MINNEAPOLIS — In what he said were his first public remarks about the Summer Olympics since he orchestrated the extravaganza, Peter Ueberroth Wednesday said the Games became a crusade for organizers when they realized they had the nation's reputation in their hands.
Ueberroth, now the commissioner of baseball, addressed about 2,000 people at the annual meeting of the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce.
"Money and military, that's supposedly all we think about here, but that was shown to be a lie," said Ueberroth, who was recently named Time magazine's man of the year.
The Olympics in Los Angeles provided the setting for a friendly dialogue, he said, adding that with more than 2 billion television viewers looking on worldwide, "we took a short little step toward world peace."
"With 2.5 billion people watching the opening ceremonies, that was more than half the living and breathing people in the world," he said. "What a chance to influence world opinion and put our best face forward."
Ueberroth, 47, said he "went underground" after the Olympics because of family and emotional pressures. He also had to move to New York to succeed Bowie Kuhn as baseball's commissioner.
He said that on his first day in charge of baseball, he asked a secretary for a cup of coffee "and she told me I had no umpires. All I wanted was a cup of coffee."
Ueberroth helped start negotiations on the umpires' strike during the World Series, even though many owners thought he sided with the umpires.
"Many people weren't pleased with how I handled the umpires," he said, "but I will do what's in the best interest of baseball and I won't be beholden to anybody except maybe the game and the fans."
He said the lowest point of his tenure as chairman of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee was on May 8, when the Soviets announced their boycott.
"They didn't have a very good team and that was one factor," Ueberroth joked to a round of applause.
He called President Jimmy Carter's boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow "poorly-advised and well-meaning" and said the Russians merely "got even with us."
Among his best accomplishments, Ueberroth said, was pulling off the torch relay across the country and sponsoring the Olympics without taxpayers' help by getting corporations to become active partners in sponsoring the games.
Ueberroth said he has no excuses for the quarter-billion dollar surplus generated by the Games.
"It's earning $5 million a month in interest, and it will all go to the kids of this country," he said. "We're the only nation in the world that doesn't fund amateur sports, so I don't apologize for any of the surplus."
Ueberroth also announced that a charity fund-raiser will be held the day before baseball's All-Star game, which will be in Minneapolis' Metrodome this summer. He said people will be charged $2 to watch the stars warm up, and all proceeds will go to a local baseball charity.
"Sports has a responsibility to the community to leave something behind, a little legacy," he said.