Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent needs help. The owners' Player Relations Committee wants to strip him of his influence in labor negotiations. The Players Association is challenging his lifetime suspension of New York Yankee reliever Steve Howe after Howe's seventh (!) drug offense. When Vincent's office kept Yankee manager Buck Showalter and general manager Gene Michael after school on July 1 for questioning his suspension of Howe, causing them to miss the first inning of a home game with the Kansas City Royals, columnists from three New York newspapers called for his resignation. Now that Vincent has ruled that the Cubs must go West as part of realignment in the National League, all of Chicago may call for his head.
In an interview with ESPN last week, Vincent said, "When I started out, I was an optimist. I'm no longer an optimist. Some of the problems in baseball are serious, and I'm becoming pessimistic about our ability to deal with them." Infighting among the owners, disappointing attendance, a looming labor impasse, the impending return of the suspended George Steinbrenner, ongoing negotiations with disappointed TV networks...baseball has many headaches, and Vincent seems to be suffering from all of them.
He admitted late last week that he had been rash in threatening Showalter, Michael and Yankee vice-president Jack Lawn with disciplinary action and that he had been wrong in keeping them from doing their jobs that day. But given the pressures of his own job, is it any wonder that Vincent would be annoyed that the Yankees would challenge his authority and baseball's drug policy? The blame for the mess rests less with Vincent than with Howe.
Vincent isn't so much shortsighted as he is short-handed. The commissioner's office is basically a four-man administration: Vincent, deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg, general counsel Thomas Ostertag and Vincent's personal attorney, Judge Harold Tyler. Maybe one more adviser would have been able to talk him out of summoning Showalter and Michael. Baseball is a mom-and-pop operation compared with the NBA, which has at least twice as many lawyers and advisers behind commissioner David Stern. Baseball is under far more scrutiny than either the NBA or the NFL—all the more reason the commissioner needs a larger support staff.
The next commissioner, whoever he may be, should make that a condition of accepting the job.
One of the highlights of last baseball season was When It Was a Game, a documentary produced by HBO Sports and Black Canyon Productions featuring never-before-aired footage from home movies. Shown at the time of the 1991 All-Star Game, When It Was a Game lovingly evoked baseball's golden age and achingly recalled the departure for California of the Giants and the Dodgers.
When It Was a Game II will debut on HBO on July 13, the first of five July dates for the documentary. Although the bloom is off the rose, so to speak, there is still plenty to cherish: the young Yogi and the old Babe, Ewell Blackwell's whip and Ernie Lombardi's schnoz, Montreal minor leaguers Chuck Connors and Tommy Lasorda. Peppered with readings by such actors as Ellen Burstyn and Jack Palance and salted with the reminiscences of such players as Enos Slaughter and Mel Harder, the second Game is a worthy successor to the opener. To borrow from the Grantland Rice poem read by Palance, "Can life be stupid, drab or slow/With Dizzy Dean and Schoolboy Rowe?"
G-Man in the Gym