Frank Cashen, general manager of the New York Mets, one of the teams opposing Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, said today it is a certainty that the Major League Executive Council will be running major league baseball when Kuhn's term expires in 10 days. Cashen said no replacement can be elected at the annual summer meetings that will begin Wednesday because a vote is not on the agenda.
"You can't elect a commissioner here this time," he said. "It's a certainty that the executive council will be running baseball."
As Kuhn returned to his hotel tonight, he was asked if he was optimistic. "I never change my point of view," he said, smiling.
The first item on Wednesday's agenda is a report by the search committee on candidates to replace Kuhn, who failed to get enough votes last November to receive a third seven-year term. Bud Selig, of the Milwaukee Brewers, who is chairman of the committee, said Cashen's understanding of the rules "is substantially correct."
The only way a vote on a candidate could be taken is if the owners agree to do so by unanimous consent. Lee MacPhail, president of the American League, said he does not believe there will be a vote on a new commissioner Wednesday, either. "They aren't going to come in and vote on people whose names they have not heard," he said.
Nelson Doubleday of the Mets and Ted Turner of the Braves, two of Kuhn's staunchest opponents, will not be at the meeting. The Mets and the Braves were among five National League teams to oppose Kuhn at the winter meetings and deprive him of the necessary three-fourths vote from each league.
Since that time, Kuhn's supporters have tried to pursuade his opponents to change their position and have sought some basis for compromise. According to management sources, there have been discussions about reducing the length of the term of office and hiring a business person to supplement the commissioner. Sources say that proposal is still on the table, though not very active.
"People are working hard on it," said MacPhail. "I can't tell you at this point that there is anything close to fruition. I can't give you any encouragement on that."
Cashen said, "We can come out with either a conciliatory situation where we try to make peace and not get into another war or else we come out deadlocked and with all-out war."
At the moment, the deadlock appears to be intact. "We're in irons, like a sailboat adrift in the sea," said Roy Eisenhardt, president of the Oakland A's.
Sources say the opposition to Kuhn has not diminished. Eddie Chiles, owner of the Texas Rangers who opposed Kuhn in November, said, "I can definitely say as far as I know there has been no change in anybody's mind."
John McMullen, owner of the Houston Astros and another Kuhn opponent, said, "It doesn't matter (whether the opposition has diminished). The vote was already taken. Did Carter get another chance after he lost the election?"
Still, some of Kuhn's supporters remain hopeful that a compromise can be reached. "Bowie has not been unelected yet," Eisenhardt said. "It's like a nominating convention, you can always make it on the second ballot."
One reason that it has been so difficult to find a compromise, Eisenhardt said, is that the opposition to Kuhn has "no common thread."
Some oppose him because of his position on the split season after the 1981 strike; others dislike his support of revenue sharing; and still others, like August A. Busch Jr., of the St. Louis Cardinals, harbor ill feelings from his intervention in the 1976 labor dispute when Kuhn opened the spring training camps.
Even if a compromise can be reached that preserves Kuhn's job, it could so diminish his powers that he would become a figurehead, at a time when the restructuring committee is ready to propose centralizing power in the office.
The executive council, which may be forced into the position of running the game if no compromise is found, met today for seven hours. The council is made up of four owners from each league and the two league presidents. According to MacPhail, one of the things discussed was a contingency plan for operating without a commissioner should that come to pass.
Kuhn was named commissioner pro tem in 1969 when Gen. William D. Eckert was voted out of office. One possibility now is that the executive council would try to name another temporary commissioner. But that would require a three-quarters vote from each league.
There has been some speculation that the executive council, which is made up of Kuhn's supporters, might try to allow Kuhn to remain in control while giving him another title so that the three-quarters vote could be bypassed. "I'd be hopeful they wouldn't circumvent the rules," Cashen said. "A minority acting in a democratic way has certain rights."