Malinowski: Fay Vincent gets the last word

From SABR member Erik Malinowski at on October 14, 2014, on SABR member Fay Vincent:

In 1989, he led baseball through the biggest natural disaster to strike a major American sporting event. By 1993, he was out of a job. Even now, 25 years after his finest moment, MLB’s eighth commissioner can only wonder how it all went wrong.

Fay Vincent doesn’t get up for anybody.

It’s not born of some pretentious sense of self-entitlement or laziness or anything of that sort. If, before turning into his private den just beyond the threshold of his summer home in the woods of New Canaan, Conn., you paid attention to the waist-high rack of canes that stood near the front door, you’d know that Vincent isn’t much of a walker these days. It stems from a freak accident he suffered during his freshman year in college almost 60 years ago. An initially harmless roommate prank led to Vincent (a skilled athlete in both track and football) climbing out of a window, which led to a 40-foot fall. He broke his back and was left with a permanent limp that has always required a little third-party support. So he doesn’t much leave the house, either this one or his preferred residence in Vero Beach, Florida. Nowadays, if and when Vincent agrees to meet with you, it happens here in this room and from his large, leather, brass-button-lined recliner, a makeshift throne for a 76-year-old man who was once baseball’s closest thing to a king.

It’s an impressive yet cozy space, enveloped by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on two sides. High-brow reads such as The World Is Flat and To End All Wars are side by side with pictures from his days as Major League Baseball’s eighth and most accidental commissioner. Following the September 1989 death of his close friend A. Bartlett Giamatti, who served for only five months, Vincent was thrust into a position for which he couldn’t possibly have been prepared. And a month later, just when he was settling into the job, the most severe and unexpected natural disaster to ever strike a major American sporting event came to pass.

At 5:04 pm local time on Oct. 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake, registering at a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter Scale, shook the Bay Area for some 20 seconds. Sixty-three people died, though initial estimates figured that to be many times higher, and 3,757 people were injured. The cost of damage to homes and businesses — some of which succumbed to unfit construction, others to fire caused by ruptured natural gas lines which would not be restored for months — went as high as $10 billion. More than a mile of the double-decker Nimitz Freeway in Oakland crumbled in on itself, killing dozens of people. A 50-foot section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed. The vibrations were felt as far away as San Diego, 500 miles south.

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Originally published: October 14, 2014. Last Updated: October 14, 2014.