Baseball: Vincent calls up designated hitter to face owners

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The Independent Online
THE man who helped Oliver North stay out of jail on the Contragate rap will on Thursday be standing by to assist Fay Vincent, the baseball commissioner, repel an attempt by a group of owners to remove him from his post. Vincent has been summoned to an owners' meeting in Rosemont, Illinois, 'to discuss his status', but, taking no chances, the commissioner has retained Brendan V Sullivan, the Washington lawyer who defended North, 'to respond to any inappropriate action'.

It should be quite a meeting. A number of owners have been gunning for Vincent all year, but the issue that spurred them into action was Vincent's decision on 6 July to order a realignment of National League teams - the Chicago Cubs and St Louis Cardinals to move West and the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds going East next season - against the wishes of some teams.

Vincent cited his constitutional right to override the clubs' power of veto 'in the best interests of baseball'. But he drew fire not only from the directly affected teams like the Cubs, who won a court injunction to put a freeze on realignment, but also from owners like Peter O'Malley, of the Dodgers, and Bill Giles, of Philadelphia, and the NL president, Bill White.

Yesterday Vincent effectively conceded that realignment would not take place in 1993, after the NL owners pointed out that, with the commissioner's appeal against the Cubs not due in court until 30 September, the league could not meet its legal obligation to publish a fixtures schedule before then.

Having won their token victory, it remains to be seen if the owners persist in seeking Vincent's head. Those like Jackie Autry, owner of the California Angels, who has described the commissioner as 'egotistical, power-hungry and untrustworthy', seem in no mood to compromise. 'A majority of owners do not have confidence in his leadership,' she said. 'They do not trust him to keep his word.'

But even if the meeting culminates in a request for Vincent to go quietly, he will have none of it.

Legally, his position seems sound. Although he is the owners' employee, there is nothing in the Major League Agreement authorising his three-year term of office to be cut short - and Vincent's contract runs until 31 March, 1994.

Last week his hand was strengthened when a consortium of banks withheld a dollars 140m ( pounds 72m) loan to nine clubs until the power struggle was resolved. 'We prefer to have one person making decisions than 28 clubs squabbling,' one banker said. And two former commissioners, Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, weighed in, claiming that Vincent had not exceeded his authority.

Vincent may well find himself echoing the words of another of his predecessors, Happy Chandler, who was kicked out of office by the owners in the 1940s. Chandler said of them: 'They are the hardest-headed set of ignoramuses you'd ever want to meet. They are greedy, short-sighted and stupid.'

Results and standings, Sport in Short, page 33