SBJ/March 25-31, 2013/In Depth
The commissioner’s seat
Bud Selig has been MLB commissioner since 1992. Here’s a look at the others who have held the post and what helped define their careers.
Published March 25, 2013, Page 20
Landis became professionally involved with baseball in 1914, when he presided over the Federal League’s injunction suit against the major leagues. After the 1919 World Series scandal, he was approached about becoming baseball’s first commissioner. Landis tried to free the game from gamblers and corruption and banned eight White Sox players involved in the scandal. He later suspended Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel of the New York Yankees for 40 games for “barnstorming” without permission.
Chandler, a former governor and U.S. senator from Kentucky, saw baseball’s color barrier broken during his tenure as commissioner when Jackie Robinson became the first black player in Major League Baseball. In 1947, the league created the player pension fund with money Chandler used from a three-year, $475,000 contract for radio rights to the World Series. He later negotiated a six-year, $6 million contract for television rights to the World Series and All-Star Game. That money also went directly into the player pension fund.
Frick, a former sportswriter and broadcaster, served as president of the National League from 1934 until he was elected commissioner. During his tenure, the American and National leagues each grew from eight to 10 teams. Today, the Ford C. Frick Award is presented annually to a broadcaster for major contributions to the sport. Frick also is credited with helping establish the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
In 1957, Eckert was named lieutenant general and became the youngest three-star officer in the U.S. armed forces. When he retired from the Air Force in 1961, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. During his three years as commissioner, Eckert helped promote the game internationally and in 1966 arranged a tour of Japan for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
MLB saw the expansion of six teams during Kuhn’s tenure, but perhaps the most significant event was the Curt Flood reserve case of 1970. The case ended up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the lower courts’ ruling that federal antitrust laws did not apply to the game. In 1975, players were granted the right to free agency for the first time.
Ueberroth served as president and CEO of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, the first privately financed Olympic Games. During his first year as commissioner, he helped prevent an umpires strike during the playoffs. By his last year in office, every MLB team was either breaking even or finishing in the black financially — 21 of the then 26 clubs were losing money when he entered the position. Ueberroth brokered a four-year, $1.1 billion contract with CBS, and a four-year, $400 million deal with ESPN.
Giamatti’s time as commissioner is probably best known for his decision to ban all-time hit leader Pete Rose for life for Rose’s involvement in gambling on baseball games. Giamatti’s untimely death occurred just eight days after the Rose announcement, thus making his tenure, just under a year, the shortest for a commissioner.
Vincent served as baseball’s first deputy commissioner, a position created by Giamatti. After only a month on the job as commissioner, a massive earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area disrupted the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s. In 1990, Opening Day was postponed for a week due to a 32-day player lockout. Teams in Miami and Denver were added to the league under Vincent’s watch.