I met with Peter Ueberroth in his New York City office exactly six months after he had succeeded Bowie Kuhn to become the sixth commissioner in baseball history. The office is on the 17th floor with relatively few of the mementos and honorary trappings that usually decorate the working quarters of such public men. Ueberroth's office is dominated by two large flags; one is the stars and stripes, the other the maple leaf. Over in the corner, quite tucked away, is a plaque with an Olympic torch attached—a modest reminder of Ueberroth's successful tenure as president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee.
The new commissioner appeared to be in fine fettle as his inaugural Opening Day approached. He was in shirtsleeves, was nicely tanned and, at 47, literally seemed the fair-haired boy. On this occasion, however, Ueberroth was hurting. "I ain't doing good today," he moaned. He injured his back three years ago, and the long flight he had made back from Tokyo a few days before had aggravated the condition. So Ueberroth stood up throughout an hour-and-a-half interview. Near the end he picked up a bat and took a few swings.
Conversationally, Ueberroth proved to be a pull hitter, except when subjects arose concerning union-management matters. He refused any comment on what he calls "table issues." Curiously, the only question he would categorically not answer regarded baseball's economic dependence on beer advertising, which provides one-sixth of its broadcast revenues.
Two things he made abundantly clear. First, Ueberroth is not using the baseball office and its high visibility as a springboard to the U.S. Senate. Second, he loves baseball. Notwithstanding the economic problems that beset the game, he clearly wants to be remembered as the commissioner who made it possible for more people to love baseball and its players more.
FD: First of all, can you bring us up to date on the labor negotiations?
PU: I don't participate. I have probably had equal contact, which is very limited, with both sides.
FD: But you have no evidence to suggest that the kind of rancor and abrasiveness that existed four years ago is there this time?
PU: No, I don't think so. And I think that this time both parties are very well represented. Don Fehr, the leading sports labor representative, has constant access to Marvin Miller, who wrote the book, who's the finest labor negotiator there has ever been in sport. On the other side, the owners are better represented than I think they've been in the past.
FD: But what about you? There's always the question of your neutrality because, after all, you were hired by the owners.
PU: Yes, there are people who say that. But I will be neutral. I will be neutral without question. I don't consider that the owners pay me, because they don't. I'm paid by the fans who buy the tickets.