Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

For my last post, a few days ago, I put up an article with MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s thoughts on former commissioner Bowie Kuhn and his place in the game’s history. Interestingly enough, a day later, I saw this piece by New York Times columnist Murray Chass, who disagrees with Selig and believes that Kuhn had no positive effects on the game of baseball. I am posting Chass’s article, as well, because I think it is fascinating how two people can observe the same history and come up with totally opposite perspectives. For anyone out there who remembers Kuhn and the way the game was during his oversight, let us know what YOU think. Was Kuhn all that, as Selig thinks, or was he a dud commissioner, as Chass believes?

Kuhn’s Achievements Are Not All That They Seem

Published: March 20, 2007
New York Times

This may be perceived as an unpleasant job, but somebody has to do it: the deconstruction or demythologizing of the former commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

In the aftermath of Kuhn’s death last Thursday, much has been attributed to him, and he has said much in televised file interviews, that is simply far off base in relation to reality.

The most accurate, candid assessment of Kuhn comes from Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College and author of several books on baseball, including one on the current commissioner, Bud Selig.

“He never did anything enlightening; he never did anything that anticipated the future,” Zimbalist said of Kuhn on Sunday night in a telephone interview.

In an earlier interview with The Boston Globe, Zimbalist said, “I think Bowie established a pattern of antagonism and acrimony and distrust between the owners and players in the 1970s that took baseball 25-plus years to work through.”

Kuhn, whose 15-year tenure was riddled by five of baseball’s eight work stoppages, was indeed at the heart of the poor relationship between the owners and the players. He liked to portray himself as the commissioner of the owners and the players, but that notion didn’t fool anyone.

In a 1998 interview with ESPN, he abandoned that stance in commenting on the disastrous 50-day strike in 1981. In so doing, though, he continued to try to perpetuate a fantasy that he had first created after the strike — that the owners had prevailed.

“I could have stopped that strike at any time in ’81,” he said in the interview, which was rerun Thursday night, “and I decided that the wisest course was for the players to take their licking on this one in hopes that we wouldn’t face the same problem” in the future.

Kuhn was credited with having a sense of humor, but that might have been the funniest thing he ever said.

“They won it?” an incredulous Marvin Miller responded last week when he was told about Kuhn’s belief that the owners won that strike.

The owners were the ones who ended the strike, but only when their strike insurance ran out.

Kuhn was the commissioner when baseball’s oppressive reserve system ended — not that he did anything to contribute to changing the system. Kuhn rejected Curt Flood’s objection to a 1969 trade and forced him to sue to gain rights to movement that baseball denied players. Then Kuhn testified against Flood.

Several years later, Kuhn fought against free agency, arguing that it would create an elite class of teams to the detriment of others. He had a golden opportunity in 1975 to influence change in the system, but he instead joined the hard-line owners who opposed compromise with the players.

The arbitrator Peter Seitz urged the two sides to settle the Messersmith-McNally grievance before he ruled and, in fact, signaled that he was prepared to rule for the players.

“The debate over the reserve clause and Seitz raged for some time; it was a bitterly contested situation,” Clark Griffith said last week.

Griffith, now a lawyer in Minneapolis, was the vice president of the Minnesota Twins in 1975. As Seitz neared a decision, Griffith was a few months away from joining the board of the owners’ labor committee.

Griffith recalled that there were two points of view: one led by Lou Hoynes, who had succeeded Kuhn as the National League lawyer; and the other led by Ed Fitzgerald, who preceded Selig as the chairman of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Fitzgerald, Griffith said, wanted to negotiate an agreement with the union; Hoynes told the owners that they should let Seitz rule, and if he ruled against them, they could go to court and win there.

The Hoynes camp, Griffith said, included Gussie Busch, the Cardinals’ owner; Walter O’Malley, the Dodgers’ owner; and Calvin Griffith, his father and the Twins’ owner.

“Bowie caught the drift of the powerful N.L. owners and went that way,” Griffith said. “It was the safe way for him.”

Neither Kuhn nor Hoynes was a labor lawyer, and they didn’t understand that arbitrators’ rulings were virtually never overturned in court. Seitz’s subsequent ruling against the owners was upheld in federal court in Kansas City, Mo., and on appeal.

Kuhn continued to rail against free agency, saying it would destroy the game, but the economic growth that some have attributed to his leadership actually began with the advent of free agency.

Major League Baseball set attendance records the first three years after free agency began after the 1976 season; attendance rose nearly 40 percent.

Some obituaries credited Kuhn with growth through expansion, but only two of the majors’ 14 expansion teams came into existence during his tenure. Four teams began life in his first year, but they were obviously born before Kuhn became the commissioner.

Some obituaries cited the escalation of player salaries during his tenure, but they rose in spite of him, not because of him.

Selig said the other day that baseball was at its present state in large part because of many seeds that “were planted in the Kuhn era.”

But Kuhn’s seeds more likely turned into dandelions.

Perhaps the best story relating to the idea that Kuhn was the commissioner of the players as well as the owners occurred during labor negotiations in 1976.

Miller and his general counsel, Richard Moss, arrived early for a bargaining session at the 42nd Street office of John Gaherin, the clubs’ negotiator. As they sat in Gaherin’s office, they heard some movement in another part of the office.

Moss went to the door to see what was going on, and there were Kuhn and his chief aide, Sandy Hadden, stealthily leaving by a back door.

“I can’t help what goes on here,” Miller said Gaherin told them later, “but they come in here, which they have a right to do. They said they didn’t want to be seen here. I give them space in a back office. They have to pretend that they’re neutral.”

SEASONINGS: It is getting hard to believe.

This from the AP in the last 16 days:

A.J. Nicholson, linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, was sentenced to 2 months in a work program and 2 years probation for burglary and grand theft.

Cornerback Johnathan Joseph of the same team was allowed to enter a diversion program for marijuana possession.

Another Cincinnati corner, Deltha O’Neal, pleaded guilty to reckless driving rather than facing the more serious charge of drunk driving. In a separate case, running back Dominic Rhodes of the Oakland Raiders pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Richie Anderson, who used to be an NFL fullback, was fired from his job as an assistant coach with the Arizona Cardinals after being arrested in Phoenix during a prostitution sting.

Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Charles Sharon was arrested on stolen weapons charges.

Tight end Jeramy Stevens faces charges of drunk driving and marijuana possession and will not be re-signed by the Seattle Seahawks.

A court appearance was delayed until May for cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones of the Tennessee Titans after being charged with felony obstruction of police in February 2006.

Defensive lineman Tank Johnson of the Chicago Bears received a four-month prison sentence for a probation violation in a gun case from 2005.

Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter was issued a summons on a misdemeanor battery charge after being accused of punching offensive lineman Levi Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals after police said the players exchanged trash talk at a Las Vegas casino blackjack table.

Gerald Sensabaugh, a safety for Jacksonville, was arrested and charged with speeding and carrying a firearm without a permit.

Police are investigating a woman’s claims she was raped at the home of Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney, though Kerney is not a suspect in the assault.

Yikes! Think the NFL has a problem? It’s getting a bit ridiculous. New commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to announce new disciplinary measures for players who can’t stay out of trouble at a league meeting next week. Hopefully, it will help what is becoming an embarrassing blot on the NFL’s reputation.

1 comment:

Ed Attanasio, Freelance Writer, Journalist, Baseball Historian, Comedian and Ad Copywriter said...

I totally agree with the assessment of Kuhn. He was like Presidents Harding and Buchanan. He did very little, whcih perhaps was a smart move. Had Bowie tried to do more, baseball might be in even more trouble today.