Studied dispassionately, it is not impossible to see the logic in the selection of Eckert. He has that history of command. He has a master's degree in business administration from Harvard. He has been comptroller of the Air Force and, after a heart attack hastened his retirement in 1961, a director of the Logistics Management Institute, which advises the Pentagon. On the board of directors of several companies, he has been involved with industries, labor unions, personal contracts, rules and regulations. He is familiar with Washington, where major league baseball could use some connections for whatever trouble lies ahead over its antitrust exemptions. (But Eckert thinks "lobbyist" is an odious term and does not consider himself one.)
Eckert believes his name got placed among the original 150 "candidates" by an unknown business acquaintance, but as time goes on he begins to see the job as more closely related to the military. Driving to the park at Clearwater one afternoon, he began to tick off what he called the surprising similarities. He seemed eager to make the point, as if to convince himself that he was, at last, on familiar ground. He said both jobs dealt with competitive groups of young men, with physical training, with problems of mobility (he equated moving platoons with traveling ball clubs). He said both had problems with community relations, with radical changes (opening and closing bases as compared with shifting franchises and forming new ones) and the assimilation of people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. Engrossed in the analogy, he missed the turn to the park.
He tried to pick up the thought at the game, but he was so conscious of the recognition the fans gave him that he contracted a case of rabbit ears. A man in the next box passed a remark loud enough for him to hear. "Sir?" asked the commissioner, leaning over and smiling. The man was talking to somebody else. Eckert wore the red cap of the Philadelphia Phillies for five innings, then made Reichler fetch him one from the Cincinnati Reds so he would be sure to remain impartial.
Later, over dinner, Eckert was asked to demonstrate some of his homework on certain issues that have been sore spots for major league baseball. He said, for one, that he favored expansion only if enough players could be funneled into the game to keep the quality of play at its present level. He said he believed he would favor interleague play but was giving it more thought. He said, because of certain inequities, he would like to see an end to the division of big league umpires—at present there are American League umpires and National League umpires. All, he thinks, should be under the control of the commissioner. As for the Koufax-Drysdale-Dodgers contract debate, he was leaving that up to the principals.
He said he had recently made his first judgment. He had ruled in favor of a college in a dispute over a boy who was about to sign a professional contract though he already had started his third year of play on the college team. (He said, however, he thought it made sense for a boy to sign after his second year in college "if he truly wants a career in baseball, because if he starts any later he is jeopardizing his chances.") He said he was working for an improved liaison with the NCAA and, in the future, any time he felt a boy's education was threatened he would step in.
Reichler said Eckert was still being drawn into the Milwaukee- Atlanta dispute by every interviewer, though it was unfair because the case had gone to court before Eckert took office.
"No honest question is unfair," said Eckert.
Then what did he think of that situation?
"I think it is regrettable, but I cannot give an intelligent opinion because I have received certain conflicting reports. Did the Milwaukee franchise make money in 1964? The club says one thing, the state says another."
All right, then, put it this way. If a particularly self-serving, money-grubbing owner wanted to move his club and you weighed the circumstances and found it not in the best interests of baseball, could you stop him?