Monday, July 28, 2008

Hall of Fame Induction: Bowie Kuhn

Continuing my series of posts on the latest Hall of Fame inductees, today I'll talk about Bowie Kuhn, the one-time commissioner of baseball.

Inducted posthumously over the weekend, Kuhn presided during perhaps baseball’s most dramatic and controversial period: the free agency era. At his election to the post in 1968, Kuhn was working at the New York law firm that served the National League. As commissioner, his legal training would be called upon often.

The dismantling of the reserve clause, coming soon after the landmark Supreme Court case Flood v. Kuhn, defined his tenure—as did the 1981 players’ strike that canceled 52 games.

Kuhn made lots of enemies: He suspended Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle from participating in any baseball-related functions because of their associations with Atlantic City casinos; he made several shortsighted decisions that helped facilitate the downfall of the reserve clause; he handed down suspensions to powerful owners George Steinbrenner and Ted Turner; he allowed the TV networks to schedule all World Series games at night; and he created a controversial playoff system for the 1981 strike-torn season that angered fans and owners.

His tenure was, in fact, marked by more losses than victories, and owners ousted him in 1984 when they decided they wanted a businessman-CEO to lead a restructured baseball “corporation” into the future—which led to the selection of Peter Ueberroth as commissioner.

One of his frequent adversaries, Charlie Finley, had this to say when Kuhn resigned: “If Bowie Kuhn had a brain in his head, he’d be an idiot."

Kuhn was the ultimate stuffed shirt, and all you have to do is read Marvin Miller's great memoir, "A Whole New Ballgame," to see that Finley's assessment is close to the mark. In fact, the Veterans Committee needs to be reconstituted again if it thinks it did a good job with this selection. First of all, Kuhn himself is hardly worthy of induction. He pretty much pissed off everyone in baseball, and lost every battle he fought with the players union. He could have reached out to Miller and formed a partnership with the players, but he didn't.

Second, Kuhn died in March 2007. The Veterans Committee waited until months later to announce his selection. If they really felt he belonged, they would have inducted him years earlier. I think it's a joke when the VC waits until AFTER people die to select them. They snubbed Buck O'Neil so often that, now that he's dead, he's almost sure to receive the honor.

And third, the VC chose Kuhn and snubbed the person who really did a lot for baseball from that era: Marvin Miller. I'll blog about Miller at a later date, but suffice it to say that he changed baseball and all of sport -- which to me is the definition of Hall of Famer.

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