Baseball: Commissioner resigns

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FAY VINCENT, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, resigned last night, four days after the owners passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership and urged him to quit.

When the no-confidence vote was passed 18-9 at a meeting in Rosemont, Illinois, last Thursday, Vincent vowed to fight all the way 'to the highest court of this land' to see out the end of his four-year term. But after considering his position over the weekend at his Cape Cod home, he returned to New York yesterday and announced that, although confident of beating off the owners in the courts, he did not wish to submit the sport to a protracted legal battle.

Opposition to Vincent among the owners has been growing for several months, in particular over his handling of negotiations with the players' union, his order for realignment of National League clubs between East and West next season contrary to the wishes of some owners, and his division of the new franchise income from the two NL expansion teams in 1993.

The anti-Vincent faction has been led by Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, Bud Selig of Milwaukee, Peter O'Malley of Los Angeles, and Stanton Cook of the Chicago Cubs, who won a court injunction in July freezing the realignment order.

In explaining his decision to resign yesterday, Vincent said; 'After last week's vote, I can no longer justify imposing on baseball, nor should be baseball be required to endure, a bitter legal battle - even though I am confident that in the end I would win and thereby establish a judicial precedent that the term and powers of the commissioner cannot be diminished during the remaining months of my term.'

Control of the sport will now pass to its 10-man executive council, made up of the NL and AL presidents and eight of the owners, who will be charged with appointing Vincent's replacement.

There were power struggles on the field, too, and Oakland might have been forgiven for thinking the Almighty had given the thumbs down to their Jose Canseco trade last week. No sooner had the Athletics agreed to deal their twice American League home-run champion to Texas in return for the outfielder, Ruben Sierra, and pitchers Bobby Witt and Jeff Russell, than they hit a five-game slump, arrested only when they scrambled a 2-1 win over Boston on Sunday.

Luckily for them, their main rivals in the AL West, the Minnesota Twins, were in no mood to capitalise, having failed since the All- Star break to recapture the form that won the World Series last year.

Of the teams in with a chance of a play-off place, five made trades to strengthen their staff before last week's transfer deadline. Pitching was what they were all after. Atlanta picked up Jeff Reardon, the all-time saves leader, from Boston; Toronto got David Cone, the National League strike-out leader, from the New York Mets; Baltimore added the left-handed Craig Lefferts from San Diego, while Montreal signed Bill Krueger from Minnesota. This was almost a white-flag move by the Twins, who, like Milwaukee in the AL East, lack the resources to make a September splash in the markets.

Cone's arrival did not pay instant dividends for Toronto. On his first night he sat in the dug-out charting the pitches against Milwaukee. The Brewers scored 22 runs off a record 31 hits and by the fifth inning Cone had given up. The next night Cone started, but gave up seven hits and eight stolen bases in a 7-2 loss. For Toronto's fans, who renamed them the Blow Jays in the late 1980s for their propensity to collapse late in the season, the pressure is just beginning.

Pitching was one of the keys to the Canseco trade, too. 'When you're pitching weak in the last month of the season you're doomed to failure,' Oakland's vice-president of business, Andy Dolich, said. But there was another reason - a crippling budget deficit. They now have one last chance of reaching their fourth World Series in five years before the current team breaks up.

AMERICAN LEAGUE: Oakland Athletics 2 Boston Red Sox 1; Toronto Blue Jays 4 Minnesota Twins 2; California Angels 5 Baltimore Orioles 2; Detroit Tigers 6 Milwaukee Brewers 2; NY Yankees 7 Texas Rangers 0; Cleveland Indians 12 Seattle Mariners 9; Kansas City Royals 3 Chicago White Sox 2.

NATIONAL LEAGUE: Houston Astros 3 Montreal Expos 1; LA Dodgers 7 Pittsburgh Pirates 5; Atlanta Braves 4 Philadelphia Phillies 3; Cincinnati Reds 6 NY Mets 1; San Diego Padres 3 Chicago Cubs 1; St Louis Cardinals 5 SF Giants 3.