Fay Vincent: The most exquisite game

From Greg Jordan at Baseball Nation on May 31, 2013, with SABR member Fay Vincent:

Commissioners of professional sports leagues clearly work for the owners of the teams on the leagues. That’s their job — the owners sign their checks. But not too long ago, there was a Commissioner who worked for the game — safeguarded it, stood up for it, raised hell for it even if it meant standing up to the league’s owners and players. Meet former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent, an original Mad Man, a steadfast antidote to today’s company men.

What was the best thing about being commissioner of MLB?

No one ever sat in front of me.

What was the worst thing?

One freezing night in San Francisco when I decided I had to go inside to stay warm, the fans started yelling at me for leaving. One drunk guy shouted, “Hey commish, it’s a nine inning game.” He thought I was leaving. I’ve never left a game early in my life!

You wrote a famous memorandum to all MLB clubs in 1991 warning about steroid issue. It stated, in part: “The possession, sale, or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by major league players and personnel is strictly prohibited. Those involved in the possession, sale, or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance are subject to discipline by the commissioner and risk permanent expulsion from the game.” Your whole basis for the memorandum was the violation of federal law. You’re a lawyer. And yet it was utterly ignored. Why? And, had it been heeded, how would the sordid history of the past two decades be different?

The letter was ignored because it didn’t affect the players. They were thoroughly protected by collective bargaining. But I wanted to make a moral statement to them and legal one to everyone else. The union told them to ignore it. The only way a change could be made was through collective bargaining. The union argued that testing violated players’ civil liberties. The union had strong, bright lawyers who concocted a bulletproof legal argument.

I knew the memo would be ignored. But even more surprising was that no one in the press covered it. It turned out to be right, though. Federal law, much later, would assert itself.

Read the full article here: http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2013/5/31/4373908/fay-vincent-interview

Originally published: May 31, 2013. Last Updated: May 31, 2013.