No aristocrat ever went to the guillotine with his hair less ruffled, his clothes better pressed or his composure less disturbed than the patrician baseball commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, who presided over his own execution with equanimity today.
Kuhn accepted his bitterest defeat with a tart, resigned bemusement, then hopped on the first plane back to New York, saying that he planned to celebrate his firing at a party thrown by his family.
"I have been guided by conscience, tried to act in a moral way. You can't ask much more of a man than that," said Kuhn, summarizing his era as baseball boss that began in 1969. "The game has come light years (since then), and I take some small credit for that . . .
"I have a commendable record," said Kuhn proudly, leaving no doubt by his comments that he believed the minority of owners who opposed him were inexperienced, shortsighted and, perhaps, merely vindictive. "I don't think their reasons (for voting against him) were particularly good . . . "
Was "personal enmity" at the base of today's vote against him? "I'm not sure," he said, leaving the door wide for anyone who chose to think so.
Asked, simply, "Why did this happen to you?" Kuhn replied, "I have some pretty good ideas about why. There is some discomfort in our game with the concept of a commissioner with disciplinary powers over those who employ him . . . especially if he is willing to use (those powers) . . . I think there are some who would like to see that (strong, judicial kind of commissionership) done away with . . . I do not believe that this is a philosophy which will ultimately prevail in our business . . .
"They wanted to water down the job too much," said Kuhn, who, by the end of his term, will have been commissioner longer than anyone has been U.S. president. "The last compromise they offered was clearly unacceptable. I think it's important to have one chief executive officer (not two who are separate but equal). It's almost unheard of (in business) to operate with two men at the top.
"That would be an invitation to maladministration of the game . . . that solution would be 100 percent wrong."
As he, in all probability, began his exodus from office, Kuhn said that he firmly agreed with the need of a three-quarters vote in each league to hire a new commissioner. However, he added that, for a sitting commissioner, a simple majority of both leagues ought to be enough to stay in the job, since, inevitably, an active commissioner would step on some toes.
For years, Bowie Kuhn was known by Charlie Finley's epithet -- "the village idiot." Perhaps this understated baseball commissioner, who served longer than any man except Kenesaw Mountain Landis, never looked better in his office than on the day he began to leave it.