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Vincent Sued by Cubs to Halt Realignment : Baseball: The commissioner exceeded his authority in ordering Chicago and St. Louis to the NL West, suit contends.

July 08, 1992|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Chicago Cubs sued Commissioner Fay Vincent on Tuesday, attempting to stop their mandated move to the National League's Western Division in 1993.

The 26-page suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, seeks a preliminary injunction that would delay implementation of the National League realignment ordered by Vincent under his "best interests of baseball" powers Monday.

Federal Judge Suzanne B. Conlon has scheduled a hearing for today.

The suit contends that Vincent's act was arbitrary and capricious and exceeded his authority.

"The commissioner can no more order the Chicago Cubs to play in the Western Division of the National League than he could order them to play in the American League," the suit says.

Although league sources have indicated that Dodger President Peter O'Malley had been saying privately that he was willing to join the Cubs in a suit, the Dodgers are not a plaintiff.

And O'Malley said that an Associated Press report that the National League had voted, 10-2, against filing a suit, with only the Cubs and Dodgers in favor of it, was inaccurate, that there was never a vote.

League sources maintained Tuesday, however, that O'Malley has promised the Cubs they will have his support and that he will testify on their behalf if needed.

O'Malley, who issued a statement Monday criticizing Vincent for exceeding his authority and undermining the league's constitution, said Tuesday he had not seen the Cubs' suit but that it speaks for itself.

Asked if he and other owners have growing concern over Vincent's use of power, O'Malley said, "I'm not going to discuss that."

The court papers filed by the Cubs revealed that National League President Bill White urged Vincent on June 8 to stay out of the realignment dispute and warned him of possible consequences.

"To my knowledge, no commissioner has attempted, much less engaged in, a wholesale intrusion into the business affairs of the leagues such as you apparently are considering," White wrote.

He added that intervention by the commissioner would "inflame the current divisions to such an extent that any temporary benefits obtained from your decision could become almost an afterthought in the acrimony and litigation that may result."

The suit said that only Atlanta, Houston, Montreal, Pittsburgh, San Diego and San Francisco were in favor of intervention by Vincent, with the six other clubs opposed.

"This lawsuit is not about the wisdom of any particular divisional alignment," Cub chairman Stanton Cook said in a statement.

"The question here is simply whether the commissioner has the authority to overturn the National League constitution on a fundamental business question of how the league is structured and run.

"The Cubs did not want this fight with the commissioner and regret that it has become necessary."

Vincent said he was not surprised by the suit, but could not comment because he had not seen it.

Saying that restrictive league rules had thwarted majority support for realignment, Vincent ordered the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals to join the expansion Colorado Rockies in the West. The Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves will move to the East with the expansion Florida Marlins.

Vincent said he would not have made the decision if he did not think he was on solid legal ground. The Major League Agreement contains the commissioner's best-interests authority and provides that the clubs and their executives waive the right to legally challenge the commissioner.

The Cubs are not the first to ignore that provision, but no commissioner has ever been overruled by the courts.

The commissioner has "all the attributes of a benevolent but absolute despot," a U.S. District Court wrote in a 1931 suit challenging the authority of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a former federal judge who as the first commissioner detailed the commissioner's role in writing the Major League Agreement.

Frank J. McGarr, a U.S. district judge in the same court that will hear the Cubs' request Wednesday, ruled for Commissioner Bowie Kuhn when Kuhn blocked the sale of Vida Blue, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers by Oakland A's owner Charles Finley after the 1975 season because it was not in baseball's best interest.

Wrote McGarr:

"What the parties clearly intended (under the Major League Agreement) was that the commissioner was to have jurisdiction to prevent any conduct destructive of the confidence in the integrity of baseball. So broad and unfettered was his discretion intended to be that they provided no right of appeal, and even took the extreme step of foreclosing their own access to the courts."

The Cubs contend in their suit that Vincent's action upsets the divisional alignment that has been in place for 23 years, damages fan interest through a loss of traditional rivalries, places a hardship on fans with later starting times on TV and radio because of more games in the West, and that the National League constitution forbids transferring a team to another division without the club's permission.

National League owners voted by 10-2 in favor of realignment on March 4, but realignment requires the support of all the transferring clubs, and the Cubs' opposition killed it until Vincent's decision.

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