Say what you will about Bowie Kuhn, he has often acted forcefully when he felt "the integrity of baseball" was threatened. For better or worse, Kuhn opened spring training camps to break an owners' lockout in 1976, canceled some of Charlie Finley's big-dollar player sales and last week fined Bill Lee $250 for having admitted using marijuana. By any measure, he is an activist commissioner.
In the current umpires' job action, Kuhn has done nothing. He has never spoken to Richie Phillips, the lawyer for the umpires, and he has remained conspicuously unresponsive to complaints that the substitute umps have blown more than their share of calls. It is increasingly clear that insofar as the quality of umpiring is concerned, the big leagues are no longer big league. But Kuhn has left the resolution of the dispute to Lee MacPhail and Chub Feeney, presidents of the American and National Leagues, respectively.
Last week, discussing the job action with SI's Jim Kaplan, Kuhn noted that relations with umpires properly come under the control of the league presidents. He added that while he would like to see umpires "centralized" under his own control, the owners have so far blocked such a change. He allowed that he could intervene if his cherished "integrity of baseball" were at stake in the job action but he disputed those who say it is.
"I don't say the substitute umpires are as good as major league umpires," Kuhn said. "I think they're doing a workmanlike job and there's no question about their honesty. The issue of 'integrity' is contrived."
Kuhn neatly sidestepped the question of the umpires' demand for more pay. "The two things to keep in mind are procedure and substance," he said. "I've acted in the past because I've been dissatisfied with procedure. In this case, on procedure, I feel the league presidents have been correct. The proper course would be for the umpires to sign their contracts, report and develop meaningful communications. They're scheduled to discuss pensions in August and they could discuss other matters as well. The league presidents have said they will be open-minded. If they are not, I will act."
This last vow offers a glimmer of hope for the umps as well as for baseball fans. With a little prodding from Kuhn, MacPhail and Feeney could promise to conduct meaningful negotiations if the umpires returned to work. While that alone probably would not satisfy the umpires, an additional guarantee of mediation or binding arbitration might. Such a course would be in baseball's own best interests. Even Kuhn admitted last week that public opinion was shifting in favor of the umpires. Encouragingly, MacPhail and Feeney were huddling with Phillips at week's end in hopes of getting the umpires back to work.
A 'T' ON THE NCAA
Notre Dame's annual All-Campus Bookstore Basketball Tournament (SI, May 15, 1978) is a special kind of undergraduate madness. By tradition, it involves hundreds of loosely assembled teams consisting both of Joe O'Colleges and, until now, of members of the Irish varsity, who were dispersed for the occasion, no more than one to any team. Thus, over the years ordinary students had a chance to play with stars like John Shumate, Adrian Dantley and Kelly Tripucka.
When this year's 10-day tournament began last week, members of Digger Phelps' varsity were on the sidelines. The NCAA had ruled that Notre Dame basketball players who took part would be violating the prohibition against outside "organized competition." The NCAA obviously was concerned that unless it cracked down on Notre Dame, other schools might institute similar events as a way of sneaking in extra practice.