Ex-baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn notices more and more athletes these days
capping their sports performances and prefacing media interviews by acknowledging
religion in their lives.
KUHN: There's more money. There's more media coverage. There's more intense pressure to
win. And I think athletes feel that pressure. And I think that does tend to move them
towards faith and to be more verbal about faith.
Kuhn still enjoys talkin' baseball with the media and fans about his 15 years as the
head honcho. Kuhn says today's commissionership is different from when he was employed
back in the 70s. His title then actually was Chief Executive Officer. Kuhn says the job
today has become a kind of chairman of he board of baseball. No matter- he claims baseball
owners have never really wanted a strong take-charge commissioner, as Kuhn proved to be.
KUHN: If you go back to the Black Sox scandal, they really didn't want Judge Landis. They
agreed to Landis simply because they figured they had to. And once they got him they were
stuck with him. And once he'd been there 24 years, the concept of the commissionership
from a public relations point of view was not very easy to get rid of. So I don't think
they ever really wanted to have a strong commissioner. But they mostly have recognized
that they need somebody in that kind of leadership role.
Kuhn's tenure with baseball saw a challenge to the reserve clause, a players strike,
team expansion and relocation, plus owner and player suspensions for gambling and drug
use. But by the time he left the game in 1984, baseball was on an upswing. The players
and management he dealt with as commish included some of the biggest names in sports.
Like Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier for black athletes.
KUHN: Simply the most important figure probably in the history of American sports.
The bombastic commentator Howard Cosell, who switched briefly from football to
KUHN: Best sports commentator that ever existed.
FLYNN: Even in baseball?
KUHN: I didn't say that (laughs). He wasn't at his best doing baseball but he was pretty
good as a "cat bird" about baseball.
Kuhn has a revised opinion on owner George Steinbrenner who seems to have learned-
somewhat- the art of patience with his New York Yankees.
KUHN: The new, patient George gets pretty high marks I think. You certainly can't knock
his running of the Yankees. 'Course it takes a $120 million dollar payroll to do it. They
just barely got past Oakland which has a $30 million dollar payroll which I thought was
one of the great moments of the year.
Finally, the late Oakland A's owner Charley O. Finley.. known for his ongoing bluster
and battles with Kuhn.
KUHN: You know he's gone now. He's gone on to his rest. (speak nothing but good of the
FLYNN: Which means?
KUHN: Speak nothing but good of the dead.
Kuhn was in favor of Finley spicing up and coloring up his Oakland A's uniforms. But
Charley's push to speed the game along by making three balls a walk- and not four- was a
little drastic, though Kuhn tried it once in spring training. That was rejected. So was
Finley's suggestion to change the color of baseballs from white to orange.
KUHN: The idea is tennis doesn't play with white balls anymore, they're yellow. Therefore
an orange baseball would be better seen.. night, day.. that was his theory. And while
there might be something to that, you had the tradition of baseball set against it. And
so since the difference is probably isn't that much anyways why upset the tradition. All
you'd do is make 500 million baseball fans furious by changing it.
Today's game of baseball will survive- sooner or later- Kuhn believes. He says a
salary cap may be the only remedy for the out-of-whack players salaries. Bowie Kuhn hopes
baseball will remember him as a man who cared about the game and fought for its integrity.
Bill Flynn, WHAM News.