Sports Outside the Beltway

Former Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn dead at 80

He passed away today in Florida.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Bowie Kuhn, whose 15 tumultuous years as baseball commissioner coincided with free agency and multimillion-dollar salaries, died Thursday. He was 80. Kuhn died at St. Luke’s Hospital following a short illness, his spokesman Bob Wirz said.

When Kuhn took over as commissioner from William Eckert on Feb. 4, 1969, baseball just had completed its final season as a tradition-bound 20-team sport with no playoffs, a reserve clause and an average salary of about $19,000.

During his tenure, the sport battled the rise of the NFL and a combative players’ union that attacked him with lawsuits, grievances and work stoppages.


People did question several of his major decisions. He didn’t attend the game in 1974 when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run to break Babe Ruth’s career record. And he banned Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle from association with their teams because of their liaisons with gambling casinos — Mays in 1979 and Mantle in 1983.

Many fans also remember him for his questionable choice to watch World Series games played at night in frigid weather without an overcoat.

Kuhn feuded with colorful personalities: owners Charlie Finley, Ted Turner, George Steinbrenner and Ray Kroc; former star players Mays, Mantle and Curt Flood; union head Marvin Miller. He presided over a 50-day strike that split the 1981 season in half.

Finley once called Kuhn “the village idiot.” A prim and proper lawyer who stood ramrod erect, Kuhn was thought of as a stuffed shirt by some.

Kuhn’s tenure matched the years I followed baseball the most. He was definitely a high profile commish, more so than those who came right before and after him. As to the controversies Kuhn was involved with, I feel he was more often right than wrong. Finley was often an out of control owner in both Oakland and Kansas City. One example was when he wanted to take Mike Andrews off the 1973 A’s World Series roster using a bogus injury as the reason. Kuhn won that fight, but I think he was wrong when he banned baseball teams from selling players. That was another measure directed at Finley. Selling players for cash had been a practice done for many years in baseball. The legendary Owner/Manager twice conducting selloffs when he couldn’t afford the players the Philadelphia A’s had.

Overall I think Bowie had a good impact on the game. RIP.

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