At least the owners had the showpiece ready. In July, at their meeting in Dearborn, Mich., they had decided to supplement the commissioner's office with a staff of five men: an administrator to take care of details (such as what's happening to the game), a director of information, a director of broadcasting, a director of player affairs, a director of amateur baseball. That would free the commissioner to be only a front man, drifting elegantly about the country, smiling frailly like a wilted chrysanthemum and otherwise cultivating a supple spine. But the owners cunningly refrained from announcing the action at the July meeting. Now they instructed Fetzer to use it. At the luncheon break on Wednesday Fetzer went out to spill the long-kept secret to the press.
That left the owners with a final problem: how could they top the cabinet announcement? They had one session left, on Wednesday afternoon, and nothing to say. What to do? The answer was in the classic tradition of baseball progress. They decided to enlarge the committee, dynamically. For their part, Fetzer and John Galbreath were ready to chuck the whole thing. "John and I would be perfectly willing to step out and turn over all the records we've gathered to someone else and let them do the job," Fetzer told the owners. He also wanted to give the screening committee the power to talk to the candidates. "We are not certain of the availability of all those on the list because we have been careful not to contact them," said John Galbreath. "If a man is chosen, we just can't pick up the phone and tell him. We've got to go and interview him."
The owners thought it over and decided to give the committee the right to talk to candidates. They also added P. K. Wrigley of the Cubs and Bob Reynolds of the Angels to the committee—plus Tom Yawkey of the Red Sox and Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers as "elder statesmen" and "advisers."
If there was any coherence or continuity to the meeting, it was in the canny maneuvers of Walter O'Malley. There is strong suspicion among some men in and around baseball that O'Malley hopes to keep the issue undecided until public pressure induces a sense of panic among the owners. Then, with the owners desperate for a way out of their predicament, O'Malley will humbly offer his own candidate, the owners will fall slobberingly upon him, uttering little animal sounds of gratitude, and promptly name " O'Malley's man" as commissioner. This theory holds that O'Malley's man was not on the list of seven considered by the owners at their meeting last week, and that O'Malley's plans were endangered by the attempt of several owners to place a time limit on seeking a commissioner. He had to turn aside these threats by 1) opening up the list again to consideration of everybody, and 2) eliminating any time limit so that public pressure and owner panic could build up. He accomplished both goals with an ease which suggests that he already controls the game and that the selection of O'Malley's man as commissioner is only a formality.
His platform was a motion to allow the screening committee to interview candidates. With great skill, if not subtlety, O'Malley pushed an amendment that gave the committee the right to bring in as many new names as it wished and assured that there would be no time limit. There was earnest discussion only on the matter of a time limit. Some owners insisted the time for action was near. When the vote came, the motion—and the amendment—passed on a voice vote, with only a few scattered nays.
Two more threats to the alleged O'Malley plan developed, more or less spontaneously. One was the sudden suggestion that all the owners give their proxies to the four-man selection committee and thus endow it with complete power to select a commissioner. That would speed up the process enormously and greatly reduce the opportunity for panic. O'Malley might "advise" the committee but it seemed unlikely he could panic it. So he axed the idea as surely as an executioner. "I am for it personally," he said, "but there may be several lawyer types here who would find it contrary to the major league agreement and bylaws." And that ended that.
Then, about 10 minutes before the meeting adjourned, Bill DeWitt of Cincinnati got up to make one last valiant effort to get the owners to choose a commissioner. "I make a motion that we take an official vote on the seven candidates that have been presented to us by the screening committee," he said. "It may be that we can elect one of these men here and now." The response was thundering: DeWitt's motion "failed for lack of a second."
Through all this, George Vass was interrupted only once. In midafternoon a hotel employee ushered some potential customers into the Illinois Room, but hastily bowed out, perhaps believing that Vass was a security man guarding the door. At meeting's end Vass slipped out into the corridor, where other reporters were waiting to be told what baseball wanted them to know.
Even as Vass's story hit the streets, a three-club group in the American League was trying to figure out how to stop, or at least slow down, O'Malley. The three are Cleveland, Baltimore and Chicago. But they need a fourth club in the American League. With four standing firm, they could veto the choice of any commissioner. Seven affirmative votes are needed from each league. But nobody was sure where they would pick up the fourth club. They would like to woo Charley Finley of Kansas City, which is like wooing an unexploded bomb. In any case, Finley is still playing it cool and coy.
The comment of a Chicago business executive summed up public reaction to all this foolishness and foot-dragging. "The best friends that pro football has," he said, "are the owners of major league baseball."