Abner Doubleday, some say, invented baseball.
His great-great-grandnephew, Nelson Doubleday, fired a commissioner today, many will say, and, thus, threw the old game into disarray.
Doubleday, owner of the New York Mets, emerged this afternoon as the central figure in a National League coup that apparently ousted Bowie Kuhn from office after nearly 14 years as the sport's commissioner.
In the vast Rosemont Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, baseball's 26 owners sat and voted on a last-ditch compromise proposal to give Kuhn a three-year contract extension.
The final vote was 7-5 in the NL and 11-3 in the American League -- both in favor of Kuhn. However, reelection requires 10 yes votes in the AL and nine in the NL.
"After 14 years, I got 70 percent of the vote. Most places, that's a landslide," said a "keenly disappointed" Kuhn, who will serve out the remainder of his lame-duck term until Aug. 13, 1983.
However, in baseball, such an 18-8 mandate doesn't keep a man from getting fired.
At day's end, baseball found itself in a state variously described by club owners as "anarchy," "chaos," "limbo" and "a total stalemate."
Kuhn's large majority of supporters were in a barely disguised fury; the five NL and three AL clubs that voted against Kuhn -- New York, St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta and Cincinnati in the NL and New York, Texas and Seattle in the AL -- were loath to gloat over a victory that may have bitter repercussions for years.
"No self-respecting man would accept this job after the abuse Bowie Kuhn has taken," said California Angels President Buzzie Bavazi. "For the last 50 years in baseball, our own worst enemies have been ourselves. Looks like its not going to change . . . We can't solve our problems with our present mode of voting."
"We are victims of a system where four people can dictate to 22 . . . It's chaos," said Chicago White Sox President Eddie Einhorn. "Some people in baseball thrive on the anarchy of the game as it now exists . . . This fight started as a debate over the nature of the (commissioner's) office, then, it became an issue of the man in the office. It got down to a personal thing . . . Once we got into that room, it was just a motion, a vote, and, man, it was all over."
"The will of the large majority has been thwarted, again," said Baltimore Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams.
Asked if the sport may soon find itself in the grip of a stalemate in which such issues as restructuring and the commissionership are thrown into indefinite limbo, Kuhn said, "Given our problems, there is a real danger of it . . . How do we get out of the whirlpool we're in? . . . We're swirling around, looking for a place to catch hold and get started."
Kuhn outlined the manner in which his last-days attempts to find a compromise had failed. As recently as a fortnight ago, Kuhn said, "a St. Louis compromise" had been "polished off by me and (St. Louis lawyer) Lou Susman. He and I were essentially in agreement . . . on the same wavelength."
Kuhn's opponents wanted a chief operating officer to handle all of baseball's business affairs and to operate with powers equal to or stronger than those of the commissioner. The Kuhn-Susman deal would have created a position of president of baseball to be filled by a business executive. All baseball department heads would have reported to the president, he would have reported to Kuhn, while the commissioner, in turn, would have been answerable to the sport's 10-man executive council.
However, Susman then went back to Mets owner Doubleday, with whom he had made a pact to act in concert.
"They have a suicide pact," is the way Oakland A's President Roy Eisenhardt has expressed the long-standing bond between Doubleday and Susman.
"Susman went back to his allies," said Kuhn, "but he couldn't convince them to accept the compromise. I found out last Monday . . . We had hopes until the last 24 hours. That's when we saw the way the votes would go."
According to sources, Houston owner John McMullen was instrumental in convincing Doubleday not to support Kuhn.
"Everybody knows where we stand. We haven't changed," said Doubleday before the final joint league meeting. "No one has changed."
Baseball's hierarchy, its basic structure, its direction for the rest of the 1980s, could hardly be in a more complete state of confusion.
What happens to baseball's restructuring proposals, which took nearly a year to concoct? "In limbo" until after a new commissioner is elected, speculated Kuhn.
"Hopefully, the game will be better for this," said Doubleday, the inheritor of a publishing fortune, as he left Chicago for vacation in Europe. "We need to decide on a commissioner first. A lot will depend on who that is. Restructuring will have to wait until all this is cleared up."
"I voted against him for the reason that I think the commissioner system has outlived its usefulness," the Rangers' Eddie Chiles said. "Baseball needs to be restructured, and now we have the freedom to do that. We don't have to consider a specific person and structure a job for that person."
Will one serious candidate be suggested by anyone to fill either the job of commissioner or president?
"I don't know who'd take the (commissioner's) job," said Montreal Expos President John McHale, one of the few men so far mentioned to succeed Kuhn. "You wouldn't believe some of the crazy reasons that were given for voting against him -- his opening the spring training camps in '76. The split season. Voiding trades . . . It was like every tough decision he ever made, they put a black mark by his name.
"After you've sat in those meetings and heard the reasons that were given, it's enough to scare away anybody."
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who voted against Kuhn, disagreed, saying, "Baseball's a resilient game. It will survive all of this. No one can tell me that there isn't someone our there in this great country of ours who can be commissioner of baseball."
How can baseball arrive at any new system of voting when the anti-Kuhn forces are afraid that any change in the parliamentary rules might open the way for Kuhn's return?
"In one meeting, I asked, kind of sarcastically, 'What is the voting going to be on the new voting?' " said the White Sox's Einhorn. "I think it's just going to be the old voting . . . The whole point is that the system we have now lends itself to special-interest voting. All I've seen since I've been in this game is special-interest deals."
Kuhn supporters already are talking about their future revenge.
"It's going to be interesting to see how vindictive some people are," said one pro-Kuhn owner.
For that matter, how can anybody be certain that Kuhn might not still rise from the dead as commissioner by next August? The fact is that nobody can say for certain that he won't. Possession of the commissionership may prove to be nine tenths of the law.
"There's time between now and August," said Montreal's McHale. "I would not say that Kuhn's time as commissioner is necessarily over . . . A lot of things can happen in nine months. Votes change."
As a bizarre twist, if baseball has made no progress toward finding a new commissioner by Aug. 13, 1983, then the game's executive council must name an interim commissioner. And the executive council is exactly the heavily weighted pro-Kuhn body that, Kuhn said today, implored him to stay on the job.
What if they ask him to remain as interim commissioner? Indefinitely.
Asked if he could be drafted to come back, Kuhn said this afternoon, "I would consider it. I'm not sure I would take it."
"We've just rejected the guy who has probably done more for the game than any other commissioner," said McHale.
"What we have is a small group of owners that favors extreme laissez-faire. There are some clubs that just don't want any restrictions, or discipline. They seem to work on the theory that it'll all work out in the end.
"Some of us are afraid it's not that easy."