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Frank Deford
September 30, 1974
The commissioners of major sports are men of rectitude and imperturbable mien. Now, in relaxed and occasionally irreverent conversation, the four bare a few of their secrets
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September 30, 1974

Heirs Of Judge Landis

The commissioners of major sports are men of rectitude and imperturbable mien. Now, in relaxed and occasionally irreverent conversation, the four bare a few of their secrets

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"I vacation at home. The grandchildren come over, and I love to swim. We have a swimming pool, 40 by 22. And I'll read almost anything. I guess I like mysteries the most, but we belong to the Book of the Month Club, and we'll get 15 to 20 a year. I love to watch television, too. And I'm easily satisfied by whatever's on, to the complete exasperation of my wife.

"I go to a lot of games, to baseball and football. I told you, I'm a great sports fan. I also collect these Hummel figures, those little German figurines. I've got quite a collection. I don't drink much because of the kidney, but I love a daiquiri or two on occasion, and my wife and I have picked out our favorite spots for those.

"I've always been an early-to-bedder—11/11:30. I sleep in pajamas most of the year, but in the summer, when it's hot, then I sleep in the nude."

The offices of what is known as Organized Baseball take up the 16th floor of the Warner Building in Rockefeller Center, a site almost equidistant from NBC, CBS, the Rockettes and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Baseball is supposed to be as American as apple pie and all that, and its reception area appears to have been designed by someone who originally had the contract on the Bicentennial, back when we still had a Bicentennial. The entrance hall is bright white, outlined in red and blue, with green theater seats and a pretty black receptionist. Holiday and FORTUNE, for some reason, are the only reading available.

Huge arty action photographs line the corridors, including the one that leads to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's office. Of all the commissioners' offices, his most bespeaks the sport he heads. There is a cluster of autographed baseballs on his desk, and on the shelves lining the wall opposite are other diamond mementos, including a first issue of baseball stamps, a photograph of President Nixon throwing out a first ball, books and an original Peanuts strip.

As his office suggests, Kuhn is parochial in his sports outlook. The other commissioners seem to think more in terms of sports in general while Kuhn focuses on baseball. Kuhn also does not seem as much at ease as the other men, who have been at the job longer. They have learned to parry and turn small talk into a negotiable currency known as quotes. But Kuhn is still playing the lawyers' game, an entirely different one, in which responses are to the point and no additional information is volunteered.

"No, I haven't been surprised at anything," he says, monkeying with a loose screw in his eyeglasses. "But the problems have been more frequent than in the past. Why? Some of that is the luck of the draw, I guess, but some of it is because I see the commissioner as more of an activist than did my predecessors because baseball has never before faced so much competition.

"I have several things to deal with that the other commissioners don't have. There are the minor leagues—139 teams. They have their own president, but their structure relates to this office. We have the long history of two highly competitive separate leagues, which is great for baseball but tough on the commissioner. Then we have a very strong players' union. Marvin Miller is a very able man. The fact that other sports are beginning to catch up with baseball in this regard is no consolation.

"I'm out of town 50% of the time. On the average I spend a day or two each week in Washington. Oh, I visit the FCC or talk to Congressmen and Senators about things like the threat that legalized gambling poses to team sports. It so happens that our outside law firm is in Washington, but that isn't the reason I'm down there so much. I've brought a general counsel into this office for the first time, and legal problems fall largely to me.

"From my earliest recollection I wanted to be a lawyer. It is very unusual for a young kid to want to be a lawyer, but I did. My father was in the oil business. He was an immigrant, came over from Germany as an infant. The name is pronounced "coon" in German, but I hear all sorts of things. I would have loved to have become a baseball player, but I couldn't hit or field or throw or run.

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