March 17, 2007
Former MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has passed away at the age of 80. He served as commissioner from 1969 to 1984, a length of tenure that was second only to the first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1920-1944). An attorney by profession, he presided over the sad era when baseball lost its status as the nation's Number One sport to football. It wasn't his fault, however, and indeed he exerted mighty influence against the baseball franchise owners, many of whom refused to adapt to the era of televised entertainment. The most notable instance was in 1976 when he refused to allow Charley Finley to trade Vida Blue and two other Oakland Athletics players. (In contrast, his successor, Peter Ueberroth, was very close to the owners and is suspected of orchestrating the collusion against free agent players during the late 1980s.) On the other side of the bargaining table, during this era, organized labor flexed its muscles in baseball for the first time, as the Curt Flood case gave rise to free agency, million-dollar salaries, and rising ticket prices. Kuhn will be remembered for several major achievements, such as expansion of the major leagues, the beginning of divisional playoffs, and of course the abolition of the reserve clause, which is when free agency began. In addition, Kuhn punished Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle for their commercial ties to gambling, setting a clear example for the future that was not heeded by all, unfortunately. The major setback during his tenure, of course, was the players' strike that interrupted the 1981 season. Mr. Kuhn was the first commissioner that I took notice of, and I learned to my surprise that he had a degree from the University of Virginia! See MLB.com. In his book In the Best Interests of Baseball?, Andrew Zimbalist noted that Mr. Kuhn was much more of a decisive leader than his three predecessors. Let's hope the next MLB Commissioner is as effective as he was.