Baseball is probably the only business in the world in which a man can get nine months' notice and still be surprised about losing his job.
But Bowie Kuhn's decision Wednesday not to continue the fight to keep his job as baseball commissioner surprised even some of the men who fired him. The question is: now what? To whom will they turn, now that Kuhn has gracefully turned away?
Milwaukee's Bud Selig, chairman of the search committee, said he had interviewed some candidates but has not even disclosed their names to the owners outside of the committee. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Although the owners had voted not to renew Kuhn's contract last November, many of his supporters arrived in Boston believing he was salvageable.
His uncertain status severely hampered the efforts of the committee to find a successor.
No one wants to fight for a job when the person holding it is fighting to keep it. No one wants to embarrass his employer by publicly acknowledging a desire to move on. "It's a Catch-22," said one owner. "Whoever is named is immediately eliminated."
Now that Kuhn has removed himself, candidates can come forward. Names have been bandied about for months: Peter Ueberroth, chairman of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, and Yale University President A. Bartlett Giamatti, both of whom have publicly disavowed interest in the job.
A spokesman for Ueberroth said yesterday he has not been approached for the job and anticipates being with the organizing committee through the 1984 Games.
MacPhail would get many votes. But MacPhail, who has been named head of the owners' Player Relations Committee, succeeding Ray Grebey, insists he is not interested.
The search committee will meet again in the next couple of weeks. Selig has promised to return with a candidate or candidates within 30 to 60 days. It is most likely that the committee will settle on one man before going back to ownership.
If Wednesday was a sad day for Kuhn, it was also an important day for baseball. The deadlock over Kuhn's fate, which dated back to the winter meetings in 1981, had paralyzed baseball in many ways.
In the afternoon, after Kuhn made his exit, the owners approved four restructuring proposals. The A's Roy Eisenhardt, cochairman of the restructuring committee, was surprised at the swiftness. Perhaps those proposals would have been passed anyway. But some believe more progress was made in one afternoon than baseball had made for a decade.
"There was a recognition of the need to move on," said one owner.
Voting procedures were revamped, making bloc voting within a league more difficult. The powers of the commissioner's office were increased, centralizing authority over labor relations and marketing within it.
The owners also agreed to provide operating statements from the clubs (coded so that they can not be identified) to the Player Relations Committee. MacPhail said the PRC, which had requested the information, was given the authority to disclose it to the Major League Baseball Players Association "if we think the situation requires it . . . It is a different era as far as player relations go."
During the 1981 strike, the players association asked the National Labor Relations Board for financial data to prove the owners' contention that most teams were losing money. Ken Moffett, executive director of the players association, said, "If they want to show it to us, we'll take a look."
Kuhn's departure means the end of the triumvirate that ruled baseball for so long. Moffett, the former federal mediator, replaced Marvin Miller, who waged the long, hard wars for free agency. MacPhail, a soothing, moderate voice, replaces the contentious Grebey.
Whoever replaces Kuhn will have a say over labor relations that he never had and will be free of the political baggage he carried as a consequence of nearly 15 years in office.
But one thing has not changed: the job still has the inherent paradox of being both administrator of the game and disciplinarian to the men who hire him. It remains to be seen whether the owners want someone who is his own man or theirs.