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Original Issue


An open letter to new baseball commissioner Fay Vincent

Dear Mr. Vincent,
After your predecessor, Bart Giamatti, died, Whitey Herzog said, "He would have been the greatest commissioner ever. Sure, he was brilliant and he was tough, but where the other guys we've had understood the business or the legal parts of the game, he loved the game. Most of all, he respected it."

I know that as Mr. Giamatti's friend you share his passion for baseball. You recently said, "There's so much about baseball that we don't understand. It's like anything that's wonderful and magic. We don't know enough about what makes it so compelling. It is so precious and perhaps fragile that one ought to approach any changes with considerable caution. I happen to think baseball is fragile in the sense that it is very difficult for any of us—even Bart, with all his eloquence—to identify precisely what it is about baseball that makes it so permanently affixed to the American soul. I think I'm wise enough to know that if you don't understand all there is to know about something, you approach it with considerable care and very great skepticism in terms of any tinkering."

I agree, Mr. Vincent, because even though baseball is in an era of unprecedented popularity, there are reasons for concern. Peter Ueberroth taught baseball owners how to make big money, but all it takes is one look at Fenway Park's luxurious 600 Club, a high-priced, glass-walled abomination, to despair. Any attempt at strip-mining every nickel from the fans, anything that would tend to steer regular folks—and their kids—away from the game, could bring ugly repercussions by the turn of the century. As you take your place as commissioner, I would like to offer an agenda that Mr. Giamatti might have approved, an agenda from a fan who loves the game:

1) Get the owners and players to sit down as soon as possible to reach a new basic agreement without a lockout or a strike. All the proposed schemes for revenue sharing are complex and revolutionary and will take a long time to hammer out, but the bottom line is that everyone is making money. People who grapple over the spoils of the game do not respect it; they only respect the money they can make from it.

2) Centralize the game. Baseball does not need separate league offices. What it does need is one set of umpires and one set of rules, and one of those rules should call for the pitcher to bat. I saw Tom Brookens DH. Enough is enough.

3) Respect the fan. I suggest you make every owner attend a game at the Oakland Coliseum, where the out-of-town scores are up to date, the grass is grass, the food is good, one of the mega boards shows highlights from other games rather than a stream of idiotic promos, the organist doesn't play when the pitcher is in his windup, and nobody tells you when to cheer.

4) Be wary of international expansion, which fascinates many of your owners because of the potential for additional revenues, especially in the Far East. Rather than focusing on Japanese and Korean money, think about Latin America. The first thing you should do is begin a campaign to open the doors to Cuban players. With expansion here in the States looming, the game could clearly benefit from an influx of talent from the world's second-best baseball nation. And rather than regarding players from such places as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico as cheap labor, which many owners do, baseball should give something back to those countries: aid in the form of developmental resources.

5) Don't forget America's inner cities. It's fine to look for talent in places like Australia and the Netherlands, but baseball should also continue to help people like John Young, the founder of a Los Angeles urban baseball program that promotes youth baseball in L.A.'s ghettos.

6) Continue to insist, as both Ueberroth and Giamatti did, on local ownership. The NFL's franchise hostage-taking—e.g., the L.A-Oakland-Sacramento Raiders' fiasco—represents a pitiful, decadent end to Pete Rozelle's Era of Greed. Don't let baseball follow suit.

7) Set stricter gambling rules. Any involvement with illegal gambling should be a suspendable offense. Just because a pitcher only bets on hoops doesn't mean that the leg-breakers can't use him to make a million on the seventh game of the Series.

8) However you expand, never allow some TV type to talk you into wild-card teams for the playoffs. Baseball is the one major sport in which the dignity of the regular season has been retained.

9) Don't rely only on the owners' executive council to guide you. People like Herzog, Doug Rader, Scott Bradley, Jim Kaat, Tim McCarver and Roger Angell are worth listening to. Like Mr. Giamatti, they love and respect the game.
Peter Gammons