Edward Bennett Williams, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, said here this weekend that baseball's billion-dollar bonanza from a five-year national TV contract may have the side effect of significantly improving Bowie Kuhn's chances of retaining his position as commissioner.
Williams believes that if Atlanta owner Ted Turner has, in fact, decided to change his "no" vote on Kuhn to "yes," as Turner has hinted, that switch may save Kuhn's job.
"It was interesting to see that Ted Turner has said (last Friday) he might rethink his vote," said Williams. Of the 7-5 margin by which the National League voted against Kuhn's rehiring last November, Williams said, "One of those (no) votes was cosmetic. If Turner switched, it would probably be 9-3 (in favor of Kuhn) very quickly."
Williams, who is mildly pro-Kuhn, is part of the search committee looking for new candidates for commissioner. It remains Williams' belief, however, that Kuhn has "a solid majority of the 26 owners who are firmly for him."
Williams also wonders if any person the search committee unearths will have that much backing. "We've found out one thing," said Williams. "No owner will touch the job. Of all the candidates so far, not one could be described as being a 'baseball person.' They're all from outside."
Of more interest to Williams than the identity of the game's commissioner is the broad impact of the billion-dollar contract on the game's finances. For three years, he has pushed for equal division of all future increases in the game's cable-TV income; that was the '80s boom for which many owners prayed. Now, the billion dollars has come from national TV, not cable. This development Williams calls "a real surprise; it was pretty shocking to find out that the TV contract had been quadrupled."
Williams also said the Orioles' Miami Stadium spring-training arrangement has become odious enough that he has passed the stage of merely complaining about conditions here and is making it a priority to investigate the possibility of moving elsewhere next year.
The team's exhibition home here at Miami Stadium is near the center of one of Miami's most crime-infested neighborhoods. Said Williams, annoyed by the crowds of less than 1,000 at Bird exhibition games: "It's a cause of real concern to us. The problem was exacerbated by the trouble (riots) in Overtown and Liberty City. The perception that the area around the park is more dangerous than it was before is probably more image than reality, but image can keep people from coming to the park."
Williams said that, to change spring sites, the Orioles would require a stadium that seats 5,000, plus a training complex with at least four fields. Port St. Lucie is one town that has wooed big league clubs, including the Astros. Williams would prefer Biscayne College here, training camp of the Miami Dolphins, where Oriole minor leaguers work out now. But Biscayne has no stadium.