Although the committee seeking a successor to baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has met only once and sources say no names were formally discussed, a number of prominent figures are being mentioned in baseball circles.
They include Frank Mankiewicz, president of National Public Radio; Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America; Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.), Rep. Wyche Fowler (D-Ga.), and former governor Brendan Byrne of New Jersey.
Bud Selig, chairman of the Commissioner's Search Committee and president of the Milwaukee Brewers, said, "It's much too premature to talk about it. We haven't considered any actual candidates, nor have any been contacted."
Selig said that he had a list of 30-35 people who have either expressed interest in the job or been suggested to him. He said none of those on his list "have been evaluated or contacted."
Asked if he is interested in the job, Mankiewicz, a longtime baseball fan, said, "I think every American boy is interested . . . I'm certainly interested in talking about it."
Mankiewicz said he had spoken informally with members of the search committee, but not since the committee's meeting last Wednesday in New York. "I have a good job, as I assume those people (other possible candidates) do," said Mankiewicz.
"I'd certainly listen. I gather it's going to be a fairly slow process."
Valenti said he had been contacted by representatives of two clubs who told him his name had been put before the search committee. Valenti said he has not spoken with anyone on the committee, but added that the club representatives said they wanted to talk with him again in January.
"I have not sought the job and I don't know if I want it," he said. "I'm very happy with my job."
But, he added, "An old friend once told me, 'Never turn down an offer until you hear it spelled out for you.' "
Eagleton was reelected in 1980. A spokesman for him said, "It all got started when he made a light-hearted remark that he'd like to be baseball comissioner . . . He is very happy where he is. He is not seriously interested in taking the job."
Fowler was reelected in November. "This is where his duties lie," said an aide.
Byrne, who left office last January, said, "I have not actively pursued the thing at all. I'd be interested in talking to somebody if it is appropriate."
Byrne is now practicing law in Newark. "It's a job I would have loved the day after I left Trenton," he said. "Frankly, I'm less enthusiastic now than I was a year ago."
Among those within baseball mentioned as potential candidates are John McHale, president of the Montreal Expos; Tal Smith, longtime baseball executive, and Lee MacPhail, president of the American League. Neither McHale nor Smith could be reached for comment. MacPhail said, "I've told them I'm not interested. I told them I'd work one more year."
Sources familiar with the process say it will be lengthy, largely because the committee must decide what it wants the commissioner's role to be before deciding who it wants him to be. Roy Eisenhardt, cochairman of the restructuring committee and president of the Oakland A's, said, "The question is, 'Are we looking for a pansy or a leader?' The restructuring committee made it clear we need a strong leader with central powers. The key is the person has to be able to create a sense of synthesis among ownership."
That raises another question: should Kuhn's successor be a baseball insider or outsider? The problem with many of the obvious choices from within the ranks is that they bring with them political baggage. They have taken stands on everything from Kuhn to the designated hitter to revenue sharing.
Selig said the committee will meet again in January. If members decide to hire from outside the game, they must consider whether they want a business executive, possibly with experience in telecommunications (cable and pay television will be one of the most difficult issues confronting the industry), or someone with political and governmental experience who would be able to argue baseball's case effectively in Congress and the media.
Mankiewicz and Valenti have experience in both domains.
There are those in baseball who still believe that the logical successor to Kuhn is Kuhn, whose term expires in August. Although it may be implausible, it is conceivable that at the end of all the debate, the members could decide they had the best man all along.
One owner said, "There has been very little discusssion of this among owners. One of the reasons is Bowie is still commissioner. It's almost like burying him . . . I think a significant number of owners is neither with the pro-Kuhn or anti-Kuhn forces. They are with the 'let's-get-on-with-it' forces. I think they recognize that the worst possible thing would be for that scenario to develop."
Deadlock can be divisive.
"I think he did pretty well the job he thought he was supposed to do," Mankiewicz said of Kuhn. "Now I think they want a different job filled."