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THE FAULT OF THE PROCESS
Barring a shift of votes and circumstances, the last fortnight of Bowie Kuhn's 14-year reign as baseball commissioner is about to begin. Kuhn, you will recall, was voted out of office last November even though he won 70% of the club owners' votes. The way it works in baseball, the election of a commissioner requires a 75% majority in each league, and Kuhn carried the National 7-5, "only" a 58% majority (the vote in the American League was 11-3, or 79%). Unless Kuhn can swing at least two more National League votes to his side by Aug. 12, he'll be out of work. A meeting of club owners in Boston next week may be his last chance to save his job.
Ironically, Kuhn's stature has never been higher than upon his leaving. The wounds and defeats endured lately by his NFL counterpart, Pete Rozelle, have put Kuhn in a better light. Kuhn, who often comes across in public as being stuffy—and as a man who doesn't know how to dress properly on chilly autumn nights—has long suffered by comparison with the slick Rozelle. But the sports world's epidemic of drug cases, Rozelle's embarrassments at the hands of Al Davis and strikes in both baseball and the NFL have forced even the wistful regulars in the Bring Back Judge Landis Club to realize how complicated and sensitive it is to be a commissioner today.
The book on Kuhn has been muddled all along. He's generally given high marks for his vaunted defenses of the game's "integrity" and lower grades for his business acumen. In fact, most of Kuhn's defenses of integrity have been grandstand plays fraught with inconsistencies and pieties that reflected greater concern with p.r. than with principle or reality. A recent example was Kuhn's largely symbolic decision to ban casino advertising from programs and outfield fences at games of the minor league Las Vegas Stars and Reno Padres; at the same time he did nothing about the fact that visiting teams in Las Vegas stay at hotels with casinos, where players have flesh-and-blood contact with high rollers. On the other hand, baseball as a commercial enterprise has been thriving under Kuhn. Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig, the chairman of the committee searching for a new commissioner, notes that the game "has never been more popular." Reflecting that popularity is the $1.2 billion TV contract that baseball recently wrapped up under Kuhn's aegis.
It may be no coincidence that most of the votes against Kuhn came from losing or unstable organizations that have been looking for scapegoats. Five of the eight teams that voted to bounce Kuhn also have fired their managers since the middle of last season: the Astros, Rangers, Mariners, Yankees and Reds. A sixth team, the Mets, the biggest losers in baseball, had their manager quit on them before they could fire him. The other two anti-Kuhn votes came from Ted Turner of the Braves, who, with his SuperStation, has a television interest that could have influenced his vote more than baseball considerations did, and the Cardinals, whose owner, Gussie Busch, is 84 and still crotchety about the way the strike-marred '81 season was handled.
Speculation as to the identity of Kuhn's likely successor has included all sorts of marquee names. The search committee's task isn't an easy one. Even under the best of circumstances it has proved difficult for pro sports to lure successful outsiders into leadership roles. Kuhn and Rozelle were both desperate internal compromise choices, turned to, as Selig delicately puts it, because of "the fault of the process." What prudent person of any stature today would leave the real world to accept a difficult job from which one can be fired for irritating four inflated egos out of 26? Which raises the more perplexing question of why a search is even being conducted. After all, it doesn't seem proper to bounce Kuhn when a great majority of his employers are, rightly or wrongly, perfectly happy with the job he's doing.
ACTION AT LAST
PARTY TIME IN THE NHL
The NHL insists that its lenient policy toward fighting has nothing to do with selling tickets. The league says it condones fisticuffs only in the interest of releasing frustrations that arise during games. But 20-year-old Andy Boemer of St. Paul thinks that hockey fights do have commercial value. Boemer, a sophomore at the College of St. Thomas, has been videotaping fights occurring during televised NHL games for the past four years and has put together the best of them on a tape that he has advertised for sale in Sports Collectors Digest. The four-hour tape sells for $40 and, says Boemer, is "great for parties."
Seems to us that Boemer has thrown down his gloves and challenged the NHL to a good one. He admits he didn't bother to get authorization to tape for sale all that hockey-style boxin' and rasslin', and one would expect the NHL to make noises about copyright infringement or something 'of the kind. On the other hand, how can the league claim Boemer has pirated something of commercial importance when it has been assuring everybody for years that fighting has no such importance?