The interrogator leaned forward with a glint of triumph in his eyes.
"Are you saying, Mr. Napier," he asked archly, "that what is good for Big Soap is good for baseball?"
Napier threw back his head and laughed so winningly that the entire press table joined in just as Moderator Ned Brooks broke in with, "I'm sorry, Commissioner, that's all the time we have. Thank you for joining us this evening and now a message."
The effect on the nation of this television appearance was sensational. Napier was hailed as the most appealing character to appear on the national scene since Nelson Rockefeller. As one political columnist wrote, "Like it or not, Fels Napier has joined the ranks of 1960 presidential possibilities, along with his former colleague in Big Soap, Secretary of Defense McElroy."
There was less certainty about Napier's public statements among certain major league club owners and, as an emergency measure, telephonic conference circuits were ordered set up by the league presidents. As the writer later learned from a long-distance telephone operator of his acquaintance, the conference was heated and National League President Giles read from the major league rule-book about activities tending to make a travesty of the game. However, the final decision was to send a committee of five to brief Napier on the limits of his job as commissioner. Included on the committee was the middle western owner who had nominated Napier and was stoutly defending him as "the best public-relations man baseball ever had." This owner continued to remind his colleagues that Napier could not possibly do anything that would seriously alter the baseball structure.
The committee asked for an appointment with the new commissioner, and was promptly invited for breakfast at the Napier home on February 15, two days hence. At breakfast the charm of the Napiers again worked its spell, and the committee members found a feeling of euphoria stealing over them as Mrs. Napier, wearing a low-cut breakfast gown of basic black that set off her golden blonde hair, told delightful little anecdotes about the Napier children, Fels, 8, Kaylo, 6, and Pearl, 3, all of whom were away at boarding school. Over coffee (all the committee members except Branch Rickey declined chocolate nut sundaes), the committee suggested that Napier proceed slowly from now on and urged that he and Mrs. Napier make a leisurely tour of the training camps in order to "soak up atmosphere and get the feel of the game." One committee member pointed out that the tour could begin at once since Casey Stengel's rookie camp had already opened at St. Petersburg, Fla.
At this juncture, the writer desires to mention that he himself visited the Napier home later that same day for the purpose of interviewing Mrs. Napier (the writer's source for the account of the breakfast just described). She was very, very pleased with the article and wrote a note of thanks to the writer. This incident is mentioned only because it has a bearing on later developments.
Napier thanked the committee for its suggestions and said they would be given some thought. But next day he and his wife flew to New York, and after paying a visit to the old offices of Commissioner Frick in Rockefeller Center he called a press conference in his suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He announced 1) that he was bringing in an entire staff of soap-industry personnel from Cincinnati; 2) he was taking over an entire floor of the Waldorf-Astoria as his temporary headquarters, having found Frick's old offices entirely inadequate; and 3) he was calling a convention of all club owners, general managers, field managers, publicity directors and other officials of the major and principal minor leagues. The convention would meet, he said, in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf one week hence to witness a presentation of what he now officially labeled "The Napier Plan to Save Baseball."
When the Napier announcement appeared in the afternoon papers, the impact on major league club owners was devastating. A committee of six was quickly appointed and flew to New York that evening. When the committee demanded that Napier call off the convention, he merely smiled and reminded them that they had given him a "blank check of authority" to do anything he deemed to be in the interest of baseball. The committee then demanded to know how he proposed to pay for the costs of the convention, rental of the Grand Ballroom, etc. Napier replied that he was having all bills directed to William O. DeWitt, administrator of the $500,000 fund to aid minor leagues. "The convention will aid all baseball," said Napier, "and thus, in my view, qualifies for financing by the DeWitt fund."
The committee then pleaded with Napier that he grant them one concession and bar the press from the presentation. Napier demurred, but finally agreed on condition that a repeat performance be put on for the press next day. The committee said that point would be debated in executive session. Meanwhile, a subcommittee of three was named to inspect all air vents in the Grand Ballroom against a repetition of the Furlong Papers incident of last September.