Today, Bowie Kuhn made his stand. Offered compromises that would save his job -- but would simultaneously weaken the office of commissioner -- Kuhn adamantly refused to budge from his position that the commissioner must be the unchallenged boss of baseball.
On a day when, with a little wheeling and dealing and some swallowing of pride, Kuhn could have been re-elected commissioner, he, instead, took a stand on principle which may -- 10 weeks hence -- cost him his job.
Thanks to a last-minute parliamentary sidestep, Kuhn got a stay of execution this afternoon. And delayed his day of reckoning until Nov. 1.
Faced with a solid block of six National League owners who refused to support his reelection, Kuhn played a tricky trump that he knew he had in his back pocket all along. Certain that he had enough support in each league (a simple majority) to obtain a postponement -- even if he didn't have the three-quarters vote needed for re-election -- Kuhn decided to switch rather than fight.
Switch time and cities for his reelection battle, that is.
By a majority vote of each league -- 7-5 in the National League and 11-3 in the American -- the issue of Kuhn's reelection was postponed until a special Nov. 1 owners' meeting at a city to be named later.
All morning, owners were running in and out of hotel rooms, trying to reach a compromise. Then, after lunch, NL President Chub Feeney announced, "The summer meetings are over . . . We're at a stalemate."
Despite the exasperating postponement, Kuhn's job, and, for that matter, the entire nature of the commissionership, remain completely in doubt. Those league votes, according to a source, went exactly along pro-Kuhn and anti-Kuhn lines. According to Baltimore owner Edward Bennett Williams, the anti-Kuhn forces now have "six National League votes that appear to be solid and don't look susceptible to movement." (For the record, the only reason the Chicago Cubs didn't join the five other dissident clubs in opposing the postponment vote is that they knew a 6-6 vote would have gone to the pro-Kuhn Executive Council for a tie breaker vote that was a foregone conclusion.)
The essence of the battle here -- still entirely unresolved -- was fairly simple: 'twas was a bitter backroom fight over a mysterious, but powerful new baseball entity called The COOBA.
For two days here, Kuhn has wrestled the COOBA to a draw. Come November, no one can say which will win.
Here's how the battle lines stand.
Twenty owners, including all 14 in the AL, want to rehire Kuhn; in addition, they want to insure that a new baseball executive in charge of business affairs -- to be called a Chief Operating Officer for Baseball Affairs (COOBA) -- remain subordinate to Kuhn.
Those six angry National League owners -- from New York, St. Louis, Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Chicago -- want the new money man, the COOBA, to be independent of the commissioner. They know this is, at present, utterly unacceptable to Kuhn.
"A commissioner who had no authority over the entire economic area of the game would be no more than a ceremonial appendage," said Baltimore's Williams. "All of this sport's major problems are economic. The six votes that appear to be solid against the commissioner (in the NL) even want labor relations -- the Player Relations Committee -- to report up through COOBA, not the commissioner.
"What they are pushing for would totally emasculate the commissionership."
Kuhn sees this clearly and has taken perhaps the firmest stand of his 13-year career. Said Kuhn firmly, "I believe the commissioner should remain the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for all of baseball. The COOBA should report through him. It works that way in many major corporations and works well. The CEO and COOBA don't collide much . . . The pyramid has got to stop with someone . . . I believe it is important that the role of the commissioner not be undermined. Never before, not even in 1921, has baseball been more in need of a strong commissioner . . .
"The integrity of the game and the business interests of COOBA could come in conflict," said Kuhn. "This particular thing wouldn't happen, but, for example, suppose COOBA decided to support legalized betting on baseball as a way to solve our financial problems. Well, you'd run into the commish in a hurry . . .
"In 1975 (when AL owners tried to fire Kuhn), the question was, 'Who's going to be in the job?' Now, the question is, 'Where is the office (of commissioner) going?' That makes the issue now more important.
"This looked like a good fight, not the sort I'd walk away from," said Kuhn, adding later, "It might be the only kind of fight I'd relish."
In a sense, Kuhn won this round. His foes left without his scalp. He now has 10 more weeks for lobbying, which he calls "education."
"He beat us this time; he sure did," said one source in the Dump Bowie camp. "We could have had a compromise today. All he had to do was accept the COOBA as an executive independent of the commissioner's office. But he wouldn't. He wants to be top dog."
How much of the anti-Kuhn concern for COOBA is philosophical, and how much a smoke screen to dump Kuhn (or hamstring any commissioner), is anybody's guess right now. Ed Williams said of the six, "They don't want Kuhn."
How many of the six 'nays' had noble motives concerning the future structure of the game, and how many were trying to sell their vote to Kuhn for some future advantage, is also anybody's guess.
However, Kuhn was asked, in effect, if he could have bought back his commissionership with some "trading off." "Oh, sure, I think so," he said. "Trade offs are not in my lexicon."
"Off what happened here, the chances of getting this settled on Nov. 1 don't look good," said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. "Bowie has some real deep soul searching to do between now and then. What's going on is tearing baseball apart. It's imperative that we get on with our other (restructuring) business."
Asked how he felt about Steinbrenner's veiled hint for him to resign, Kuhn said, "I will not resign . . . There was a strong and determined majority supporting the commissioner here and I won't let them down."