlie Finley, an anarchist, and Bob Howsam, a company man, have decided Kuhn is incompetent. Perhaps that's good. Kuhn may be representing well the middle ground, and so angering both poles. But the more silly things Kuhn does, the more he gives us to wonder about.
Remember Denny McLain? The Detroit Tiger pitcher was found to be making book between starts. He was taking bets on sports events. For that violation of law, Kuhn decided McLain ought to be suspended three months.
Such a short sentence, Kuhn said, was in order because McLain's book-making enterprise hadn't made any money. By that judicial logic, bank robbers would be sent to bed without supper if the cops caught them in the act.
But Steinbrenner gets two years. And Ted Turner, the owner of the Atlanta Braves, gets soused at a cocktail party and brags that he'll sign a player on another man's team. Kuhn suspends him for a year. If there is a pattern in these Kuhn decisions, it is undetectable.
In July of 1975, the baseball owners gave Bowie Kuhn a new seven-year contract. They did when the game seemed ready to fly apart. Free agents were everywhere, football was getting hundreds of millions of dollars from TV while baseball got relative pennies and the leagues couldn't agree on something as simple as a designated hitter, let alone interleague play. For this kind of leadership, baseball gave Kuhn a contract worth $1,225,000.
And now Bowie Kuhn believes only he knows what is in "the best interest of baseball." to use the phrase he has made his byword. No matter that baseball survived and prospered for 100 years without a commissioner deciding which teams ought to be how good. From scolding bookmakers Kuhn has moved to orchestrating competition. Perhaps he thinks he's Abner Doubleday reborn.
For that, of course, the owners have themselves to blame. They all have signed the Major League Agreement which gives the commissioner power to act "in the best interests of the game." How the commissioner interprets that phrase is up to him. A federal judge has ruled that way, too, saying Kuhn had authority to nullify the Blue and Rudi-Fingers deals.
And Kuhn again has stopped the sale of Blue, this time to the Cincinnati Reds. The addition of Blue to a powerful team would upset the balance of competition, the commissioner said. When Bob Howsam, a rock-solid conservative, heard that, he joined hands with the maverick Finley.
Howsam said, "When the public recognizes that the commissioner, if he can do what he proposes to do in this case, in effect has the ability to dictate where a team can wind up in the standings, I predict that public confidence in the integrity of the game will be destroyed."
What the owners need do is rewrite the Major League Agreement, demoting the commissioner from lord of all he surveys to an administrator with certain powers in a system of checks and balances. He now is answerable to no one, and that is not in the best interests of baseball.