One of the ways to judge a man is by his enemies.
By that standard alone, Bowie Kuhn ought to be reelected here on Wednesday as commissioner of baseball. The small group of foes now lined up against Kuhn is tantamount to a testimonial for the commissioner.
If Kuhn had picked the least credible possible group of palace plotters, he'd probably have come up with the same coalition of National League owners who will arrive here Tuesday to politic for his firing.
And if Kuhn had tried to align the best minds and the most respected organizations in baseball to back him -- or at least agree to tolerate his continuance in office -- he'd have come up with just such supporters as he has.
Let's look at the forest, not the trees. When vindictive old Augie Busch and selfish, capricious Ted Turner line up against stable Peter O'Malley and imaginative Roy Eisenhardt, it's not hard to figure out which side has the general state of baseball at heart and which just has private axes to grind.
"Right now, it looks like there are three firm votes against Kuhn in the National League and two others wavering," said Eisenhardt, president of the Oakland A's and cochairman of baseball's Restructuring Committee. "What it looks like is that you have is three 'nos' in search of the fourth 'no' that's necessary to block the rehiring of the commissioner.
"Of course, if they get a solid fourth 'no,' then you might see a fifth and even a sixth 'no' vote, too," continued Eisenhardt, who is pro-Kuhn. "But I'd say getting No. 4 is going to be tough for them.
"Whatever happens, doesn't it make you wonder about baseball's structure when four owners can thwart the will of 22 others? And that's exactly what it could come down to."
It's possible to find only seven owners -- five in the National League and two in the American -- who smile when the phrase "Dump Bowie" is mentioned.
Taken as a group, they're quite a cast: Busch of St. Louis, Turner of Atlanta, John McMullen of Houston, the Williams brothers of Cincinnati (who get one vote), Nelson Doubleday of the Mets, George Steinbrenner of the Yankees and Eddie Chiles of Texas.
* Busch's middle name is bile.
* To Turner, baseball is just another situation comedy. He'll vote his cable-TV wallet and everybody else be damned.
* McMullen, whose eye is on baseball and hockey pay-TV millions, is another who is voting his bank account, not his conscience. He and Turner are afraid Kuhn will use his influence to keep baseball from being damaged, as boxing was, by overexposure; this could cost these two an extra Swiss villa somewhere along the line, so they're ready to fire Kuhn.
* The Williams brothers -- emblematic of the anachronistic, nearly demolished Reds -- just can't force themselves to believe that times have changed: the players have been emancipated, but they don't want to believe it.
* Doubleday has sniffed the wind and smells the future: the revenue sharing of pay-TV dollars. Kuhn's basically for it. So, Doubleday is voting according to his own New York megamarket wallet rather than voting in the best interest of the game his ancestor may have invented. He's bringing shame to the name. Maybe Alexander Cartwright dreamed up the sport after all.
Since the AL is locked up for Kuhn, Chiles and Steinbrenner don't count, but they make interesting allies. Both are meddlesome millionaires in the process of devaluing their clubs by trying to manage and general manage their teams, instead of letting pros do it. Naturally, they figure to be on the wrong side of this issue, too.
For the past year, ever since baseball took its $25 million strike bath, the game has, for the first time in memory, been looking seriously at its two basic problems of the '80s: labor relations and revenue sharing. In other words, how the loot should be split between the owners and the players, and how the owners should split their part of the pot among themselves.
"No real progress can be made in these areas until the issue of the commissioner is settled," says Eisenhardt. "If Kuhn is fired, it won't do any real damage to the work of the Restructuring Committee, but it will certainly delay the game's ability to act on these important matters."
That may be putting the issue too mildly. In the 12 months since the strike, baseball has made progress in reaching a significant consensus among owners in several areas. The Restructuring Committee's extremely important proposals -- especially on joint league voting on major issues, as well as placing both league presidents and the Player Relations Committee under the commissioner -- are emblematic of this.
No matter what anybody says up front, the committee has operated on the assumption that a new, more powerful Kuhn -- given a mandate, among other things, to bring PRC strike general Ray Grebey sharply to heel -- would be the next commissioner.
While gaining some powers, Kuhn is perfectly willing, perhaps even glad, to welcome a newly created power figure -- a sort of chief executive officer for baseball. This CEO would have a business background and focus on revenue sharing and cable TV. The Restructuring Committee is on record as endorsing such a move. But, as Kuhn backer John McHale of Montreal says, "If you carve out new areas for such a 'business' executive, it's essential that he must report to the commissioner. He can't be tunneling under him."
This growing common-sense consensus is possible in large part because, in the past three years, so many teams have come under new ownership. "All the bad blood that's historically been in the game has apparently decreased," says Eisenhardt. "That's why we've made progress."
That is, until now.
"Maybe this is the last hurrah for the old-school way of doing baseball's business," said Eisenhardt. "And then maybe we can get on with our business and do something right for a change."
If men like O'Malley, Eisenhardt, Kuhn, McHale and Edward Bennett Williams in Baltimore can't pull baseball's wagon out of the ditch, then it's just going to have to stay stuck.
However, if a tiny gang of shortsighted self-servers stands in their way here this week, then more, much more's the pity