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(On Sunday, Vincent, along with San Francisco mayor Art Agnos, announced that the Series would not resume until Friday evening in Candlestick.)
Vincent's decision to continue the Series was not met with unanimous approval. Several members of the media, most notably Dave Anderson of The New York Times, thought the Series should have been canceled because of the tragedy. (Only one championship series in professional sports has ever been canceled, and that was the 1919 Stanley Cup between the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans, which was called off at 2-2-1 because of an influenza epidemic.) But the vast majority of Bay Area residents wanted the Series to continue; they had lost enough as it was. Later in the week, Vincent, riding in the hotel elevator, met a man who had lost his home in the hard-hit Marina district of San Francisco. Vincent asked him if baseball had made the right decision, and the man said, "Absolutely."
Vincent, an avid student of history, found a historical precedent for his decision. "We can look to the British during the Second World War," he later said. "Diversion was part of the healing process there. They continued to go to their movies even though London was being bombed. They affirmed life, and perhaps baseball can do the same."
The 51-year-old Vincent has always been a passionate baseball fan, and he was loath to deny fans any of their cherished World Series memories. "I can remember the Yankees being in the Series in '47 and '49," he says. "I remember Whitey Ford, the rookie, beating the Whiz Kids for a sweep of the Series in '50. Johnny Podres being so dominant in '55, when the Dodgers beat the Yankees. Bill Mazeroski's big homer in the seventh game in 1960. My father was a great Athletics fan, back when they played in Philadelphia, so I recall their great teams of the early '70s."
Vincent grew up in a sports-minded household. His father, Francis Sr., one of Yale's finest football and baseball players, was an NFL field official until 1944. Before his accident, Fay himself was something of an athlete in the same sports as his father. Since then, he has never considered himself handicapped. "I've always made a living doing things cerebral," he once said. After graduating from Williams, Vincent received a law degree from Yale. As an attorney in both New York and Washington, D.C., he specialized in corporate banking and securities law, and in 1977 he served with the Securities and Exchange Commission as associate director of its division of corporation finance.
Vincent's decision to temporarily postpone the Series was hardly his first big one. From 1978 to 1987 he was the president and CEO of Columbia Pictures. In 1979, he made the decision to fight the hostile takeover attempt by financier Kirk Kerkorian. During his tenure, Columbia produced such financially successful pictures as Kramer vs. Kramer and Tootsie. "Ishtar, too," Vincent once confessed.
In 1988, nine months after Vincent was moved out of Columbia's entertainment division, he resigned to go into private law practice. That's when an old friend—Giamatti—called to ask him if he would negotiate his contract as commissioner. Giamatti created the post of deputy commissioner with Vincent in mind, and during Giamatti's six-month tenure the two friends worked hand in hand on both the new TV contracts and the Rose affair. When Vincent was elected to succeed Giamatti, he said, "Bart's agenda is my agenda," and, indeed, Vincent shares Giamatti's distaste for artificial turf and the designated hitter. When he was making his decision last week, did Vincent think about what Giamatti would have done? "To be honest, the thought never crossed my mind," he said. "But I think he would have done the same thing."
It's ironic that for years Peter Ueberroth made a point that he had had the toughest baptism of any commissioner: the umpires' strike that was resolved just prior to the '84 Series. But then Giamatti was welcomed into office by the Rose scandal, and now Vincent has the first Series postponed on account of an earthquake.
In the next few months Vincent will face another daunting event, the end of the current collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners. In the past, baseball's labor skirmishes have seemed like earthquakes. Everybody knows that sooner or later they're going to come, but nobody does anything about them until it's too late. In 1972, there was a lockout in spring training and the season had to be postponed 10 days. In 1981, a third of the season was lost. In 1985, two days of play had to be rescheduled because of a strike.
Nobody knows what 1990 holds in store for baseball, and Vincent must give the appearance of remaining apart from the fray. But the fact that he called on the Players Association for input last week is significant. All in all, he demonstrated the kind of leadership that might avert a man-made disaster.