Fay Vincent (MLB.COM)

Fay Vincent

This article was written by Rory Costello

“There’s no hidden agenda to Fay Vincent. … What you see is what you get.”

— Peter O’Malley1

“A man of deep moral conviction.”

— Guy McElwaine, motion picture executive2


Fay Vincent (MLB.COM)Francis T. Vincent Jr. was the eighth Commissioner of Major League Baseball. After serving as Deputy Commissioner under his dear friend Bart Giamatti, he assumed the top position on September 13, 1989, shortly after Giamatti’s sudden death at the age of 51.

Vincent was Commissioner for just short of three years, resigning under fire on September 7, 1992. He gave way to baseball’s Executive Council, composed of a group of franchise owners then headed by Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers, who became “Acting Commissioner” until being named to the post officially in July 1998.

Vincent’s brief and turbulent tenure was marked by a variety of thorny issues, starting with the interruption of the 1989 World Series by the Loma Prieta earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay area. He also contended with labor relations (the lockout of 1990), expansion, TV superstations, National League realignment, and the banishment from baseball of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and pitcher Steve Howe.3 Ultimately, though, his stance on the Commissioner’s role differed fundamentally from those of too many club owners for him to keep his job.

As Vincent expressed in his letter of resignation, “I accepted the position believing the Commissioner has a higher duty and that sometimes decisions have to be made that are not in the best interests of some owners. Unique power was granted to the Commissioner of Baseball for sound reasons – to maintain the integrity of the game and to temper owner decisions predicated solely on self-interest. The Office should be maintained as a strong institution. My views on this have not changed.”

Vincent added, “I remind all that ownership of a baseball team is more than ownership of an ordinary business. Owners have a duty to take into consideration that they own a part of America’s national pastime – in trust. This trust sometimes requires putting self-interest second.”4

These principles led George Vecsey of the New York Times to dub Vincent “The Last Commissioner” – which Vincent later took as the title of his memoir.5

* * *

Francis Thomas Vincent Jr. was born on May 29, 1938, in Waterbury, Connecticut. His father, Francis Sr. (1906-1984), who was also known as Fay (a nickname of Irish origin), came from the northwestern Connecticut town of Torrington. The elder Vincent was a 1931 graduate of Yale University. He was captain of the baseball team, which was then coached by Smoky Joe Wood, who had won fame as a Boston Red Sox pitcher. Fay Sr. also played football and captained that squad for Yale.6

Upon graduating from Yale, Fay Sr. took a job digging holes for light poles with Connecticut Light & Power. It was the Great Depression, and physical work was not beneath him; also, utility work was relatively safe from layoffs. Eventually he moved into an office job. In 1941, he found a new employer, the New England Telephone Company in New Haven. While still in Waterbury, he continued to play baseball in the City Amateur League, which boasted of talent like future Yankees pitcher Spec Shea. After he stopped playing sports, “Big Fay” became an official in the National Football League and the All-America Football Conference, as well as a baseball umpire.7

Vincent Sr.’s wife, Alice (née Lynch, 1905-1966), came from Waterbury. She was “a kindergarten teacher and grammarian of the first order.”8 There were two other children in the family, sisters Joanna and Barbara, who arrived after Fay Jr. Alice’s son honored her commitment to education by funding scholarships in her name at Central Connecticut State University and Fairfield University. He did likewise for his father at Yale.9

The Vincents were a devout Irish-Catholic family, and Fay Jr. maintained his deep faith throughout his life. He established The Fay Vincent, Jr. ’60 Catholic Faith and Culture Lecture Series at his alma mater, Williams College.10 At Yale, where he studied law, he established a Fellowship in Catholic Faith & Culture.11

Vincent père was a fan of the Philadelphia Athletics, and together he and young Fay would listen to their games on the radio. However, the boy became a New York Yankees fan thanks to father-son trips to Yankee Stadium (always when the A’s were visiting).12 The Yankees’ primary star then was Joe DiMaggio; reminiscing in 2014, Vincent called him “the finest baseball player I ever saw play our delicate little game.” He added, “Much later, when I got to know Joe well, I never failed to feel as if I were in the presence of a deity.”13

After attending Putnam Grammar School in Hamden (which adjoins New Haven to the north), Fay Jr. went to Hotchkiss, a prep school in Lakeville, Connecticut, which his father had gone to previously. He made friends there with William “Bucky” Bush, younger brother of George H.W. Bush, who became 41st President of the United States. Bucky was a hulking 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, but Fay wasn’t much smaller at 6-foot-3 and 240. After their senior year, the two big youths went to Texas to work as roughnecks in the oil fields.14

Vincent then went to Williams, a small liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He was recruited to play football and was captain of the freshman team.15

On the afternoon of December 10, 1956, the 18-year-old suffered a life-changing accident. He told the story often over the years, but one especially detailed account came nearly 60 years later in a wide-ranging interview with author Erik Malinowski. Vincent was having a nap, and his suitemates locked him in his room as a prank. He needed to use the men’s room, but rather than use his garbage can, Vincent decided to step out of his fourth-floor window and regain access to the suite through an adjacent window. The ledge was slippery with ice, and he fell. As it happened, about halfway down he hit a steel railing, which he believed prevented death.16

Vincent was temporarily paralyzed and had to undergo a year of therapy. The regimen included grueling exercise under the direction of Yale swimming coach Bob Kiphuth.17 He made a remarkable recovery, aided by his positive attitude, which was reinforced by his mother. Alice stressed that even though he could no longer take part in sports, his mental powers still formed the basis of a bright future.18

According to a September 1989 account, Vincent also credited baseball for helping him survive the ordeal. “My entire day was geared around waiting for that Yankee game,” he said. “When there was no game it was very sad.”19 The next month, he added, “I remember vividly when Gil McDougald hit Herb Score with that line drive [May 7, 1957]. I saw the games on Channel 11 in New Haven. Mel Allen and Red Barber. Ballantine blasts and White Owl cigars.”20

As a 1990 story by Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times also recounted, he’d intended to become a priest, but “Jesuits in the Boston area, believing he was not strong enough to cope with their training regimen, [rejected] his application. ‘I was fortunate,’ Vincent said, looking back. ‘I had to learn to walk again. If I hadn’t been 18 and in good shape, I might not have been able to recover.’”21

Vincent regained about 50% of the function in his legs22 and relied on a cane. Later in life he developed painful arthritis.

While in college, Vincent stayed connected to the Williams football team by covering it as a reporter for a local paper, the Berkshire Eagle. He benefited from the tutelage of Eagle sports editor Roger O’Gara, later writing, “[O’Gara] taught me to consider carefully the importance of each word … I am grateful to Roger for taking the time to counsel a young man who wanted to learn to write well.”23

Vincent graduated in 1960 – as scheduled despite his injury rehab – cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He then went to Yale Law School, earning an LL.D. in 1963. His first job out of law school was with the firm of Whitman and Ransom in New York City. He was an associate there from 1963 through 1968. On July 3, 1965, he married Valerie McMahon. They had three children: Anne was followed by twins William and Edward.

In 1968, Vincent moved to Washington, D.C., where he took a job with the firm of Caplin & Drysdale. He made partner, specializing in corporate, banking, and securities law. In 1978, he joined the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington as associate director of the Division of Corporate Finance. “Although not at the SEC long, he valued the experience. In fact, because of his work at the commission, he urges young lawyers to seek some government service.”24

Roughly six months after starting at the SEC, Vincent received a call from his friend Herbert Allen Jr., Williams Class of 1962. Allen was president of his family business, the investment bank Allen & Company. In 1973, that firm had purchased a controlling interest in Columbia Pictures, and Allen was an influential member of the movie studio’s board of directors. Columbia was going through a management shakeup that was unusual even by Hollywood standards. Allen thought it necessary to bring in an outsider. By one account, “‘Nobody knows him,’ Allen told his lawyer that day. ‘Nobody can lay a glove on him. We need a healer in this situation.’” And, in an oddly prophetic remark, Allen said, “We need a Judge Landis,” referring to the first Commissioner of Baseball.25

Thus, Vincent became President and Chief Executive Officer of Columbia. Although he was completely new to the industry, “he knew who to ask” about learning.26 For him, though, the job wasn’t about moviemaking per se. “I never read a script. Running a movie company is very much an exercise in risk management.”27

Columbia put out some major hits in the next several years, including Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Gandhi (1982), and Tootsie (also 1982). As Vincent noted in a self-deprecating way, though, the record also included the notorious flop Ishtar (1987).28

The Coca-Cola Company purchased Columbia in 1982. Vincent served as an executive vice president of the beverage giant until July 1988. He resigned after “he was taken out of the entertainment division and put into Coke International. ‘I couldn’t get motivated about selling Sprite in Thailand,’ he said.”29 He then returned to Caplin & Drysdale, in its New York office.

Soon, however, A. Bartlett Giamatti called. Giamatti and Vincent had become friends after meeting at a party given by a mutual friend named Peter Knipe.30 Even though their rooting interests were opposite – Giamatti was a devoted Red Sox fan – they had much in common, including a love of literature. They also shared ties to Yale, where Giamatti had been president from 1978 to 1986.

Giamatti became president of the National League in 1986 and was elected to succeed Peter Ueberroth as Commissioner of Baseball in September 1988. He began in that position in April 1989. Knowing that he needed help on the business side, he created the role of Deputy Commissioner expressly for Vincent.31

The most notable event of Giamatti’s time as Commissioner was the lifetime ban from baseball of Pete Rose. With his legal training, Vincent played a major role in these proceedings, working with Special Counsel John Dowd. Vincent wondered why Rose didn’t make a clean breast of his gambling on baseball but later conjectured that Rose followed “the code among criminals … admit to nothing.” He added, “I think Rose’s ultimate failing as a person was the thing that made him great as a player: his arrogance.”32

Just five months after Giamatti took over for Ueberroth – and eight days after Rose’s ban took effect – fate took a turn. A year later, Ronald Blum of the Washington Post captured the events neatly:

“Friday, Sept. 1, 1989. The start of a long, lazy Labor Day weekend.

Fay Vincent was sitting on the sundeck of his Cape Cod summer home when the phone rang about 3 p.m. Bobby Brown, the American League president, was on the line with word that Bart Giamatti had had a heart attack.

Within an hour Vincent would learn – by radio – that his friend and boss, the baseball commissioner, was dead.”33

As it happened, Giamatti was stricken at his summer home on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off Cape Cod. In fact, both weekends before Giamatti died, he and Vincent had shared charter flights to the Vineyard, with Vincent catching another plane to Harwich after they said goodbye.34

The next day, the Executive Council – then headed by Brown and National League President Bill White – named Vincent Acting Commissioner.35 On Tuesday, September 12, the Council unanimously recommended that Vincent fill the remainder of Giamatti’s five-year term.36 MLB’s owners – who then numbered 26 – held a special joint meeting before the regularly scheduled American and National League meetings on Wednesday, September 13. They voted unanimously to accept the Council’s recommendation. Ross Newhan wrote that there were no other candidates, according to Bobby Brown, and no call for a search committee. He also provided glowing quotes about Vincent from Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley.37

Vincent had spoken with Giamatti’s widow, Toni (and others), about whether to step into her late husband’s role. He wrestled with the decision but said, “I was advised … I ought to take it. I think it’s something Bart would have wanted. We’ll never know for sure, but that’s what I would have believed.”38

As Milwaukee sportswriter Tom Haudricourt observed in 2014, however, the “honeymoon would be short … Vincent was forced to hit the ground running.”39 Just over a month after he became Commissioner, the biggest natural disaster ever to strike a U.S. sporting event occurred. On October 17, 1989, an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale hit the San Francisco Bay area. Game Three of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s was just about to begin at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Vincent was seated in his field-level box waiting for Giants legend Willie Mays to throw out the first pitch. Erik Malinowski’s 2014 story presented a vivid, in-depth account of the subsequent events and Vincent’s response to the crisis. He had to grapple with the decision of whether to continue the Series and if so, where.

“I was proud of what happened,” he told Malinowski, “partly because I wasn’t sure whether I was making a good set of decisions. You never know.” He likened the circumstances to those in London during the Blitz and viewed Winston Churchill as a role model, noting, “You have to recognize that, in a crisis, there are some institutions that have to survive.”40

However, Vincent has often credited the presence and action of San Francisco Police Department Commander Isiah Nelson during the crisis. As the Commissioner later recounted, Nelson said, “We have decisions to make and we have to make them fast. You are in charge here.” Vincent’s response: “No, Commander. You are in charge. Whatever you advise me to do, we will do.”41

Some months later, labor strife reached another flashpoint. A full examination of the 32-day spring training lockout that ended on March 19, 1990, is beyond the scope of this biography (one may refer to The Imperfect Diamond: A History of Baseball’s Labor Wars by Lee Lowenfish). Suffice it to say that Vincent was instrumental in ending the lockout with his efforts to hammer out a compromise in forging a new Basic Agreement between players and owners. As an entry in the book Principles and Practice of Sport Management put it, though, “Many people cite … Vincent’s intervention in the lockout – which he did because of his belief that it was in the best interest of baseball and the best interest of the fans – as the beginning of the end of his term.”

Vincent’s rapport with the owners had roots in the conspiracy among major-league teams against free agents after the 1985 season, which continued through 1987. As Vincent later summarized it, “I told the owners, ‘The single biggest reality you guys have to face is collusion. You stole $280 million from the players, and the players are unified to a man around that issue and many of you are still involved.” In Vincent’s view, the subsequent expansion was a way of “getting new owners to pay for the old owners’ sins.”42

As the 1990 season progressed, George Steinbrenner came to occupy Vincent’s attention. “The Boss” of the Yankees – also a Williams alum – had previously chided Vincent that he “looked like a bum” for being unshaven and tieless in a TV appearance following the Loma Prieta quake.43 Soon, however, Steinbrenner found himself in hot water because it had come to light that he’d hired Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. On July 30, Vincent – acting on input from John Dowd, again serving as Special Counsel – banned Steinbrenner for life from taking part in club operations, though he was allowed to retain his principal ownership. Oddly enough, Vincent wanted it to be just a two-year suspension, “but Steinbrenner opted for life instead.”44

Almost two years later, Vincent rescinded the ban, effective March 1, 1993 – by which time he was no longer Commissioner.45 Previously, the $22 million lawsuit that Yankees executive Leonard Kleinman had filed against Vincent and Dowd – alleging that their investigation was unfair and biased – had been dropped.

In early 1991, a new issue cropped up: the plan for the NL to expand into Colorado and Florida, and how the $190 million in entry fees would be divided between the NL (to which both of the franchises had been allocated) and the AL. Vincent said that the expansion could not be blocked and that if the dispute could not be resolved through negotiations, he would make a binding ruling before the expansion process began.46 As it turned out, he awarded the AL $42 million and decreed that the “junior circuit” would supply half (36 out of 72) of the players to be drafted.47 Under the previous rules, the NL would have kept all of the money but supplied all of the players. In an acerbic seven-page opinion, Vincent revisited his core belief. “The squabbling with baseball, the finger-pointing, the tendency to see economic issues as moral ones … all of these are contributing to our joint fall from grace,” he said. “If we in baseball seek the respect and loyalty of the fans who are the true owners of the game, we must be deserving in our actions. I suggest we start now.”48

In June 1992, Vincent expressed his view that “superstations deprive fans of a wide range of options. We wish to provide fans exposure to all baseball teams.” He sought an act of Congress to repeal a relevant section of copyright law. However, he was opposed by consumer advocates, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the cable industry – not to mention the owners of two superstations that also were club owners: WTBS (the Atlanta Braves under Ted Turner) and WGN (the Chicago Cubs under Tribune Co.).49 This could well have been a factor in why those franchises were not among those who backed Vincent when the resolution requesting his resignation came up for a vote several weeks later.

That same month, the disciplinary situation with talented – but drug- and alcohol-plagued – pitcher Steve Howe came to a head. The previous December, Howe had been arrested in Montana on a misdemeanor charge of trying to buy a gram of cocaine. It was his seventh incident related to drugs or alcohol, and Vincent suspended Howe on June 8 following Howe’s guilty plea in U.S. District Court. Later that month. Howe informed Vincent that he did not wish to meet with him to discuss the plea. Vincent responded with a permanent ban, finding that Howe had “finally extinguished his opportunity to play major league baseball.” As it developed, an arbitrator overturned the ban that November, after Vincent had been forced out of his job.50 Howe returned to the majors from 1993 through June 1996.

Yet another contentious issue reached a boiling point that summer: realignment of the National League. In March 1992, before the season began, the NL owners voted 10-2 in favor of moving the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals into the NL West, with the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves swapping into the NL East. But the Cubs were one of the two dissenting votes (along with the Mets). Their opposition was rooted in a concern that WGN ratings and revenues would suffer; and, under the NL constitution, they had veto power because they were one of the clubs affected by the proposed change. However, Vincent was asked to intervene, and in early July, he invoked his “best interests of the game” powers to order the realignment.51

The Cubs’ owner, Tribune Co., sued and sought a temporary injunction, which was granted by U.S. District Court Judge Suzanne B. Conlon on July 23. Judge Conlon wrote that Vincent “probably exceeded his authority.”52 Vincent filed for an appeal, which was to be heard on September 30. In the interim, though, he quit – and in late September, the Executive Council stopped fighting the injunction, effectively bringing the matter to a close.53 As it turned out, realignment was not far off anyway – in September 1993, the owners approved the three-division format, which went into effect in 1994.

As the summer of 1992 wore on, pressure on Vincent from the owners mounted. Chief among their critiques was “leadership style,” which one may read as not fully representing the owners’ position. As of August 20, he was pushing back actively, addressing his legal position in a letter to the owners. He had also hired top-notch attorney Brendan Sullivan, who’d represented Oliver North in the Iran-Contra Senate committee hearings.54

On September 3, a special meeting of the 28 owners was held in Chicago to vote on a resolution calling for Vincent’s resignation. The Commissioner himself did not attend. The vote was 18-9 in favor, with one abstention (Marge Schott of Cincinnati left the meeting early).

By at least one account, the teams backing Vincent included Montreal, Houston, the New York Mets, Boston, Oakland, and Florida (one of the new expansion clubs). In particular, he received support from Baltimore, whose owner then, Eli Jacobs, was a Yale Law contemporary, and Texas, then controlled by George W. Bush, part of the family that had long enjoyed friendship with Vincent. The future 43rd U.S. President said, “It doesn’t matter what the vote is. We are dealing with a man … of principle and integrity. He’s not going to leave, because he believes it is not what’s right for him, but what’s right for baseball.”55

Indeed, Vincent’s initial response was that he would not yield. Upon reflection, however, he gave way. To cite another passage from his resignation letter, “Litigation does nothing to address the serious problems of baseball. I cannot govern as Commissioner without the consent of owners to be governed. I do not believe that consent is now available to me. Simply put, I’ve concluded resignation – not litigation – should be my final act as Commissioner ‘in the best interests’ of Baseball.”56

Erik Malinowski’s article also contains Vincent’s frank look back at and assessment of his time as Commissioner. He stated, “The tragedy of my life – and there are a lot of them – but one of them in baseball is that I was a failure … They [the owners] were trying to roll back 20 years of disastrous negotiations with the union. Marvin Miller had taken their jock strap, and they wanted to do it all at once. And my great failure – and I’m sorry about it – was that I was right, you can’t do it, but they had to try. And I wish I could’ve talked them out of it.”

“I made a lot of mistakes,” he added. “One mistake I made was to think that if I got the issues right and made good decisions, everything else would take care of itself. That’s not true. I made some decisions that were absolutely correct, in my world, by my standards, but they were politically difficult.”57

Shortly after leaving office, Vincent underwent surgery to relieve pressure on spinal nerves, a consequence of his accident in college.58 He also spent four months in England, where he “read a lot of books and sorted out a lot of things.” He then accepted a senior advisory role at Peter J. Solomon & Co., a small investment banking house in New York City. As fortune would have it, the firm’s office was at 350 Park Avenue – the same address as Major League Baseball.59

Vincent continued to occupy himself with business and educational interests. He became a director of various corporations, including Time-Warner. He served as a trustee of Williams College for 18 years and of Carleton College for six years and was chairman of the board at Hotchkiss. He views that work as a major aspect of his legacy.60 His bequest to Fairfield University, a Jesuit school, reflected his respect for Jesuit education’s emphasis on quality academic programs, social responsibility, and leadership.61 “The “nobility of education” is another of his core beliefs.62

Vincent was back in the news in early 1994 as he submitted a proposal for a memoir to be titled “And the Horse They Rode in On: My Tumultuous Years as Baseball Commissioner.” Jerry Reinsdorf and Bud Selig came in for sharp criticism.63 As Ross Newhan expressed it, the 40-page proposal “displayed the extent of [Vincent’s] bitterness at being forced from office.”64 Selig was branded “a smalltown schlepper” and “the emblem of baseball’s decline.”65

Also in 1994, Vincent and Valerie were divorced. He subsequently married Christina Watkins in 1998. They spend their summers in New Canaan, Connecticut, and winter in Vero Beach, Florida.

Meanwhile, in November 1994, Vincent withdrew “And the Horse They Rode in On” from his publisher, returning a $150,000 advance. “His associates had argued against the project, saying anything he wrote would appear to be sour grapes.” Vincent himself remarked, “I guess I decided I’d been very quiet about baseball and all that was going on, and I decided to keep it that way.”66

Meanwhile, his collaborator, David Kaplan of Newsweek, sought to publish the nearly complete book under his own name and sued Vincent.67 The book (also known as “Baseball Breaks Your Heart”) never surfaced. As it turned out, the absence of a formal collaboration agreement was the key factor working against Kaplan.68

Controversy about that project lingered. Among other things, the book proposal also portrayed Peter O’Malley as a “nitwit” and “bigot.” In another Ross Newhan article for the Los Angeles Times, from August 1998, Vincent disclaimed that description, saying that those words were Kaplan’s choice.69 Kaplan later took issue with that statement in a letter to the Times.70 Another notable aspect of the Newhan story, however, was its discussion of Bud Selig’s effort to mend fences with Vincent and their exchange of compliments.

Vincent returned to being a baseball executive in late 1997 as president and chairman of the board of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, a wood-bat summer circuit. In 1999, the NECBL named its championship trophy the Fay Vincent, Sr. Cup. Fay Jr. retired from this role in 2004.

A different memoir, The Last Commissioner (which was shaped with the help of Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger) came out in 2002. Its subtitle was A Baseball Valentine, a proclamation of Vincent’s love for the game. He credited a friend from the film business, super-agent Irving “Swifty” Lazar, for that phrase.71

This devotion also bore more fruit. Inspired by Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times, Vincent embarked on his Baseball Oral History Project, in which he interviewed an array of stars from a period spanning six decades. There were three volumes, each with a subtitle on the theme of players – as well as umpire Bruce Froemming and labor leader Marvin Miller – talking about the game they loved.

  • The Only Game in Town (2006): Focus – the 1930s and 1940s
  • We Would Have Played for Nothing (2009): Focus – the 1950s and 1960s
  • It’s What’s Inside the Lines That Counts (2010): Focus – the 1970s and 1980s

Around the early 1990s, Vincent had listened to the audiotapes of Ritter’s interviews and formed the notion to emulate the effort. He mentioned the idea to old friend Herb Allen, who encouraged him. The pair set up and funded a foundation, working in concert with the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Vincent’s interviews were all videotaped.72 The books cover 31 subjects in total, but there were others too, including several Negro Leaguers and broadcaster Harry Kalas.

Over the years, Vincent has granted many lengthy, candid interviews. For nearly 40 years, he has been writing op-ed columns, with many in the Wall Street Journal and others in the New York Times and Washington Post.

To cite just one of his many public remarks about baseball, in 2013 he called Warren Spahn “the most intelligent player I ever talked to about the game.”73 However, he does not refrain from offering views on baseball’s greatest controversies, such as performance-enhancing drugs and gambling.

Decades after Pete Rose’s ban was issued, the Hit King’s name remains in the news, and Vincent has weighed in with his position. In 2015, he remained emphatic that Rose should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame. He expressed it this way: “I’ve always thought it’s not whether he deserves mercy, it’s about the deterrent … Gambling in major league baseball does not exist because the deterrent is so draconian.”74 In 2023, he continued to express concern about betting and baseball.75

Fay Vincent has also remained unwavering in his view of baseball’s place in society. In an April 2021 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, he stated, “American people view baseball as a public trust.”76 This echoed his observation in ending the introduction to his memoir: “Baseball is in the public domain. The game is ours.”

Last revised: September 26, 2023



Special thanks to fellow SABR members and Williams College alumni Fay Vincent and Vincent Cannato for their input. Mr. Vincent sent information via e-mail on July 24 and 27, 2023.

Thanks also to Cassidy Lent at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Library for providing the remarkably voluminous Vincent clippings file.

This biography was reviewed by Gregory H. Wolf and Jan Finkel and fact-checked by Paul Proia.

Photo credit: MLB.com.


Additional Sources

New England Collegiate Baseball League (necbl.com)


Further reading and viewing

Vincent’s career – in the movie industry as well as baseball – is well covered in John Helyar, The Lords of the Realm (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994).

John McMurray, “An Interview with Fay Vincent on Baseball Oral History,” SABR Oral History Committee newsletter, Spring 2015.

Fay Vincent Oral History Project Collection, Library of Congress



1 Ross Newhan, “Vincent Is Unanimous Selection as Giamatti’s Replacement,” Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1989.

2 John Helyar, The Lords of the Realm, New York: Ballantine Books (1994).

3 Dave Sell, “Baseball’s Vincent Resigns,” Washington Post, September 8, 1992.

4 Various newspapers quoted excerpts from this letter, but the entire text was printed in the New York Times and USA Today on September 8, 1992.

5 George Vecsey, “Baseball: Fay Vincent Speaks from Exile,” New York Times, June 25, 1993. Vincent gave credit in his introduction. See Fay Vincent, The Last Commissioner, New York: Simon & Schuster (2002): xi.

6 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: 39.

7 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: 37, 43.

8 Owen Canfield, “Fay Vincent’s Story Goes Far Beyond Baseball,” Hartford Courant, September 6, 2015.

9 “Fay Vincent gives Fairfield University $2 million for scholarships,” Fairfield University press release, December 1, 1996 (https://www.fairfield.edu/news/press-releases//1996/december/fay-vincent-gives-fairfield-university-2-million-for-scholarships.html).

10 “Peter Kreeft, Inaugural Fay Vincent, Jr. ’60 Catholic Faith and Culture Lecturer,” Williams College news release, March 28, 2002 (https://communications.williams.edu/news-releases/peter-kreeft-inaugural-fay-vincent-jr-60catholic-faith-and-culture-lecturer/).

11 “St. Thomas More Fellowships,” Yale University website (https://stm.yale.edu/fellowships).

12 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: 39.

13 Fay Vincent, “Fay Vincent: Yankees great DiMaggio remains baseball’s measuring stick,” Treasure Coast News, November 24, 2014.

14 Paul Hendrickson, “Up to Bat for Baseball,” Washington Post, July 10, 1990.

15 Michael Schulder, “The Fay Vincent Sessions,” Medium.com, October 20, 2015 (https://medium.com/@schuldermichael/fay-vincent-s-cane-c179b0dcffea).

16 Erik Malinowski, “Fay Vincent Gets the Last Word,” Fox Sports – Just a Bit Outside (JABO), October 14, 2014 (https://www.foxsports.com/stories/other/fay-vincent-gets-the-last-word).

17 Fay Vincent, “A Catastrophic Accident, Then the Gift of Learning How to Live,” New York Times, December 7, 2019.

18 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: 55-56.

19 Richard Justice, “It’s Unanimous,” Washington Post, September 14, 1989.

20 Steve Wulf, “A Man in Command,” Sports Illustrated, October 30, 1989.

21 Newhan, “Vincent Is Unanimous Selection as Giamatti’s Replacement.”

22 Hendrickson, “Up to Bat for Baseball.”

23 Fay Vincent, “What Happened to the Great Sports Writer?”, Fox News, Agust 6, 2011 (https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/what-happened-to-the-great-sports-writer).

24 George Harvey Cain, Turning Points: New Paths & Second Careers for Lawyers, Volume 2, Chicago, Illinoi: ABA Publishing (2009): 7.

25 Richard Justice, “From Business to Baseball, Vincent Thrives,” Washington Post, September 15, 1989.

26 Justice, “From Business to Baseball, Vincent Thrives.”

27 Hendrickson, “Up to Bat for Baseball.”

28 Wulf, “A Man in Command.”

29 Hendrickson, “Up to Bat for Baseball.”

30 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: 70. Another guest was author Peter Benchley, and by some accounts, it was Benchley’s party.

31 Wulf, “A Man in Command.”

32 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: 127.

33 Ronald Blum, “Commissioner Has a Way of Working Out of Trouble,” Washington Post, September 1, 1990.

34 Hendrickson, “Up to Bat for Baseball.”

35 Mike Tully, “Vincent named acting commissioner by Executive Council,” United Press International, September 2, 1989.

36 “Vincent Is on the Verge of Assuming Top Spot,” Deseret News, September 13, 1989.

37 Newhan, “Vincent Is Unanimous Selection as Giamatti’s Replacement.”

38 Justice, “It’s Unanimous.”

39 Tom Haudricourt, “Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner included major issues,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 25, 2014.

40 Malinoswki, “Fay Vincent Gets the Last Word.”

41 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: 155.

42 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: 280.

43 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: 159.

44 Murray Chass, “Baseball: Faced with Suspension, Steinbrenner Sought an Alternative,” New York Times, August 1, 1990.

45 Murray Chass, “Baseball: Vincent Grants March 1 Return to Steinbrenner,” New York Times, July 25, 1992.

46 Steve Berkowitz, “Vincent Says Haggling Can’t Halt NL Expansion,” Washington Post, February 12, 1991.

47 Ross Newhan, “Vincent Gives AL Part of NL Expansion Fees,” Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1991.

48 “Vincent Gives AL a Slice of NL Expansion Pie,” Deseret News, June 7, 1991.

49 “Vincent Wants Congress to Get Rid of Superstations,” Deseret News, June 8, 1992.

50 “Arbitrator Reinstates Howe from Lifetime Ban,” Washington Post, November 13, 1992. “Baseball: Howe Won’t Meet Vincent,” New York Times, June 20, 1992. Murray Chass, “Baseball: Permanent Ban Imposed on Howe by Commissioner,” New York Times, June 25, 1992.

51 Mark Maske, “Cubs, Cards Change with Braves, Reds,” Washington Post, July 7, 1992.

52 Michael Abramowitz, “Judge Blocks Vincent’s Move of Cubs,” Washington Post, July 24, 1992.

53 Dave Sell, “NL Realignment Halted,” Washington Post, September 25, 1992.

54 “Baseball owners ask Vincent to resign,” United Press International, September 4, 1992.

55 Dave Sell, “18 Owners tell Vincent to Quit,” Washington Post, September 4, 1992.

56 “Baseball: Resigning ‘in the Best Interests of Baseball,’” New York Times, September 8, 1992.

57 Malinoswki, “Fay Vincent Gets the Last Word.”

58 “Fay Vincent Has Spinal Surgery,” Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1992.

59 Gerri Willis, “Vincent is pitching deal-making advice,” Crain’s New York Business, September 27, 1993.

60 E-mail from Fay Vincent to Rory Costello, July 27, 2023.

61 “Fay Vincent gives Fairfield University $2 million for scholarships.”

62 As expressed in Vincent’s June 2011 foreword to “Ephs in the Major Leagues,” Rory Costello’s compilation of SABR BioProject stories about men from Williams College.

63 “Vincent Rips Reinsdorf, Selig in Book Proposal,” Chicago Tribune, March 4, 1994.

64 Ross Newhan, “Dunston Might Be Ready to Reclaim Spot,” Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1994.

65 “Former Baseball Official Won’t Be Pitching a Book,” Deseret News, November 24, 1994.

66 “Baseball,” Washington Post, November 24, 1994.

67 Dean Chadwin, “Writer Cries Balk, Sues to Publish The Secret Story of Fay Vincent,” New York Observer, October 13, 1997. According to this story, Vincent had another reason to withdraw the book. He was a member of the board of Time Warner Inc., the parent corporation of the publisher (Little, Brown) and reportedly sought to head the board’s compensation committee, However, Gerald Levin, then Time Warner’s CEO, told Vincent that his contract with Little, Brown presented a conflict of interest.

68 Lloyd Jassin, “Book Collaboration & Ghostwriter Agreements,” Casetext.com, March 4, 2015 (https://casetext.com/analysis/hlammqburl6tarbgcxjnlba9dkbmrhm5-book-collaboration-ghostwriter-agreements).

69 Ross Newhan, “Talkin’ Baseball with Fay Vincent,” Los Angeles Times, August 11, 1998.

70 “Writer Is Throwing Book at Vincent,” Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1998.

71 Vincent, The Last Commissioner: xi-xii.

72 Fay Vincent, The Only Game in Town, New York: Simon & Schuster (2007): 1-2.

73 Fay Vincent, “Fay Vincent: Warren Spahn was – and still is – the real deal,” Treasure Coast News, July 16, 2013.

74 Dom Amore, “Fay Vincent Remains Emphatic: Don’t Let Pete Rose in Hall of Fame,” Hartford Courant, October 8, 2015.

75 Don Laible, “Former Commissioner Concerned with Baseball and Betting,” Bradenton (Florida) Times, February 12, 2023.

76 Fay Vincent, “Rob Manfred’s All-Star Error,” Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2021.

Full Name

Francis Thomas Vincent


May 29, 1938 at Waterbury, CT (US)

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