Saying that resignation and not litigation should be his final act, an embattled Fay Vincent quit Monday after three years as commissioner of baseball rather than face a probable legal fight by team owners to fire him.
Vincent had vowed on Aug. 20, "I will not resign--ever." But last Thursday the owners voted, 18-9 with one abstention, urging him to quit, and he decided to resign effective immediately after a weekend of reflection at his vacation home in Harwich Port, Mass.
"It would be an even greater disservice to baseball if I were to precipitate a protracted fight over the office of the commissioner," Vincent wrote in a three-page letter to owners that he made public. "After the vote at the meeting last week, I can no longer justify imposing on baseball, nor should baseball be required to endure, a bitter legal battle--even though I am confident that in the end I would win and thereby establish a judicial precedent that the term and powers of the commissioner cannot be diminished during the remaining months of my term."
Vincent's resignation as baseball's eighth commissioner put the 10-member executive council--made up of American League President Bobby Brown, National League President Bill White and eight owners--in charge of baseball. Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles said the committee will meet by telephone today and in person Wednesday in St. Louis to discuss a successor.
Among the possibilities are former American League President Lee MacPhail, Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown, Deputy Commissioner Steve Greenberg, Toronto Blue Jays President Paul Beeston and Richard Ravitch, president of the owners' Player Relations Committee.
But another sentiment is to appoint a temporary caretaker and study the long-term role of the commissioner. Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a leader of the anti-Vincent movement, said he would like to see the office restructured to make it a chief executive officer reporting to the 28 owners as a board of directors.
"I doubt anybody will be given the title of commissioner, but we'll see," Reinsdorf said when asked what would happen in the near term. "The council consists of 10 very able people. We'll see what they want to do."
Vincent had threatened to continue in office "until such time as the highest court of this land tells me otherwise," but that view changed after the owners' vote.
"What would that accomplish?" he said of a legal battle. "What will the fight have been worth if, 14 months from now, prior to electing a new commissioner, the owners change the Major League Agreement to create a 'figurehead' commissioner? This is certainly the goal of some. And while it is bad for baseball, I cannot prevent that change. . . . I cannot govern as commissioner without the consent of owners to be governed. I do not believe that consent is now available to me."
Vincent took over when his friend, A. Bartlett Giammati, died on Friday of Labor Day weekend three years ago. Vincent's term was scheduled to run through March 31, 1994. He becomes the third commissioner forced to leave early, joining Happy Chandler and William Eckert. In addition, Bowie Kuhn was defeated in his bid for a third term, and Peter Ueberroth departed prematurely after sensing owners would not reelect him.
The move against Vincent had its roots in the collective bargaining negotiations of 1990.
Owners became slightly more disenchanted in 1991, when Vincent gave American League teams $42 million of the National League's $190 million in expansion money. AL owners felt the money wasn't worth their having to give up three players in the expansion draft.
The move to oust Vincent started anew when he overrode the National League constitution in July and ordered realignment, sending the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals to the West and the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds to the East. The Cubs obtained a preliminary injunction in federal court to block the move.
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