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.
July 31, 1983
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
Having finally acknowledged that acid rain is a man-made phenomenon that damages the environment, the Reagan Administration is still taking its time trying to figure out what to do about the situation. But one part of the federal government is contemplating immediate action. Officials of the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, complaining that some of their valuable vintage aircraft have been badly corroded by acid rain, have requested $5.4 million from Washington to help finance construction of a hangar that would allow them to move the damaged planes indoors.
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?
At any rate, Boemer allows that the most action-packed fight on his tape is one in 1979 between Bob Nystrom of the Islanders and Dave Hoyda of the Flyers. "They just dropped their gloves and whaled away at each other for about a minute—straight rights and stuff," he says admiringly. Please understand that Boemer is merely calling this the best fight. Whether it follows that Nystrom and Hoyda therefore also had the most frustrations to release is a question we'll leave for the NHL to answer.
The Phoenix team in the Major Indoor Soccer League announced on July 14 that it was changing its name from the Inferno to the Pride. Though club officials no doubt had persuasive reasons for making the change, it wasn't quite clear why they chose to break the news about dropping the name Inferno on a day that the temperature in Phoenix hit 111°.
BEYOND A SHRINE'S PURVIEW
The National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame last week canceled its scheduled induction in December of former LSU star Billy Cannon because of his guilty plea in a counterfeiting scheme (SI, July 25). The decision to bar Cannon was in keeping with the foundation's practice of going beyond football credentials in considering candidates for induction. Vincent Draddy, the foundation's chairman, said that inductees must be "great football players, but also good citizens, and must have succeeded in the world after football, in business or law or medicine or the military or something."
Though being in favor of good citizenship is a commendable thing, it's by no means certain that a football shrine ought to be concerning itself with such matters. The foundation, whose leaders have spent as much time over the years delivering paeans to "the American way of life" as to outstanding football exploits, has inducted some players whose main achievement was that they later enriched themselves in their business dealings. At the same time, it has failed to induct, besides Cannon, such outstanding players as Paul Robeson, Joe Namath, Paul Hornung and Jim Brown.
Robeson, a two-time All-America at Rutgers and the most celebrated end of the World War I era, was rejected, says Draddy, "because he was a Communist, and the Hall of Fame doesn't take Communists." That explanation implies that the hall routinely screens the political persuasions of candidates and has approved the beliefs of those who have been inducted, a wholly repugnant thought. Although Draddy attributes Namath's exclusion to the fact that he wasn't a first-team All-America, there are, in fact, quite a few inductees who didn't make All-America. The late Chester LaRoche, for many years the foundation's prime mover, was on record as calling Namath unacceptable because "he hangs around saloons." The likeliest explanation for Hornung's and Brown's continued exclusion is that their post-college activities—a one-year suspension by the NFL for gambling in Hornung's case, a show-biz career and a couple of brushes with the law in Brown's—are being held against them.
It's odd that the foundation gives so much weight to away-from-the-game activities while apparently overlooking the on-field misconduct of the sort committed by Woody Hayes, who ended his coaching career in disgrace after punching an opposing team's player. Hayes will be inducted into the hall at the dinner in New York at which Cannon was supposed to have been honored.
The hall has also found it convenient, on occasion, to forget about the very post-football considerations it professes to take into account. Draddy's claim that success after football is a prerequisite to induction is belied by inclusion in the shrine of Jim Thorpe, who had severe drinking and financial problems in his later years. And some inductees, including George Gipp of Notre Dame, Nile Kinnick and Calvin Jones of Iowa and Ernie Davis of Syracuse, didn't live long enough—all died in their 20s—to succeed in business.
The Hall of Fame was understandably embarrassed by the Cannon case. However, it might have been better able to handle this embarrassment if it had steered clear of citizenship questions with which it's clearly not competent to deal. It could then have, without fanfare, entered Cannon's name on its rolls in recognition of his football deeds while leaving it to the courts to dispense punishment for what happened later.
NO PRESIDENTIAL PRECEDENT
In a letter to The New York Times on July 12, Edward Pessen, a professor of history at Baruch College, and Edward Margolies, a professor of English and American Studies at the College of Staten Island of The City University of New York, suggested that history may have repeated itself when position papers from Jimmy Carter's White House were used to prepare Ronald Reagan for his 1980 TV debate against Carter. Pessen and Margolies were referring to an anecdote in Reagan's 1965 autobiography, Where's the Rest of Me?, about how he'd improved his stock as a reserve defensive lineman on the Eureka (Ill.) College football team. During a scrimmage against the first stringers, the letter said, "Reagan was tipped off by a friend in advance of each play called by the offensive team, thus enabling the future President to look like a better player than he really was."
In point of fact, what Reagan said in his book was merely that he'd received a bit of informal coaching before several plays from a more experienced teammate who was adept at sniffing out opponents' strategy. Reagan wrote: "Watching the signal caller and the still rusty backs on the varsity, he would whisper, 'Knife in—they are going the other way.' Doing as he ordered, I was in on the ball carrier three plays in a row. 'Now,' he hissed, 'go straight across—they'll try a reverse to suck you in.' Of course, he was right, and by following his orders I was as effective as a traffic light in halting all movement around end."
The clear sense of the passage was not that Reagan had been "tipped," at least not in the sense that any skulduggery was involved, but had merely benefited from a teammate's ability to "read" the offense. Give Pessen and Margolies 15 yards for roughing the President.
THEY SAID IT
•Rick Monday, Dodger outfielder, on Braves Pitcher Phil Niekro's baffling knuckleball: "It actually giggles at you as it goes by."
•Mark Cooper, Denver Bronco rookie tackle, commenting on the hate mail that teammate John Elway has received from residents of Baltimore unhappy over his spurning of the Colts: "You wouldn't think people would have much time for that. I don't even have time to write people I like."