"The Red Auerbach story? Sure. Oh, I couldn't pitch either. You might want to get that in, too. Auerbach was the basketball coach. This was my second year at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington. He passed me in the hall. I'm 6'5", and so he asked why I wasn't out for the team, and I said that I wasn't a good basketball player. So he said, 'Let me be the judge of that.' So I came out, and after a few days he said, 'You were right,' and cut me."
Kuhn is not only a big man but of impressive demeanor; he looks like a commissioner. He dresses well, without affectation: dark blue suit and striped shirt, with an old-gold tie and a tie clip. He changed his glasses to the more fashionable metal-rim variety after a fan, a dentist in North Carolina, wrote to Mrs. Kuhn suggesting the new model. The commissioner is blue-eyed, has thinning brown hair brushed back, with white sideburns that fluff out. He must have good ears, since a radio in his office plays music at a subliminal level.
Tall men are used to being more visible; perhaps that made Kuhn's adjustment to becoming a public figure easier. "Being commissioner is a caldron activity," he says, "but I was a trial lawyer, I was used to the public, to a courtroom, to pressure. I knew I was going to get a lot of heat. I'd be a damned fool if I'd taken the job without expecting that. But commissioners hold the most prestigious offices in sport, and we are certainly well remunerated for our services.
"I'd worked with baseball for a long time, too. See that picture, that man back there? His name is Lou Carroll. When I got out of law school in 1950, I was considering going with several firms, but I went with his because it represented the National League. Why? Because I was nuts about baseball, that's why. I got my first baseball assignment after a couple of months and thereafter did a fair amount of baseball work annually. I think you need someone involved in the game for this job. I knew how the sport worked. But more important, I knew the people. You must know the people.
"The people in baseball are more traditional. I don't mean just the owners, I mean the fans, everybody. The operators merely reflect the conservative nature of the fans, their conservative side. You can change rules drastically in football and basketball and hardly get a ripple. In baseball, change a rule and, well, you'll get a lot more than a ripple.
"The powers of the commissioner himself are very little changed from the times of Landis. The change is in the times, in the laws. Two areas are especially different. There is an outside arbitrator now to deal with players' complaints. That is a beneficial change, very healthy. But then, the present-day commissioner has more responsibilities than the Judge in matters outside the teams and the players—with broadcasting, for example.
"The Judge was superb for pre-war days, but his style wouldn't be practical now. And you must take the Judge by parts. He didn't necessarily rule all phases with dictatorial power. In matters of discipline, yes, he was an autocrat. He had no concern with fair play, with due process. But out of the area of discipline, he was in the same boat as the rest of us. There were a lot of things he wanted, like some farm-club legislation, that he had a terribly hard time getting.
"When I was offered the job—yeah, I had been felt out earlier, not officially. Then later we were all meeting in Miami Beach, and they sent a committee to see me and said they were satisfied the votes were there—would I take the job if it were offered? I asked them to give me some time to make up my mind and thought about it for an hour or so. Well, it meant giving up the practice of law, and the fact that it was only a one-year term, not seven, that was also what you would call a negative consideration.
"The job hasn't worn me down any more than if I was a lawyer. I certainly don't think it has changed me. Well, the kids have had to get used to other kids saying, why did your dad do this or that. We've got two still at home, 13 and 14, and two are in college. I have to work my job around them. I don't take a vacation as such. I take the whole family down to Florida each spring during school vacations. And I arrange my travel schedule to be home the maximum. For instance, if I have to go to Houston, I'll go out in the morning, have a meeting in the middle of the day and be back for dinner at home. Even if I have to go to the Coast, I'll go out late the night before and come back on the red-eye special so I can have breakfast with my family.
"Then we have a home on the Long Island beach, and I try to get a lot of weekends out there. I play a little tennis, shoot some golf. Oh, I'm terrible: a hundred or more. Yes, I am a rabid gardener—flowers and vegetables. We have a garden at home and a garden at the seashore, and I'm the gardener. And that's a lovely time to contemplate.