Except for the late Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball officials have not been celebrated for their forcefulness. When Will Harridge was president of the American League, a midwestern sports columnist wrote, "An empty taxicab pulled up in front of the hotel here today and out of it stepped Will Harridge." The same, some critics allege, might be said of Ford C. Frick, the baseball commissioner. Others merely say he is the perfect man for the job.
In office now for 11 years, Frick has become known as an owners' man, one dedicated to inaction. Says a veteran baseball man: "Ford's motto is 'Speak softly and carry no stick at all.' " When the commissioner appeared as the mystery guest on the television show, What's My Line, panelist Bennett Cerf, in an uncommon burst of insight, was not long in guessing his identity. "Are you a top baseball executive?" Cerf asked. "Yes," said Frick. "Are you," asked Cerf, "the top man—when the owners let you be?"
Even baseball writers, who are notoriously loth to criticize anyone who has ever been a member of their lodge, have lampooned the commissioner. In a skit staged by the New York baseball writers at their annual dinner a few years ago, one reporter played Frick, another Mike Todd, the late showman. "Todd" said that he wanted to bring a baseball team to New York, but " Frick" said the commissioner's office lacked jurisdiction in the matter.
Todd: I thought you were supposed to act in the best interests of baseball.
: No. The last commissioner had that sort of jurisdiction, but I don't.
Todd: What happened?
: Well, they fired him. That'll never happen to me.
Todd: But a commissioner must have some jurisdiction.
: Not if he wants to stay commissioner.
Unlike Judge Landis and Happy Chandler, his predecessors, Frick has neither an imperious mien nor hambone charm. His big vice is dunking doughnuts, and he spends his evenings quietly at home in suburban Westchester County, N.Y., reading or pasting stamps in his album. "Ford," said E. A. Batchelor Sr., Detroit's oldest baseball writer, "is one of those guys you can know for years, then sit down at a typewriter and try to write something about him and come up empty. He's just plain vanilla."