"I ask you this, sir! Exactly how do you propose to get Fels Napier?"
The speaker shouted back: "By appealing to his love of the game and his well-known zeal for public service! I happen to know he played ball in college and is a rabid fan! Furthermore, I propose that we offer him unlimited authority—in other words, a blank check to deal with our problems in any way he sees fit!"
There was an immediate chorus of protest and the questioner in the back of the room shouted: "What if he goes too far! What if he tampers with our hallowed traditions? Isn't there a danger that a man like Napier might make a travesty of the game?"
The speaker threw back his head and laughed. Shaking his head, he asked, "Gentlemen, gentlemen—beyond a few harmless innovations, what could he do? What could Commissioner Happy Chandler do, what could Commissioner Frick do? Now, gentlemen, be realistic! I give you not a radical, but incomparable window dressing!"
A great hush fell over the assembly. Then, slowly digesting the idea, owners and league executives began to chuckle, then to laugh and slap each other on the back. Two men rushed forward and lifted the speaker to their shoulders and carried him around the room as the others fell into a line that quickly turned into a snake dance. The red-faced National League official who had accused the speaker of making a travesty of the game danced along, trying to reach the speaker's hand as he cried, "I've been an idiot, a blind fool, an insufferable mucker!"
The speaker nodded and asked to be set down, proposing over the bedlam that another secret vote be taken immediately. None was necessary. On a motion by Branch Rickey, seconded by Gussie Busch of the St. Louis Cardinals, Fels Napier was elected baseball commissioner by acclamation. The middle western club owner who had presented Napier's name was appointed chairman of a committee of three to go to Cincinnati and persuade the 38-year-old, $300,000-a-year Boy Wonder of Big Soap to take the job.
As no one needs be reminded, the announcement that Fels Napier had accepted the office of baseball commissioner was an even bigger bombshell than the resignation of Ford Frick. There was (as will be recalled) some bitter press reaction in the beginning. In The Sporting News, the national baseball weekly, Editor J. G. Taylor Spink wrote a signed editorial under the headline, "Travesty of the Game?" But all criticism was quickly silenced when attention was drawn to the fact that Organized Baseball had turned to Big Soap for a commissioner just as the Eisenhower Administration had looked to it for a Secretary of Defense. In the next issue of The Sporting News an unsigned editorial asked the question, "Greatest Commissioner Since Landis?"
The country at large got its first glimpse of Mr. and Mrs. Fels Napier on the Edward R. Murrow Person to Person television program, which originated from the huge, rambling Napier home of brick and clapboard in a fashionable Cincinnati suburb. As will be remembered, the handsome couple completely captivated the audience and television critics as well. Napier was revealed by the cameras to be a tall, handsome man with a trim athletic figure, brown wavy hair (with just a touch of gray at the temples) and a certain boyish (and yet somehow mature) manner that made him an instant idol of the women fans from coast to coast. Mrs. Napier (the former June Sud of Cincinnati) turned out to be a stunning blonde, combining what one television critic described as the best features of Ingrid Bergman, Brigitte Bardot and Marlene Dietrich.
In conducting Murrow and his cameras through their home, the Napiers kept up a flow of refined small talk. Mrs. Napier disclosed that she loved to sew, golf, ski and, above all, go to baseball games when her husband could snatch an afternoon from his busy schedule. Fels Napier himself (who would impulsively kiss his lovely wife from time to time during the program) told of some of his own interests, which included studying American history, government, economics, nuclear physics and Russian and collecting Lawrence Welk records. In the game room Napier picked up an old baseball glove, which he said, boyishly, was a trophy from his pitching days at Cornell. Asked by Murrow if her husband had any special tastes in food, June Napier said he was easy to please, but always ate the same breakfast, consisting of one poached egg and a chocolate nut sundae. After choking on his cigaret, Murrow recovered his poise and reminded his viewers that Secretary of Defense McElroy invariably had a piece of chocolate cake with his breakfast.
There was grave apprehension among baseball men when, against the advice of a committee of major league publicity directors, Napier agreed to appear on the Meet the Press television program two nights later. One publicity director warned, "Those fellows can cut you to ribbons." Napier smiled and replied, "We'll see."